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Friday, February 26, 2016

LGBTQ in Israel

Yesterday was a weird mix of gender identity politics and Zionism.  The universal and the particular.

I joined a group for an all day study with leaders and members of the LGBTQ community in Israel, hearing of its successes and challenges.  We began in Jerusalem with a group involved at the Jerusalem Open House, a center, a refuge, for the LGBTQ and the organizers of the Jerusalem Pride March.

Israel is a complex environment.  Progress has been made surrounding issues of LGBTQ rights, as Israel is part of the Western world where the understanding that people regardless of gender or sexual identity are people, just people endowed by their creator . . .  But Israel can also be a hostile place for the LGBTQ community.  Last year at the Jerusalem Pride March six participants were stabbed, one fatally.  And despite government's claims to being the one gay friendly place in the Middle East, it is far from a safe place.

And that brings me to the issue of pink-washing, the exaggerated use of benefits gained by the LGBTQ community in Israel to mask the real dangers the community still faces in Israeli society and law and to present Israel as a gay friendly place.

Indeed the rest of the day was shared with some very seriously brave and out people, including three transitioning individuals and four lesbian rabbis.  As the pink-washing claims, an open meeting with these two panels, held first in a Tel Aviv LGBTQ center and then outside! in the adjoining park, would be more than impossible in nations that surround Israel.

Yet, the stories we heard were not ones of safety and security.  Rather they were of small progress and larger apprehension.

And something else.  It seems to me, a straight ally of a limitedly raised consciousness, that the LGBTQI struggle for liberation in the United States is a transnational, universal liberation movement at its core.  People everywhere just got to be free.  But in Israel there is a national dynamic, a Zionist dynamic overlay.  Creating equality will build the nation.  State building is the essence of Israeli self understanding.  The people we met want a better Israel not only for themselves and not only for a better world but also because they want a better Jewish State.  The Zionist dream still lives.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Why I love the French and Struggle with Israelis

Why I Love the French and Struggle with Israelis

I am on my way to the Reform Rabbis Convention in Israel (and a subsequent bike ride).  My itinerary passed through Charles  De Gaulle airport in Paris.  I discovered what I already knew, that the food, even in the airport, would be superior and that with the invocation of the words, “thank you,” all could be made right in the world.
I also flew Air France so the experience started fresh out of Detroit.  It was still airplane food, Yet the unflavored yogurt for breakfast was superior.  And when I asked for a whisky for my nap cap coffee before going to sleep, the flight attendant suggested a brandy, because she had a good one.

Or maybe it was the airport shopkeeper who responded to my distress when I discovered I needed a ‘nano to micro sim card converter,’ which he did not have.  He called the store’s other airport outlet and found me the device.  And perhaps it was because I greeted him as a person, before asking if he had the converter.
Kindness and politeness and good food, and I did not even mention the terrific carmel euclair topped with a thin slab of chocolate in the 'take and go' kiosk!

Then I get on the plane for Tel Aviv.  The guy next to me sprawls out over both of his seat mates (me included) and goes to sleep.  And the guy across the way from me took the stuff he did not want, the pillow, blanket, and the magazines from the storage pouch and put them under his seat, that being the under seat storage area of someone else, while stretching out into his own under seat area.  When discovered  (yes I did give him up) he explained that he was tall and need the extra room.  I could only think from both these encounters that if you can get away with taking what is not yours, it's ok.  Bad policy in my mind.

And don't get me started on the large number of people who spent the flight visiting with friends basically unconcerned with anyone else who might be just sitting quietly.  I touched, or more accurately was touched by, more people on this flight than in a crowded New York subway car.

And yet I struggle with the truth that the Israelis are my people and despite my family history in Alsace, the French are not my people.   My future and our future for generations are tied to the Israel.   This is perhaps the great struggle in Jewish life today.   Half the world’s Jews live in Israel.   The next biggest chunk live in America.  We are one people, yet we experience  the world very differently.  

And then about half way through the flight, I begin to notice the a change.  The push and shove mutates into warmth as strangers begin to converse.  The cabin now resembles a summer camp dinning room with story telling.  There has been a switch in seats and the Orthodox person across the aisle is teaching about Little Purim, which is today.  He is having a beer, explaining that in leap years there is an extra Purim just for fun.  My sleepy seat mate is up and we are talking about Israeli culture.  Before was not rude as much as settling in.  Now set, the party begins all the way to Tel Aviv.