Published first at Washington Blade
Most mornings, we wake from our dreams. But on Oct. 7, Israelis and all who support them awoke to a nightmare. Hamas, the terror group that rules the Gaza Strip, viciously attacked Israel by land, sea and air, on the Sabbath and a Jewish holiday. Hundreds of Israelis have been murdered, thousands more are injured, and many others have been taken hostage. This horrifying act of violence is personal to all Israelis, and to many other Americans, including me.
The very real issues that have caused division recently seem distant today — and even trivial — while our friends in Israel are locked in safe rooms, listening to sirens blaring and rockets exploding overhead.
Hamas’s attack was brutal, calculated and designed to inflict the maximum physical harm to the maximum number of innocent civilians. There is devastating emotional harm to ordinary Israelis. Hamas murdered elderly people in the street. They pulled families from their homes, including young children, and are keeping them hostage. They paraded young people and the elderly, dead and alive, through the streets of Gaza. The echoes of the past are deafening.
Please hear the pain that our friends and family are experiencing. And do something.
Many of us have condemned atrocities in Ukraine, Sudan, Myanmar, Iran and elsewhere. We have taken action, lobbied and posted our opinions online. While this may feel like just another hopeless horror in the world, please don’t be silent now. This is not a “both sides” situation.
Whatever the grievances of Israel’s Palestinian neighbors, this is an unprovoked act of war that will cause boundless suffering and devastation to everyone involved. There is no calculation by which this terror brings us any closer to peace or justice.
Sadly, this type of escalation and violence isn’t new. Since its founding, Israel has never known a day without threats to its very existence.
I know that many around the world look at Israel as a powerful player. Those who know Israelis well, and I hope every reader has had the opportunity to know some Israelis, recognize a different calculus. Israelis may be grateful for military strength, but they’ve always known that very powerful forces are aligned against it. Israelis feel that keenly right now. And those who connect with Israel, who have visited, or have friends and family there feel that now as well.
Your voice matters — on social media, in articles and op-eds and in your everyday conversations. Many people who are close to Israel feel isolated and unsafe, including in the LGBTQ community.
I can just imagine the pain that college students must be feeling on campuses where their connection to Israel is used against them. The country they love, and perhaps loved ones who live there, are under attack. Will they feel safe to share their pain without inviting harm from others? Can they come to queer spaces to find support? I am thinking in particular about what happened recently at Rice University. The leading LGBTQ group there decided to boycott the school’s leading Jewish group. Rice PRIDE falsely branded Hillel International as hostile to Palestinians — and singled out the main Jewish group on campus, Rice Hillel, for a boycott. In effect, Rice PRIDE was acting out a version of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, using LGBTQ Jewish students as a proxy to demonstrate opposition to the Israeli government.
This discriminatory act, like many others on other campuses and across parts of the LGBTQ community, leaves LGBTQ Jews feeling they have to choose between their LGBTQ and their Jewish identities — especially since national identity and connection to Israel is so deeply woven into how many Jews experience our faith. Imagine the isolation they feel on that campus, having once had a close partnership between the Pride and Hillel groups. Now imagine this against the rising tide of antisemitism and LGBTQphobia in our broader society.
It’s a daunting situation for these students, made even more acute and devastating after this latest outbreak of violence in Israel.
Imagine instead how those same students and other LGBTQ Jews might feel knowing that there are LGBTQ people who stand with them? That the LGBTQ community recognizes that it is wrong to ask people to put a core part of their identity into a closet in order to be accepted for another part of their identity? None of us should be forced to choose like that.
Much of what happens around the world can feel out of our control, and it’s easy to feel like our actions can’t possibly make a difference. Now is the time to put one foot in front of the other and take action on the things we can change. Standing in solidarity with LGBTQ Jews is one concrete action we all can take together.
May the coming days bring peace, justice, and understanding to Israel, the region, and all of us around the world as we deal with this violent and dangerous moment.
Ethan Felson is the executive director of A Wider Bridge, an organization that builds a strong relationship between the LGBTQ communities in North America and Israel, advances LGBTQ inclusion in Israel, advocates for justice, counters LGBTQphobia and fights antisemitism and other forms of hatred.
