A Wider Bridge was founded by Arthur Slepian in 2010 to provide consistent and effective opportunities for LGBTQ people in North America to build meaningful relationships with Israel and LGBTQ people in Israel. From its outset, AWB has provided LGBTQ people with the opportunity to engage with Israel in ways that matter to them personally, and to demonstrate that they have a stake in Israel and its future.
In 2009, a masked gunman entered the Bar Noar LGBTQ youth center in Tel Aviv and opened fire, killing two and injuring fifteen. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Israel’s LGBTQ community came together to mourn and to heal, and looked to friends in North America for support. Founder Arthur Slepian traveled to Israel to meet with community leaders, activists and artists of Israel’s LGBT communities.
Arthur reflects on his 2009 visit: “I met with organization leaders, political leaders, radical activists and filmmakers. All these conversations convinced me of the same thing: These are stories that deserve to be told. This is work that deserves to be encouraged and supported. There is so much to be gained from dialogue and collaboration. It shouldn’t take a tragedy of this magnitude for us to learn from, work with, and support one another.”
A Wider Bridge provides Israel’s LGBTQ community a voice and a platform in cities across North America to demonstrate their work, gain new philanthropic support, and connect with their North American LGBTQ counterparts. In seven years, we have sponsored dozens of Israeli LGBTQ delegations to North America, reaching tens of thousands of North American LGBTQ people and allies. We have also given more than 200 North American LGBTQ leaders the opportunity to visit the State of Israel and engage with LGBTQ Israeli leaders and NGOs on the ground.
A Wider Bridge began primarily as an LGBTQ Jewish organization, as founder Arthur Slepian saw a need for LGBTQ Jews to have more opportunities to engage with and connect to Israel and the Jewish community. This need continues, but over time our work has expanded to provide both LGBTQ Jews – and non-Jews – with opportunities to connect with Israel’s vibrant LGBTQ community.
Today, A Wider Bridge works in the broader LGBTQ communities of North America and Israel to advance equality in Israel, and equality for Israel. Before the founding of A Wider Bridge, the only LGBTQ organizations addressing Israel were groups like “Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid” and “Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism.” Increasingly over the past few years, supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement have targeted LGBT communities and leaders by pushing a false narrative of “pinkwashing” – dismissing Israel’s strong record on LGBTQ rights (all of which were achieved through decades of community struggle), as a mere cover-up for issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Beyond this extreme, LGBTQ people see Israel in the heart of a region mired in layer after layer of quagmire – with little opportunity for understanding its people and experience. A Wider Bridge is building a movement in the LGBTQ community, directly engaging North American communal and organizational leaders with Israel and its LGBTQ people. Through an understanding of the parallel LGBTQ efforts for equality, recognition, and visibility in Israel, North American LGBTQ leaders and communities develop a rich and nuanced understanding of the Israel. And through the development of opportunities for mutual education and collaboration, the LGBTQ communities of both Israel and North America are strengthened. Until A Wider Bridge, these were largely missed opportunities because of the one-dimensional focus on the politics of the conflict.
Today, A Wider Bridge invests in building organizational leadership and activists, tailoring our local programming, Israel missions and conferences to empower LGBTQ leaders, Jewish and non-Jewish, to engage their communities with Israel and its LGBTQ people.