When Daniel Jonas was 15 and struggling with his sexuality he turned to God.
“Being gay made me more connected to God,” said Jonas. “When I was down, I found myself praying for hours. I knew God wouldn’t react.”
Now 35, Jonas now longer lives a closeted life but rather is part of a growing movement of believers who are open about their faith and lifestyle. On Wednesday evening, Jonas was a featured speaker at A Wider Bridge’s “Refusing to Choose: Israeli, LGBTQ and Orthodox” program.
“The fact is people remain Jewish and gay,” Jonas told a group of about 50 people gathered upstairs in the Pride Center’s building A.
A Wider Bridge is a pro-Israel organization that seeks to build bridges between Israelis and LGBT North Americans and allies. The organization recently returned from Israel and at Wednesday evening’s program a video was unveiled from the mission trip.
“It was the most wonderful, fulfilling experience of my life,” said Robert Boo, Chief Executive Officer of Pride Center at Equality Park. “Here I am this dumb boy from the Midwest who grew up Methodist, what did I know about Israel?”
Boo’s group left for Israel a day after the U.S. Presidential election in November. In his meetings with Israelis, Boo said there was a consistent expression offered.
“To a T, everyone greeted us and said ‘I’m so sorry,’” Boo said. “As a group we had to lick our wounds from afar, watch on social media and process what was happening.”
While the American election did not go the way many LGBT people wanted, Boo said it is important to have an open dialogue – now more than ever.
“No matter how far away your beliefs and differences are you have to talk,” Boo said. “You have to share. You have to listen to them so you can find some common ground and build upon that common ground and take it from there.”
Joining Boo and Jonas as speakers Wednesday evening were Zehorit Sorek, an Israeli lesbian, Arthur Slepian, A Wider Bridge Founder and Tyler Gregory, an American Jew and A Wider Bridge Director of Development. Congregation Etz Chaim, a South Florida LGBT inclusive synagogue, co-hosted the program which included a kosher sushi meal and liquid refreshments.
“In the beginning, I wasn’t quite sure how it could be,” said Sorek, a 41-year-old mother of two from Tel Aviv. “I’m religious and I’m attracted to women and I have all these questions about it. In the orthodox world when you have a question you go to a Rabbi, but I didn’t think that was a good idea so I went to another Rabbi – I went to Google.”
Sorek googled “Lesbian and Religious” and she found Bat Kol.
“I was very happy,” she said. “On this website I found I was not alone. There is a lot of women like me. It is a great feeling.”
Sorek said after attending a Bat Kol meeting she became an activist for Jewish lesbians and recently ran for public office in Tel Aviv.
Although A Wider Bridge has been in existence for seven years, the organization gained international attention when it was the target of protests by pro-Palestinians at last year’s National LGBTQ Task Force Creating Change Conference in Chicago.