In August 2009, Arthur Slepian heard about a shooting at the Bar Noar, a gay youth lounge in Tel Aviv, that left two people dead and many more wounded. He watched as Israeli LGBTQ leaders came to the U.S. to speak about the tragedy and seek support. But he wondered why it took something like this – a heinous act of violence – to spur a sense of connection between LGBTQ Americans and Israelis. “I knew then that our relationship shouldn’t be driven primarily by moments of crisis, but rather by ongoing collaboration and a deep sense of partnership and familial connection.” says Slepian, Founder of A Wider Bridge.
Slepian founded A Wider Bridge (AWB) to create ongoing touch points between American and Israeli LGBTQ communities. They do this by bringing North American LGBTQ leaders on missions to Israel, through programming across the U.S., and by providing online resources. AWB wants people to see the whole rainbow of Israel’s LGBTQ community, so they highlight organizations including KALA (LGBTQ Ethiopian Israelis) and Ma’avarim, which works to strengthen Israel’s transgender community, and runs a leadership development program for transgender teens.
“We’ve been doing this work for 6 years now, and even though LGBTQ Americans and Israelis are continents apart, we’ve brought so many Israelis and Americans into connection with each other, that relationships have been created that feel a lot like family,” says Slepian. Now, moments of crisis don’t just spur awakenings – they trigger a deep sense of solidarity and unleash an outpouring of support. They saw this last year, as communities throughout the U.S. mourned the murder of Shiri Banki at the Jerusalem Pride Parade. And they saw it again last week after the Orlando massacre, when the Israeli LGBTQ community organized a vigil in Zion Square, held a moment of silence at local gay bars, and flooded the inboxes of their American friends with messages of support.
Slepian notes that despite progress in both Israel and the United States, there is still a lot of work to do. In the U.S., while we celebrate the victory for marriage equality, there are still many parts of the country, including Orlando, where LGBT people are not protected from discrimination in employment. And in Israel, there are many points of struggle, including the fight for civil marriage, for the availability of surrogacy for gay couples, and for hate crimes legislation that includes crimes against the LGBTQ community. This year’s Tel Aviv Pride Parade felt more like a political march than a party, with signs and chants highlighting that LGBTQ Israelis still don’t have full legal rights.
Says Slepian, “Our work in Israel and the U.S. is far from done, but I know that we’re stronger continuing this struggle together.”
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