Michael Oxman just returned from a transformational mission to Israel, The Jewish Federations of North America’s “See Israel with Pride.” Here’s what he wrote about the experience
From left: Jason Pesick, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro, and Michael Oxman marching together in Tel Aviv’s Pride Parade.
More than 100 gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals from 17 North American communities joined this historic mission in June. We had a diverse group of backgrounds, professions, first-timers to Israel, and returning visitors with participants ranging in age from their 20s through their 60s. The group was filled with leaders from the Jewish community, the LGBTQ community, and in some cases, both.
The trip was formed to showcase Israel through an LGBTQ lens and provide an opportunity to directly see the impact our Federations make in Israel. A central goal of the mission was to build deeper bonds between participants, who have historically felt less welcome and connected to the Jewish community and Israel. I can report that the trip was a tremendous success!
We had unique access to Israeli luminaries. We were the first delegation of LGBTQ Americans to meet Israeli President Rueven Rivlin. We attended a sunset reception at the seaside home of Daniel Shapiro, U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Champaign, Ill. native, where he and his family warmly greeted us. We marched in Tel Aviv’s Pride Parade alongside Amb. Shapiro and the U.S. Embassy delegation. I was moved to see both the Jewish Federations and U.S. government officials happy and eager to show their support for the LGBTQ community. We were also treated to a private concert with one of Israel’s biggest pop stars, Ivri Lider, a prominent gay Israeli.
Through the trip’s panel discussions and guest speakers, we explored some of the external and internal threats facing Israel. We discussed the challenges with religious pluralism. In particular, the Orthodox rabbinate conducts all Jewish marriages in Israel, which does not have civil marriage. While this policy bars same-sex couples entirely, it also impacts both same-sex and opposite-sex couples as well. Additionally we met with a number of LGBTQ leaders in Israel and learned more about the different organizations working to promote equality throughout all of Israel. Life for LGBTQ Israelis is not just a party in Tel Aviv, but like the U.S., there is still much work to be done. Now the community has more than 100 new allies in North America.