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drama

the media cruised the crowd of 3,000 participants marching in jerusalem pride on thursday for drama and when they found none they looked to the folks watching along the perimeter of the parade for drama. the two groups of spectators that i saw along the 2.5km pride march route, who consisted of loads of media and about 30 teenage american tourists hovering the fence and cheering, did not seem to qualify as drama. folks i was with just seemed to laugh at the only potential drama which originated from the yeshiva we passed by that blasted animal noises from a speaker. i did see a group of 5 folks holding anti-gay signs but they even looked bored. so, sorry, media we are no longer dramatic. we are now just a bit colorful and way over protected with about one bored police officer to each participant.

whatever. there was plenty of political and behind the scenes drama leading up to the march. the drama included a protest of orthodox men in a nearby neighborhood, a fully decorated bomb-squad team showing up days before the march without a known bomb threat, a sketchy process of negotiations on the cost of security as well as the consistent threat of pulling all of our marching permits.

the behind the scenes dramas in my opinion originates not simply from the (ultra) orthodox jewish community but from the jerusalem municipality and local police who seem to publicly agree with the community rhetoric that pride should not happen in jerusalem. their rhetoric is so over-stated that after a month in israel i even roll my eyes when i hear it. so here is an example, just to catch you up, on the overly-stated usual conversation that i experience, “i am so in favor of gay people. i mean it is great to be gay, right. gay people can be everywhere in israel. we don’t discriminate at all in israel against gays. but {insert contemplative pause} why do you need to flaunt and cause such a scene in jerusalem? it is jerusalem. it is such a holy city. why can’t you just drive 45 minutes to tel aviv to have your gay pride there?”

obviously, if you are reading this on this blog, i am sure you can easily pick apart the statement above. it is filled with so many ill-conceived notions that your head can explode. instead of picking it apart, let’s just say, that statement is one of the reasons we march. our true equality is not yet understood. i often ask the person saying this statement, how do you suggest we as LGBT people live freely in this democracy if when and how, for example, we go to the grocery store with our same-sex partner and (because it is israel) two to three babies and not then be considered flaunting our sexual orientation?” for some reason this example seems to work here and folks seem to then agree that in order to be safe at the grocery store we need to be safe to be ourselves as a group in the streets… for a few fun visuals and because my camera is pretty low quality, here are a few photos taken by a two global lgbt activists:

yonatan gher leads his incredible staff and volunteer team into a group a hug jerusalem open house style before the march begins. they were the force that made this march happen. (Photo by Chad Meacham)

a young person holds a flag during the pre-march gathering at gan haatzmaut (independence park) (photo by sebastian scheiner)

folks chill out in independence park before the march begins (photo by sebastian scheiner)

look at the media chasing behind the one of two activists detained by israeli police officers (photo by sebastian scheiner)

a sweet couple kisses and a older fellow is caught behind the couple in the scene taking his own photo (photo by sebastian scheiner)

bored israeli police with their big guns (photo by chad meacham)

there were several protestors from the ultra-orthodox jewish community, who mostly made sheep noises. (photo by chad meacham)

folks march holding a huge flag (photo by sebastian scheiner)

ayala katz, mother of nir katz, z'l one of the victims of last year’s tel aviv bar-noa shooting, gave an emotional speech at the post march vigil about her hopes of ending homophobia. Ayala now heads an LGBT support organization for parents of the LGBT community in Tel Aviv (photo by chad meacham)

ultra-orthodox jews attend a prayer and protest against our gay pride parade, in the mea sharim neighborhood of jerusalem, before we march. executive director of jerusalem open house, yonatan gher has been quoted saying, "there is no religious monopoly on the holy city. the reason the march takes place in Jerusalem is not to upset anyone. we're here because we're jerusalemites & this is our city as much as anybody else's."

i had another incredible day in jerusualem meeting folks, seeing the sites and getting ready for pride. the day began at jerusalem open house by meeting with a new social justice hero, dr. ishai menuchin, the executive director of the public committee against torture in israel, over frozen yougart. and the day ended with one of the most interesting and tasty dining experiences in jerusalem with new friends idit klein the executive director of keshet and jordan namerow with american jewish world service at chef moshe basson’s  kosher eucalyptus restaurant inside the hutzot hayotzer artist colony. without a doubt, it was a day worth shooting photos of on my little green camera so please take a look at the my photos of the day by clicking here.

