It’s impossible for me to talk about just one thing that my recent trip to Israel with A Wider Bridge gave me or taught me. There was of course the joy of being in a queer community, there aren’t many times when we can be so free and safe within a group and not have to hide a part of ourselves. This was a key element of all that we saw and did and intensified the learning experience in ways I had not imagined. There were moments along the way as we met with queer leaders from all walks of life doing amazing work for the communities in Israel, much of which was supported by A Wider Bridge, which were deepened into new levels because of this safety within our group.
The visits to the Christian holy places, the tours of Jerusalem, Jaffa, and Haifa as well as swimming in the Sea of Galilee; all built upon the lessons we were learning of what it means to live and reside in Israel. The tour of Yad Vashem with a queer tour guide who shared with us stories most of us had never heard of the bravery, courage, and resilience of the queer and disabled internees of the camps, was a profound experience where we also got to lay a memorial wreath near the tree of the righteous gentile -a Dutch gay man, Willem Arondeus, who was part of the resistance and blew up a registry office that registered Jews for deportation. His final words were “Tell the people that homosexuals are not by definition weak.”
We met with both Jewish and Arab Israelis who were working hard at peace making between the two communities, trying hard to come together despite the fact that neither of them is safe visiting the other in their homes and there isn’t even a local coffee shop where they can safely meet together. We had a particularly profound moment with a young Ethiopian Jewish woman who shared that she felt weak in the work she was doing for equal rights for LGBTQIA+ folx in Tel-Aviv, as people from her heritage are not afforded the same rights as others who make Aliyah. We were able to take a moment to lift her up and give back a little to her (and all those who do so much there and gave their time to us) in prayer and support.
All of this and so much more challenged all I had ever thought about Israel, the conflict, their respective faiths, and what the solutions may ever possibly be. My own faith was challenged and shaped as I learned about theirs, their way of life, their values and beliefs, and their hopes – their amazing never dying hopes that peace will come and the ever-present violence and warfare (which we also experienced first-hand) may one day come to an end.
To use an old analogy, the whole trip was like peeling an onion, as we explored deeper and deeper, many of the different nuances and factors which interplay in this intricate, delicate, beautiful land. Some of the layers came off easier than the others, and some of them made us cry openly. Some came off in complete layers while others broke and fragmented as we picked at them.
Now I have returned and am trying to put the onion back together again. The problem is that it won’t go back as it was. The original shape is nothing like the way it started out and the brown outer layer has crumbled away completely. The interesting thing is that I (who love order and a place for everything!) am okay with that. Israel has forever changed to me – my relationship with my Jewish wife has deepened (as I have gained a better understanding of her and her faith), my understanding of my own faith has deepened, as it has for the other Abrahamic faiths with which we share so much. My love for the country (and of course the food, how could I have not mentioned the food) will continue to call me back there but greatest of all is my desire to help others understand a little better the whole story of the place, the people, the lives that are led there, and the amazing amount of work which is being done for peace, for equality, for inclusion, and for love of neighbor.