The past week has been more harrowing than words can express. Hamas terrorists, together with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, attacked Israel. They murdered more than 1,200 people, injured thousands, and subjected young and old to torture, rape, and abduction. Israelis, living in fear, are coming together to care for and protect one another. We must do the same.
We know you may be looking for ways to help. Here are several things you can do to support Israel, its LGBTQ community, and all those who love Israel.
Call, text, WhatsApp, and email your Israeli friends, including people you’ve met through A Wider Bridge. Let them know that they’re in your hearts. Recognize that they may be overwhelmed and may not be able to respond right away, but know that the messages you send make a difference.
2. Stay Informed:
Look to credible domestic and Israeli sources, including English-language Israeli media like Ha’aretz, Times of Israel and Ynet. Listen to updates, including the emergency briefing AWB held with our friend Nurit Shein, former chair of The Aguda.
3. Speak out:
Your voice needs to be heard on social media and beyond. Words from the heart can be a great comfort to people in pain, even those you don’t even know. They say, “you’re not alone, we stand with you, we get it.”
You can use our AWB portal to share a message to the Israeli LGBTQ community – we will make sure they receive it.
4. Reach Out:
The AWB staff is here to listen and hold space for you to share what you’re thinking and feeling. Write us, message us, call us, and we’ll respond. We can provide information, connect you with Israeli LGBTQ groups, or just provide a space for you to be your authentic self. If you’re looking for ways to do more, we’d be happy to brainstorm with you. We can also help if you’d like to write an op-ed, get speakers for your community, etc.
A Wider Bridge is accepting contributions that we will share in their entirety with Israeli LGBTQ organizations responding to the needs of LGBTQ Israelis during this time of crisis – helping to house the displaced, providing hotlines, emotional support, mental health counseling, caring for the injured, and supporting one another in every possible way.
Most mornings, we wake from our dreams. On Saturday, Israelis and all who support them woke to a nightmare.
Hamas, the terror group that rules the Gaza Strip, has viciously attacked Israel. Their unprecedented surprise attack came by land, sea, and air, on a Jewish holiday that also fell on the Sabbath. As of this writing, over 1400 Israelis have been murdered and more than 2,000 injured. 200 civilians were taken hostage. Thousands of rockets have been fired indiscriminately, targeting and harming civilians. Islamic Jihad has joined the fighting. Israelis are being subjected to war crimes. They are living in fear and hiding in safe rooms. Reservists have been called up. Many of us have friends and family in the Israel Defense Force. They are all in our prayers.
We know that you have questions about this current situation and what it means for Israel’s LGBTQ community. We are here to hold space for you, and try to provide some answers in these uncertain times.
Watch the Emergency Briefing featuring Nurit Shen, Former Chair of The Aguda, as she addresses the ongoing Hamas assault on Israel. Gain insights into the present state of affairs and understand its impact on Israeli society, particularly within the LGBTQ Community.
Strengthening our support for the Israeli LGBTQ Community in these trying times is our prime mission. Please join us for a special online event during Trans Visibility Week as we host an inspiring conversation with two remarkable Jewish mothers who have been unwavering advocates for their beloved transgender kids. Discover how the war impacted their lives and their families, and how they are coping with these difficult times.
Mindy Levine has won two court cases to let her 8-year-old child Roee, who has identified as a boy from a very young age, remain in a religious school despite other parents’ objections.
Kate, AKA “Transister Mom,” has recently authored the book, “Transister: Raising Twins in a Gender Bending World.” Her journey of raising twins, one cisgender and one transgender, offers profound insights into the complexities and joys of parenting in a diverse and evolving world.
During their conversation, Mindy and Kate will share their personal experiences, shedding light on what it means to support their children’s journeys wholeheartedly. They will also discuss their hopes and aspirations for allies, emphasizing the importance of supporting transgender children not just during Trans Visibility Week, but every week of the year.
Avi Maoz currently holds the position of Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s office and oversees the “Jewish Identity Authority,” where he has taken a stance against the LGBTQ community. He is labeled as misogynist, LGBTQphobic, and racist.