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2010 in Israel, Microscope

 

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pride

Leviticus 20:13 'If a man has sex with a man in same way as with a woman, they have committed an abomination. They are certainly to be put to death.'

Well, as my dear friend Jonathan has said in response to this statement illustrated above as inspired by Leviticus, “Why would a man have sex with a man in the same way as a woman? As a gay man I should have sex with a man in the way a man wants to have sex with a man {even as a man is or was or could be a woman…}.” One of the many feelings that I have experienced during this Israel journey are the intricate, enmeshed and contradictory levels of joy, sadness and complexity in civil society.

These contradictions have served as a road map into the ways I have been able to reconcile the intensity and love of life here. So today, I focus on the immediate need for equality in regards to sexual orientation and gender identity in Jerusalem and we march. In somewhat of a contrast, mostly in the levels of celebration and local community acceptance, to Pride in San Francisco, Madrid, Toronto or Tel Aviv we are marching for our equality in the hope that one day we will be marching here to celebrate with the larger community. Today I have pride, I have hope and I have love. I also have sneakers and I will be marching from Independence Park to the Knesset this afternoon.

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2010 in Israel, Microscope

 

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salt flower

I am not much of a shopper (actually, I really love shopping – I just don’t have much time on this trip to shop for gifts). Yet, as I was walking from Jerusalem Open House today to my room at Beit Shmuel before meeting up with with a colleague from San Francisco and two of my local hero’s Noa Sattah and Yonatan Gher-Leibowitz, I think I found something to bring home!

After six years of growth this salt flower made it from a wire set in the Dead Sea collecting minerals into my backpack for the gift that I hope is perfect for a woman in my life with what I believe is extraordinarily sophisticated taste. She says she has already owned everything that she would ever want or need… (She is also not a fan of t-shirts that say, “my daughter went to Israel and all I got was this lousy shirt and some silver plated Judaica from the airport…”). So my few followers of this blog, what do you think? Will my mama’le like this gift to put near her bathtub to help cleanse the air? What do you think? Will she like it?

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2010 in Israel, Microscope

 

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Haifa War Diary

Sure, we have spent considerable amount of time on a bus and two hours in the Dead Sea and travelling with all of our expenses paid for and beautiful meals included but seriously, this group is tired. I am tired. The intensity of being in the southern border town of Sderot where 3 out of the 4 children living there have diagnosable PTSD and where you realize that the reason the bus stops look so strange are because currently about twice a month a kassam rocket falls on the town of Sderot where not only can you see across the border but at all times you need to be within 15 seconds of a bomb shelter.

Tired, sure but we did have plenty of nap time on the bus...

I have heard the David Ben Gurion quote, “In order to be realistic you have to believe in miracles…” a few too many times and I am beginning to fear an onset of feeling potentially apathetic and jaded. Not that any of us are unhappy with the trip – I am just ready for Shabbat… but before we have Shabbat we leave Jerusalem for Haifa for another day of learning.

We arrive at the Haifa Radio station and I think to myself radio is so not relevant. Well, I am wrong. Of course, I am wrong, at home I listen to the radio daily switching between my local National Public Radio stations but because I do not rely on it for my safety and connection to my community I strangely think nothing of it today. In Israel the first non-national radio stations only opened a decade ago and 600,000 people listen to Radio Haifa daily. During the second war with Lebanon in 2006 when the community of Haifa was hit daily with Katyusha Rockets 80% of the community listened to Radio Haifa while they were stuck in a shelter.

