When thinking of tolerant countries, Israel doesn't always spring to mind. But it might surprise some to find out that Israel is actually quite supportive it of its LGBT community. (See IP Guide: Grants for LGBT).
To help honor this openness and to learn more about LGBT life in Israel, JQ International and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles announced earlier this month that they would be co-sponsoring the first Los Angeles LGBT & Ally Birthright trip to Israel for Jewish LGBTs and their allies.
JQ International, whose mission is to increase visibility and opportunity for queer Jews, wanted to be a part of funding the 10-day peer educational trip for 40 individuals. JQ Board Director Janelle Eagle said, "Historically, Birthright itineraries completely exclude Israel’s LGBT culture, so closeted LGBT participants may leave Israel without ever being exposed to Israel’s vibrant and inclusive LGBT community."
More than 300,000 Jews, ages 18-26, from around the world have participated in the international philanthropy organization Taglit-Birthright Israel. The trip allows young adults to experience another culture, while delving deeper into their Jewish heritage. The LA LGBT & Ally group will also get the chance to work with six to eight LGBT & Ally Israeli Jews who will share their own personal experiences.
JQ Founding Executive Director Asher Gellis and Eagle have both served as Birthright guides, and have worked for more than three years to help this project come together. They wanted to showcase Tel Aviv, deemed the "Gay Capital of the Middle East," and Eagle thinks the participants will "see just how different Americans and Israelis are, yet how beautifully we are connected via our Jewish identities. The exchange is impactful and lasting."
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles was a no brainer for a co-sponsorship like this one. One of the largest groups within the Jewish community, the organization is constantly pushing towards tolerance for all minority groups.
Many Birthrighters consider the trip to be a life-changing event — one that helps to create lasting relationships and igniting a wish to travel more in the future. These two organizations should be commended for allowing another group to find their voice within the Jewish community.