Two weeks ago, Hoshen, the Israeli LGBTQ organization for education, launched Israel’s most extensive online tolerance library in Avi Maoz’s name, making rich educational resources accessible to educators of all backgrounds. Now, typing avimaoz.co.il leads to this site, which aims to foster a more tolerant and inclusive Israeli educational system.
Mor Nahari, CEO of Hoshen, said, “The name of the site started as trolling, as a gimmick. I told myself that it would help the site reach more educators and parents. But very quickly, it became the answer to everything I felt in the last months. It became a sign for me that even in the face of the greatest embodiment of despair, we have something to do. It’s easy to succumb to feelings of helplessness and doubt about the impact of our actions. However, this website, which became viral immediately, has reignited the flame of passion and determination to continue the fight for tolerance and inclusivity.”
While Avi Maoz may propagate hate, Hoshen is using his name as a symbol to reach communities across the country and spread love. Thank you, Hoshen, for your invaluable contributions. Please explore their new online library, and stay tuned for English translations of their workshops in the near future.
To learn more about the work of the Israeli LGBTQ Organizations, click here
Want to travel to Israel – at least virtually? Curious to know what Israeli LGBTQ activists and NGOs are doing to fight further anti-democratic legislation? Wondering how they are working to minimize damage from a recently enacted law that weakens Israel’s judiciary?
Our Virtual Conference will take a deep, balanced, sophisticated look at the current state of the Israeli LGBTQ community and enable participants to connect with LGBTQ leaders in Israel.
September 12-14, 12:00-2:30 pm ET
The virtual conference will include sessions on topics like:
The government’s judicial overhaul efforts, with a debrief by LGBTQ activists who are on the front lines of protests
Acceptance of LGBTQ people in religious Jewish and Muslim communities
Advancing trans rights and trans inclusion
A look at how American political transphobia is being exported to Israel
There is no cost to attend this conference thanks to the generosity of our donors. After the virtual conference, you will receive a conference kit with fun swag as a token of our appreciation for your time at our conference.
Space is limited.
Rabbi Zvi Israel Tau, the spiritual leader of Noam party, called this morning for a war against the LGBTQ community. In a new book that compiles lessons he gave his students at the Har Hamor yeshiva, Rabbi Tau claims that homosexuality is a crime against humanity that threatens to destroy Judaism and the State of Israel.
The Aguda has filed a complaint against Rabbi Tau and wrote: “We will not allow them “Lehatir Et Damenu” (permissible killing). The masks have been removed, this is the vision of the extreme parties in the Knesset, written in black and white: to wipe us out. This is the spiritual father of Avi Maoz, who serves in the Israeli government as a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, with budgets of hundreds of millions of shekels.”
We stand with the Israeli LGBTQ community and their fight against LGBTQphobia.
What about you?
“Israel is portrayed in certain circles of BDS and anti-Zionist movements as a very racist country. I think the contrary is being proved right now. There are so many voices right now that are speaking for a Jewish, democratic, liberal country. The demonstrations strengthen the Zionist movement.”
Thank you to all those who joined us for our emergency briefing with Hila Peer, Chairperson of The Aguda, The Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel. If you could not attend, we have made a recording of the webinar available for you to watch. We strongly recommend that you view the recording to understand the current situation and discover ways to show your support for the Israeli LGBTQ community.
Today is a somber day.
The Israeli government has passed a “reasonableness” law that diminishes the authority of the Supreme Court. This is a dire step in an agenda that many fear will shift the delicate balance of Israeli democracy toward autocracy.
The Israeli LGBTQ community has been protesting these proposals for months because it is the Supreme Court that has helped to safeguard the civil rights of all Israelis, including the LGBTQ community.
The story doesn’t end here. The fate of a democracy is not decided in a single day or with a single vote. We love Israel and care deeply about its future. Our commitment is permanent. Please stand with us as we stand with the Israeli LGBTQ community.
Especially now, the Israeli LGBTQ community needs your support. They are struggling to afford the cost of participating in the pro-democracy movement, as well as increases in calls to crisis hotlines and support services. Please contribute to our Emergency Grant campaign today.
We also recognize that this is a global struggle. Democracy is fragile and must be protected everywhere.