We were able to see the following film in its full 35 minutes but it is worth it to take a few minutes to watch what this community went through and how Directors Gili Shapira and Avishai Kfir filmed Radio Haifa’s friends Eli Levy and Nasser Nasser in their work each day to keep the community up-to-date on the traumatic events of the war as it unfolded. Together this Jewish journalist and Palestinian photojournalist show how they truly seemed to unite this community.

Please take a look at the photographs of Danny Nishlis, Producer, Owner, and General Manager of Radio Haifa along with Radio Haifa’s News Manager who stayed at the news station 24-hours a day during the month long war as well as a few of our other photographs of the day here.

The Directors of Radio Haifa walk us through the horror of a month in 2006 during the Second Lebanon War under constant bomb attacks

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2010 in Diplomatic Seminar, Israel

 

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floating the afternoon away

The Arava area of Israel is a beautiful, sparsely populated desert region that runs from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea, and is part of the 500km Great Rift Valley that is connected from Syria to central Mozambique. The Red Mountains of Jordan were seen throughout our Thursday, July 8th visit to a few of the really unique environmental projects we were able to experience on day 5 of our MFA journey.

Noam Ilan shows us AORA's solar tower, erected in the Arava desert in southern Israel based on technology developed at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Most of the innovation we saw today came out of Kibbutz Ketura which prides itself on its creative economic perspective focused on entrepreneurship, religious pluralismgender equality as well as its own solar power company, an algae farm, an experimental orchard and a co-existence based Environmental Studies program at the Arava Institute.

Unlike Palm Springs, California where the desert has been built up with such suburban zeal that when I visit my Gay retired Jewish family there during Passover I need to take mass amounts of Allergy medicine to survive the Pollen factors. The air in the Arava desert still feels clean of inhalant allergens.

This solar 30m high tower stands adjoining this field of mirrors on 2,000sq.m. of land at Kibbutz Samar, outside Eilat and a few miles from Kibbutz Yahel where we stayed the night. The tower forms a single power module, capable of generating 100kW electric power in addition to 170kW of thermal power.

Ezra Ravins is the Mayor of Central Arava Region. Here 3,000 people live (including 500 young students from multiple ethnic backgrounds all going to one school). This region covers 6% of Israel (70 km from the South to the North) and rely on export of their produce for a thriving economy. It has always been a priority to be innovative with water resources and it has taken many years to be environmentally smart about these resources. They have only 30mm of rain per year to help the area bloom for the 7 villages, 2 small cities and 5 Moshavim on the West side of the Jordan River.

Mayor Ravins said during our visit, “We share the nature with our neighbors across the border in Jordan so we work hard to share the message that we share not only a boundary but an environment. When the Mediterranean Sea fruit fly caused major problems for everyone in the region to we had to meet in Vienna to work together to eradicate the fruit fly. In 1997 we began releasing sterilized male fruit flies in the air to reduce the growth so we can all export our fruits to increase all of our commerce. Now once a week since 1997 we still release sterile male flies.”

After our site visits and a quick lunch we take a two hour break to dip into the incredibly healing and nurturing Dead Sea before returning again to Jerusalem.

These three photos taken by our friend Andrei from Romania shows not only a few random floaters but Jonathan Sacerdoti from London and me venturing out into the depths of the Dead Sea. We were so hot in the water so only lasted a few minutes inside but every once in awhile we would find a strange bubble of cold water coming up from the sea floor that would feel like a soft breeze.

Please take a look at more of our photos from day five of our journey here.

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2010 in Diplomatic Seminar, Israel

 

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chaval al hazman

Standing in my kitchen in San Francisco, Rabbi Elliot Kukla gave me one of the most helpful everyday tools I have in my ‘diplomatic toolbox’. He taught me that when I am about to make a judgement of someone I can simply remember that we are all created btzelem elohim or in the image of the divine and let it be without smirking and being overtly crass. Today I used this tactic towards trying to let things go before I chaval al hazman or wasted any time

Most of day three in the Jerusalem Press Room of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs passed without any of my thoughts meandering or relying on btzelem elohim as a coping mechanism. By the afternoon session at 4pm with Professor Gerald Steinberg of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan and as the head of the NGO Monitor my mind was on serious overload. I became emotional and raw as he mentioned his long distrust of a international nonprofit group that I trust quite a bit called the New Israel Fund.

