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Exploring My Identity as an LGBTQ Jewish Person on Birthright Israel

Ellis Furman, a participant on Canada Israel Experience’s first LGBTQ Birthright Israel trip in June, says that the trip was the first step of her journey to explore how her Jewishness, queerness and passion for activism can intertwine.

One month ago, I spoke with my madricha (leader) on the phone, before I embarked on Canada Israel Experience’s first LGBTQ Birthright Israel trip in June.

I told her that I did not want to go to Israel. I felt confused about how I, a non-binary queer Jewish person, could connect to a contested land that elicits polarizing responses from the diverse individuals in my life.

I viewed my LGBTQ and Jewish identities as mutually exclusive and had convinced myself that going on Birthright was against my values. My madricha listened to my concerns and assured me that I would be able to make the trip whatever I wanted it to be.

I dwelled on her words over the weeks leading up to my departure and ultimately decided to leave my worries in Toronto and jump right into a new experience.

The Canada Israel Experience team, along with our trip leaders, Jaclyn Finestone and Gaston Lopez Ficher, and the group educator, Anat Groisman, worked incredibly hard to plan and implement programs that fostered deep connections between the participants. They encouraged us to be open to learning. Everyone tried to overcome their individual biases and put aside any assumptions they had about others. Under this framework of respect and inclusion, I felt more supported and cared for than ever before.

This trip went above and beyond my expectations by providing opportunities for us to critically engage with our surroundings and reflect on what we saw, touched, felt, tasted and smelled. I was able to gain a deeper understanding of the intersections between my queer, trans and Jewish identities. Our group was privileged to hear the stories of brilliant and strong LGBTQ people throughout Israel. I was particularly moved by the experiences of a queer woman in Hanaton, a kibbutz in northern Israel, who overcame numerous barriers to stand before our group as a proud Jewish lesbian mother of two. I was moved by the power of young LGBTQ people in Be’er Sheva, who taught us about community building, art and activism. Their words and actions helped re-ignite my passion for engaging in community-level change. Continue reading on Canadian Jewish News