This Passover, A Triple Exodus

This is a very special Passover for A Wider Bridge. We are spending the holiday with our guests from Israel — Sarah, Liel, and Yaniv, three leaders of KALA, the organization for LGBTQ Ethiopian-Israelis (Friends in Chicago, NYC, and DC, we hope you can join us next week).

Arthur, Sarah and Liel in San Francisco

A Wider Bridge’s Executive Director Arthur Slepian shared on Facebook a moving moment from our beautiful program last Sunday in San Francisco, when Sarah and Liel shared how their families celebrate Passover:

“At our Passover Seder, we remember the exodus from Egypt long ago. But we spend most of our time retelling the story of our community’s journey from Ethiopia to Israel, a journey that fulfilled the longing our people have carried for 2,500 years.  At each year’s Seder, a different “elder” in our community tells the story of his or her personal journey from Ethiopia, because while there is a community narrative, each person has an individual story that is unique.  These stories are much more than a plane ride to Israel, reliving our long journey to freedom through the dangerous, often lethal deserts of Sudan.”

For KALA and all LGBTQ people – our non-Jewish friends included – there is a third story of liberation to tell, one many of us see as miraculous, and one all of us see as incomplete. It is the story of our liberation as out and proud LGBTQ people.  It is a journey out of narrow places, those constructed for us by others in the world, and those we create in our own minds out of fear and shame.

All of these stories are powerful reminders that as we gather later this week to tell the ancient story of liberation from slavery in Egypt, there are modern stories of liberation all around us.  The Aliyah of Ethiopian Jews to Israel is of recent memory, and the journey to liberation for LGBTQ people continues to unfold today – in North America, in Israel, and around the world.

Wherever you are on your own journey of liberation, we are hope this week that you, much like our Ethiopian-Israeli guests, will be sharing these stories with those you love.

Let us pass them on from generation to generation, as our tradition teaches us to do. Chag Sameach!

The Bay Area Reporter Covers KALA’s Visit to San Francisco

“To be Ethiopian in Israel is to be poor, not to be smart,” said Liel, who moved to Israel with her parents in 1991. She explained that Ethiopians in Israel aren’t believed to be Jewish, even though Ethiopian Jews secretly practiced the religion in the African country for 2,500 years before immigrating to Israel.

Arthur Slepian, founder and executive director of A Wider Bridge, which sponsored the trip, also spoke.

There are about 140,000 Ethiopians in Israel today, Slepian told the Bay Area Reporter. He estimated that at least one-third of the population is now second or third generation Israeli following the different immigration waves that brought an estimated 100,000 Ethiopians to Israel.

“What we are seeing is the next generations and how people are discovering that in their community some of them are LGBT,” said Slepian. “Had [they] been in Ethiopia it would not have been something that they could have expressed openly. Read the full story

J Weekly Interviews Sarah and Liel

In every part of the world — even in San Francisco — being gay means living among a small group of people who struggle with centuries-old problems such as equal rights, acceptance among peers and gay marriage, to name a few. If you’re black and gay, that’s an even smaller minority group.

Now imagine you are Ethiopian and Israeli and attracted to the same gender. That is the reality for Sarah, 28, and Liel, 24, two Israeli women whose group aims to create a safe space for Ethiopian LGBT people who live in Israel. Continue reading

KALA panel in West Hollywood, April 20, 2016 (from left to right: Arthur Slepia AWB Executive Director, Sarah and Liel from KALA, and moderator Vincent Jones)