Day three of the Diplomatic Seminar featured Israel Foreign Ministry's expert, Sara Weiss Ma'udi, on maritime and humanitarian law. See more of these photos by clicking here

Moving back a few hours into day three began at 8am learning from the Israel Foreign Ministry’s expert, Sara Weiss Ma’udi, on maritime and humanitarian law focused on the flotilla that made global headlines followed by a lecture on the Assault of Israel Legitimacy focused on the BDS Movement by Press Secretary DJ Schneeweiss and just before lunch a talk about developing our Diplomatic Tool Box focused on topics of Iran with Yehuda Yaakov, Director of Non- proliferation and Counter Terrorism. Our lunch, again perfect for me filled with fruits, vegetables and hummus, was followed with a meeting with Natan Sharansky, not only the Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel but the person thought of as beginning the Soviet refusenik movement. He is recognized as a human rights advocate and is most well known for being held in a Soviet prison for a decade for championing the rights of Russian Jews to emigrate into freedom. He has been a high profile Israeli politician, featured in films about being a Refusenik and author of numerous articles and three books. As my incredible boss, Karen Bluestone, who once worked in Russia as well as my mother who once worked with the Jewish Community in St. Louis, Missouri on the absorption of Jewish immigrants from Russia both said about meeting Sharansky, “That’s a really big deal.”

Before we were able to head off to our dinner at the Anngelica Restaurant with Yuli Yoel Edelstein, a member of the Likud serving as Minister of Public Diplomacy and the Diaspora, I was speaking with my new friend Rebecca about our last meeting of the day with Gerald Steinberg and why I had such an emotional response to his presentation. She simply said, “chaval al hazman don’t let it get to you…”

Today was not a waste of time and I won’t waste anymore of it. Today was an amazing day. It was an additional opening into the intensity of the complex pluralism that Israel represents for me. So in honor of Rebecca I take a moment to remember that malchar yom hadash or tomorrow is another day

Photos from dinner in Jerusalem with a few of the folks that are on the Diplomatic Seminar. In this photo folks from Romania, Denmark, France, United Kingdom, Australia, United States and Uzbekistan are represented.

 
 

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Gilad Schalit

Gilad Schalit was born on August, 28, 1986 to Aviva and Noam Schalit in the Western Galilee. Gilad also has a brother and sister Yoel and Hadas. Gilad began his Israeli military service at the end of July 2005 and on duty he guarded the settlements around Gaza. On Sunday, May 25, 2006 an attack on Kerem Shalom resulted in Gilad being captured. He is still being held in the Gaza Strip… learn more.

The following few photos are from our visit to Park Eshkol on the Gaza border at a Concert for Gilad Shalit by the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra featuring Shlomo Artzi:

People drove from all over the country to this park on border of Gaza to listen to Gilad Shalit's family speak about the urgent need to share his story with the world's community. They also showed the concert on Israeli National Television. The Shalit Family has not seen their son, a POW with Hamas, since 2004. Here is a photo of the crowd listening to the concert for Gilad Shalit by the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra featuring Shlomo Artzi. This was an afternoon stop after a day of lectures in Jerusalem during the of Israel Foreign Ministry Diplomatic Seminar for Young Jewish Leadership

A few soldiers enjoy the peaceful gathering with short conversations and ice cream Popsicles

Yellow Balloons flew out of the Park Eshkol into the sky hoping to reach Gilad Shalit a few miles away in captivity with Hamas. This balloon fell to the ground before leaving the park and landed in front of us at the concert

Young children blowing bubbles in front of us at the concert

Taking a moment at Park Eshkol

Jonathan Sacerdoti at Park Eshkol

More photos of our day can be found here

 
 

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