One week before the local Ottawa Pride Festival, Mayor Jim Watson welcomed a guest from Israel for a discussion of LGBTQ issues.
Daniel Jonas – a leading Israeli gay rights activist and chairperson of the religious LGBTQ organization, Havruta – was in Ottawa following a visit to Montreal, where he met with the Israeli consul-general and a number of invited guests, including clergy members from numerous religions.
Jonas found that Ottawa’s mayor was very interested in learning about LGBTQ rights in Israel and in particular about how Orthodox people in Jerusalem deal with gay members of their community.
Havruta was established 10 years ago in Jerusalem “as a discreet support group for gay men with religious backgrounds facing the same difficulties with families and communities,” said Jonas. The group has grown, with chapters now established in Tel Aviv and Be’er Sheva.
“Today, we do two things, parallel and integrated,” he said. “We are building a community, which allows people to feel at home, to meet with others that have similar stories and difficulties, and to feel like they are not alone. On the other hand, we try to promote and change the way in which the Orthodox community in Israel sees us by meeting with MKs and rabbis, doing open houses around Israel – even holding events in very conservative, right-wing settlements.”
The organization counters negative comments with positive campaigns to educate the public, including pamphlets placed in synagogues at Yom Kippur, brochures with names and faces of gay
Israelis telling stories about themselves and positive comments from rabbis and other well known people.
“We are not operating alone,” said Jonas. “There is an organization of Orthodox lesbians, Bat Kol, which was established even before Havruta. There is a new initiative for Orthodox trans people and we are all together a big community in Israel and are working more and more closely. We are in the process of perhaps becoming one big organization.”
Havruta has been invited to speak to various Knesset committees, including the committee for gender equality, and is watching very carefully for the High Court’s upcoming decision about the surrogacy laws in Israel.
All of Havruta’s funding comes from private individuals and grants from interested organizations and foundations.
While in Ottawa, Jonas also met informally with members of the Ottawa LGBTQ Jewish community, Capital Pride board members, parliamentarians and staffers, as well as staff members from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the Israeli embassy, for an open discussion.