San Francisco’s popular Jewish news magazine J Weekly caught up with A Wider Bridge’s Executive Director Arthur Slepian who will receive the Israel in Our Hearts Award this weekend.
Carol Traeger does some quick calculating when asked how many times she and her husband have visited Israel. “Well, I’m 71, Norman is 75,” she says. “We started going when I was 20. So I think it’s 9,000 times.”
But the Tiburon couple has definitely devoted enormous personal and philanthropic energy to supporting the State of Israel, going back to the first visit they made just after the 1967 Six-Day War.
Like the Traegers, Arthur Slepian of San Francisco has been a champion of Israel for years, especially its unique role in the Middle East as safe haven for gay and lesbian Israelis and Palestinians.
For their “outstanding commitment to Israel engagement and advocacy,” the three Bay Area residents will receive this year’s Israel in Our Hearts Award from the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.
They will be honored at “Israel in Our Hearts: A Family Celebration” — a day of food, fun and furry things set to take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 3 at the Playfield Lawn of the San Francisco Zoo.
Slepian is the founder and executive director of A Wider Bridge, a pro-Israel nonprofit that works to strengthen ties between LGBTQ communities in Israel and the outside world, as well as tout Israel’s inclusive culture. The 5-year-old organization is based in San Francisco.
“I think the award is recognition that our strategy of engaging people with Israel in ways that matter to them personally is an effective one,” Slepian says. “Doing this work at the intersection of LGBT equality and Israel advocacy is not always easy, so it is nice to see the community recognize the importance and the impact of our work.”
Among his proudest achievements, Slepian cites A Wider Bridge providing a platform for Israeli LGBT activists to tell their stories here in America, and that his organization will be one of the two sponsors of “40 Years of Pride,” a global LGBTQ leadership conference being held in Tel Aviv this June.
But mostly he loves that A Wider Bridge has helped open eyes.
“I am proud when people we bring to Israel tell me that they now understand that Israel is not ‘black and white,’ ” he says, “and that they have fallen in love with some aspect of the place and the people, and they want to stay connected. We are changing the tone of the conversation in our community, and helping LGBT Jews see that they have a stake in Israel’s future, and that it is our homeland too.”
Though Slepian enjoyed Israel in the Gardens for years, he also embraces change.
“I am a big believer in innovation and experimentation,” he says. “I look forward to what I expect will be a lovely celebration at the zoo.”