Beshela is Israel’s social and advocacy organization for older lesbians. Formed ten years ago, the group provides key services for an often neglected demographic. Member Sara Sweiry discusses her involvement in the group, and the upcoming A Wider Bridge impact tour across the United States.
Sara Sweiry, age 68, joined Beshela 7 years ago, after coming out at age 60. “It was love at first sight,” Sara says. “I knew from the moment I saw the group that this is what I wanted. I wanted to meet more women like myself. I was coming from the desert and I arrived at an oasis.”
Sara had been married and at age 60, bravely left her husband and never looked back. “I am free, I have never been happier than I am now.” Sara recounted.
The women of Beshela have become Sara’s her second family, and she is passionate about championing the needs for this population. The organization is under the umbrella of the Aguda (Israel LGBTQ Task Force).
In January 2017, Sara Sweiry and fellow Beshela member Robin Rosenbaum will be traveling across the United States, along with Chen Areli, the Chairperson of the Aguda (Israel LGBTQ Task Force). In a series of talks, they’ll share their experiences advocating for LBGTQ seniors rights in Israel.
“I’m really looking forward to this tour and meeting new and old friends. I want to tell people about what we’re dealing with in Israel, and learn about similar issues in the United States,” Sara said.
Issues facing LGBTQ seniors in Israel include higher rates of poverty and social isolation, and frustrating interactions with Israeli social service and medical agencies lacking the proper training to provide care for LGBTQ seniors. “My vision is to have a Kibbutz for LGBTQ seniors,” said Sara.
Sara currently works tirelessly to increase Beshela’s outreach. “This can be a hard population to reach, but it’s so important that we are visible in our numbers. When I go to a municipality in Israel to ask for services and a budget for resources, they want to know where is my ‘army’.”
“Our membership is 200, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Many lesbians my age are not out. We have to prove that we are here and we are present. We have a voice, we have our needs.”
“Beshela” fulfills that need by offering an amazing plethora of cultural and social activities each month that allow its members to gather, albeit not in a center of its own (yet!), and to have a sense of belonging as well as pride in a community that has come so far. Additionally, the Beshela Bishvelah, group inside of Bishvelah, takes care of women who have health or financial issues. Women visit the bed ridden, offer support services, and there is a small fund to loan women in financial need.
Sara and Beshela are also teaming up with Hoshen to educate staff in nursing homes on how to be more inclusive and welcoming to LGBTQ residents. “Many LGBTQ people are scared in nursing homes, and they end up going back in the closet.”
A Wider Bridge invites our readers to support the work of Beshela and check out the upcoming speaking tour.