Looking Back, Looking Forward – Change and Growth at A Wider Bridge; A Wider Bridge’s Executive Director Arthur Slepian summarizes 2015
2015 was a year of some extraordinary highs and lows that will be remembered for years to come. The summer began with the historic decision by the United States Supreme Court that made marriage equality the law of the land throughout the country, a decision that not only led to rejoicing here in the U.S. but also reverberated around the world. 2015 was also a year in which the issues of the transgender community got visibility and discussion in ways we had not seen before, both in Israel and the U.S. In particular, the discussion of transgender issues at a Knesset meeting in June, which featured moving testimony by a dozen Israeli trans teenagers, was a truly historic event. From those moments of joy for our community, we saw the summer end with the horrific stabbings at the Jerusalem Pride March that led to the death of Shira Banki, sending a community and a country into mourning. Yet in the aftermath, we also saw some hopeful dialogue about how diverse communities can work to gain a deeper understanding of each other in ways that can strengthen the fabric of society rather than render it. Sadly, recent months have seen stabbings become an all too common occurrence in Jerusalem, as a new wave of terror and violence has gripped the city and other parts of the country as well. In Israel, 2015 ended on an uplifting note, with a remarkable and moving project called “Our Faces,” in which 44 LGBT people who grew up in religious homes identified themselves publicly as LGBT and told their stories. Organized by Havruta and Bat Kol, the project was designed to create visibility for LGBT religious people so that those still in the closet would know they are not alone and also that their own communities would know that they exist and that they will not allow themselves to be excluded from communal life.
For A Wider Bridge, 2015 was a watershed year in many respects. It was the year in which we began to see ourselves as helping to build a global movement, and we were proud to partner with The Aguda to bring the 40 Years of Pride Conference to Tel Aviv, with more than 125 LGBT leaders from more than a dozen countries participating. We led our fifth annual LGBTQ mission to Israel, bringing more than 20 LGBT leaders, Jewish and non-Jewish, from across the U.S. and around the world, to Israel for a ten day journey that brought us to Jerusalem, the West Bank, a kibbutz in the North, an Arab village on the Mediterranean, and culminated with the conference and the fabulous celebration of Pride in Tel Aviv.
We began to build on both the conference and our Israel mission with an ongoing series of programs and events we are calling “Beyond the Bridge,” or in Hebrew, “me’ever la’gesher.” As part of this effort, in September we brought several of our participants together in Los Angeles for an evening to discuss their experiences in Israel with the broader L.A. community, a program co-sponsored by our friends at JQ International and held at their new location in West Hollywood.
2015 was also a year in which we greatly expanded our presence across North America. In August we opened A Wider Bridge Chicago, headed by Laurie Grauer as our Manager of Midwest Programs and Operations. Chicago has now become an important venue for our programs and we are building strong partnerships with Jewish and LGBT groups across the city. As the year drew to a close, Tye Gregory, our amazing Director of Programs and Development, relocated from SF to New York City, where he will open an office and lead the East Coast expansion of the organization.
Lastly, we concluded 2015 in a big way, as we celebrated our fifth year as an organization with our first major fundraising event, A Wider Brunch, held in San Francisco and streamed live around the world. More than 170 people attended, and heard two of our trip participants (Alice Kessler and Joe Colarusso) and two Israeli LGBT Leaders (Anat Nir and Zehorit Sorek) help us tell the story of the work of A Wider Bridge. We honored two prominent Bay Area leaders: Rabbi Doug Kahn, who leads the Jewish Community Relations Council and Dr. Anita Friedman, Executive Director of Jewish Family and Children’s Services. Our Board member Vincent Jones, hosted the program, which provided a fun and meaningful way for people to better understand our work.
As we look to 2016, we see that there is much work for us to do, and we look forward to building on the growth and success of the past year to enable more LGBT leaders across North America to learn about Israel and see the value of building a deep and meaningful connection with the country and its diverse communities. We will also be bringing the voices of a broad array of Israeli LGBT leaders to more places in North America. We concluded 2015 with a series of programs in Toronto, Montreal and Quebec, and we look forward to building strong partnerships with our colleagues in Canada. At the end of January, we will be bringing our first program to Miami.
Lastly, we continue to have our biggest impact through the trips we lead to Israel. In 2016, we are part of leading two LGBTQ missions to Israel. The 2016 A Wider Bridge LGBTQ mission to Israel is set for November 10 to 19. In addition, in are playing a key role in the JFNA’s (Jewish Federations of North America) historic LGBTQ mission to Israel set for May 26 to June 2. We hope that 2016 will be a year that many of you will join us to experience Israel on one of these meaningful and inspiring journeys.
Wishing everyone in North America, in Israel, and around the world a 2016 filled with love and peace — for you and your families and friends near and far.