“So what was it like?”
That was the question from our friend Chris, seconds after he picked us up Wednesday night from the rail station, the last leg on our twenty-four hour return from Tel Aviv to Saint Louis after twelve days in Israel.
Thirty pages of scribbles in my travel journal, hundreds of photographs, about half an hour of captured video, and I didn’t really know what to say. Neither did Brian. The best we could come up with at first was “uh.”
But then I came up with this.
“Israel is really intense all the time,” I told him. “All the tensions you read about — Jewish and Arab, secular and religious, immigrant and native-born, Eastern and Western, ancient and modern — they’re all right in front of you, right on top of one another, all the time and everywhere you go.”
“And,” I added, “there’s this sense that it could all blow up at any moment.”
How’s that for an opener?
This Wasn’t Just Any Trip to Israel
We travelled with about twenty people who answered a call from three organizations in the United States that focus on the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Jews: Nehirim, which is where Brian and I connected, Keshet, headquartered in Boston but operates nationally, and A Wider Bridge, a relatively new outfit pioneered by Arthur Slepian.
A big gay trip to Israel, in short, on a bus with a tour guide and the promise of meeting with LGBTQ movers and shakers across the country while taking in major sights. Shabbat at a retreat center in the Negev, then up to Jerusalem, then the Golan Heights, through Haifa to Tel Aviv.
We were from all over the country, lots of different age and economic brackets, converts and Jewish-born, about half in Israel for the first time. We were there to experience Israel, to connect with it, to wrestle with its many tensions and contradictions. And we were there to see as much as possible through the eyes of everyday Israelis working like hell to bend the country towards greater justice, to enlarge the traditional circles drawn around gender, sexuality, and peoplehood.
We learned a lot, and it’s going to take me a long time to tell you about all of it. But let me give you this synopsis. I think Israelis are leading on LGBTQ liberation, not following, and have been for some time.
And I’m not talking about the massive gains in recent decades in everything from family recognition to military service. I’m talking about ongoing, on-the-ground, in-your-face, stick-it-to-them activism, which I think faded away in the United States, with notable exceptions, quite a while ago.
I’m talking about people channeling — and shaping — what I think I understand now to be a very Israeli impulse: don’t accept anything as inevitable, elbow your way through, create new facts, make your demands impossible to ignore. Live, celebrate, have fun — but don’t ever let up.
First piece, more to follow, but you don’t have to wait to learn about our trip. Here’s a growing blogroll: