This post is the first entry in a series of my experience in Israel on an LGBTQ+ trip. Because of how much content we experienced, I’ll be breaking down this series into three parts to best convey the “what.” I hope you enjoy reading “Queering up Israel!”
When you’re Queer, you quickly realize that you aren’t able to always exist completely in your identity as you navigate life. You live in a society that values heterosexuality and -normativity, you work in a space that may enforce gender roles & power dynamics that relate to society’s views and you may not have a strong group of Queer friends.
This leads to an expression deficit.
We’re not able to express our lived Queerness in many circles that we operate in. As much as I LOVE what I do, where I live and the friends that I have, I can’t help but notice something missing. Like there’s a piece of me that didn’t come with the puzzle.
That missing piece came to me in the form of a group trip to Israel that I experienced from the end of December to the beginning of January!
I went on Birthright, a trip that assembles young Jews in their 20s-early 30s and brings them to Israel for 10 days to experience the country — the Jewish state — and what it has to offer us. It’s a very curated trip that displays the best parts of the country, and leaves little room to see the nuances that affects it. As an LGBTQ+ trip, we got to experience those complexities in person, which led us to process and engage with the country in a way that is arguably different than maybe other trips would.
We were a group of 25 with a staff of 5, rounding us out to a strong group of 30. Most of us, except our guard and driver, were LGBTQ+.
My friends can tell you that I had extreme nerves about the trip; Worrying about whether I’d make friends, whether I’d feel tension or shame for being a person of size. I had a lot of feelings about the trip, but the moment we stepped on the plane I knew that we were about to embark on the journey of a lifetime.
The trip was combined with people from LA and NYC, so we (the LA group) arrived in Israel at 1:30PM, exhausted from an all-day flight and no rest. We had to wait for the NYC group to arrive so we can leave, which gave us time to meet our Israeli peer. Every Birthright trip includes a small group of Israeli peers, who are also soldiers, to join us for either half the trip of the full trip. Our peers were all LGBTQ-identifying people too, which immediately bridge a lot of connections for us.
When the NYC crew arrived, we were immediately shuttled to the bus, driving about two hours to our first place to visit: Lake Tiberias.
We arrived in the early evening, but it was already dark outside. We ate dinner, did some group icebreakers and went to bed for the night. My roommates were Matt and Yoni, whom I’ve come to have deep love and appreciation for.
The next morning, in daylight, we realized that we were right in front of the Sea of Galilee. Stunning shimmer reflected from the water’s surface, birds few in formation across the sky and we all adjusted to the idea of new family.
From the lake we headed to Mount Bental, a mountain peak that holds an old army bunker from a war between Syria and Israel. It also has the cutest cafe at the top! If weather permits, you can see Syria from the top of the mountain, but it was cloudy during our visit and we could barely see in front of us.
The area features a sculpture garden from dutch artist Joop de Jong, portraying old battle scenes as well as whimsical pieces of dinosaurs and creatures. We took a walk under the bunker, which immediately instilled some claustrophobia, but we also learned stories about the soldiers that lived there during the war. To be quite honest, I wasn’t fully paying attention as I was reading the walls, but the energy radiating inside made it apparent to me what went on in there.
We didn’t spend too much time in the bunker, or on Mount Bental, but did we have the time to slide through the cafe for a steaming cup of Turkish Coffee…which I will definitely not do again (it’s so strong and drunken black).
After Mt. Bental we headed on a nature walk - a.k.a a Hike with hella mud - to a natural waterfall and see the beauty of the Israeli countryside. I honestly couldn’t tell you much about this spot, it’s kind of a blur, but I know that I had the best time connecting with my peers and the family that we were creating. I’ll just let the pictures do the whispering (I say this because they ain’t all-that okurr)!
As the sun set and the moon started to draw out the night, we ended our excursion with a trip to the mineral baths, overlooking the Lake. Baths of sulfur steamed from the spa’s numerous pools while people gathered in its depths. In the water, 25 Queer Folk laughed, splashed and enjoyed the company of family.
We awoke. Another night chit chatting until midnight, and another night of me not sleeping past 4AM. Adjusting to the timezone wasn’t easy and the constant movement + lack of sleep was making me feel a little sick. Still, I was determined to have an incredible time.
With breakfast in our stomachs, we headed out to Tzfat (Safed) the mystical city and the birthplace of the Kabbalah. What’s the Kabbalah? Ask Ariana Grande! We didn’t get to spend too much time there, unfortunately, which saddened me because I was looking forward to learning more about the Kabbalah and it’s teachings - studying the relationship between God “the Infinite” and the mortal, finite universe. We did, however, sing spiritual songs and walk around the market, which had some beautiful gifts that I got to take home!
We then headed to a winery along the countryside that neighbored Jordan, but having been to a fair share of wineries, I wasn’t all that ecstatic. Or maybe it was the cold and exhaustion that quelled my enjoyment. Either way, the Wine was good but I’m sticking to my $5 bottle of Moscato y’all.
After a full day, it was time to head to Jerusalem, which is where we’ll begin the next part of this series! Jerusalem was a pretty big chunk of our time, but also a really interesting place. I’ll definitely have some points to discuss there. For now, thank you for reading along my journey and I hope it’s been okay. Like Game of Thrones, it gets more exciting later in the season haha. For now, I’ll leave with some extra of my favorite pictures below!