Israel Gay Youth delegation

IGY youth leaders Anna Shilansky and Sam Rosenfeld at Sha’ar Zahav

March 2011 —

A Wider Bridge presented a panel discussion with four Israeli LGBT teens from the organization Israel Gay Youth (IGY). Speaking in front of an audience at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, they each spoke eloquently about their lives, their personal coming out stories and their desire and commitment to make Israel a better place in which to grow up LGBT.

Anna Shilansky was one of the teens shot and injured in the 2009 Tel Aviv shooting at an LGBT youth center, and she talked about how that event inspired her to want to bring about change in the society in which she lives.  Sam Rosenfeld spoke about his journey of discovery as a female to male transgender person, his struggle to become the boy he always knew he was, heightened by a language (Hebrew) where every sentence you speak and spoken to you assigns you to a gender.

Shirel Touitou shared her story of coming from an Orthodox family living in a settlement, then leaving Orthodoxy, coming out, and moving to Tel Aviv, and her sense that, wherever she is, whether she encounters acceptance or not, it is her attitude of self-acceptance that most matters.  And a fourth panelist (name withheld here) spoke about his experiences coming out as a bisexual man in the IDF, and the sense of acceptance he got from both the IDF itself and his fellow soldiers.   All four talked about how important the support groups of IGY have been in their lives. And each of them saw their desire for community and their commitment to making change strengthened after the 2009 shooting.

The audience hung on every word of these young people’s deeply personal – and uniquely Israeli – stories of struggle and courage, and many stayed well after the program to ask them more questions, engage with them, and share resources. Many of the speakers themselves left the evening and their entire Bay Area trip with new perspectives because of their engagement with the people, institutions, and resources of the American Jewish LGBTQ community.

This event, presented by A Wider Bridge, was co-sponsored by the Israel Education Initiative of the Bureau of Jewish Education, Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, the Israel Center and the LGBT Alliance of the Jewish Community Federation of the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Jewish Community Relations Council.