Israel Featured Nation at Equality Forum

Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren

Israel was the featured nation at the Equality Forum, a worldwide LGBT rights conference based in Philadelphia, in May 3-6, 2012.

The forum began with a VIP kickoff reception held at the Gershman Y, Broad and Pine streets. In the lobby of the Gershman, the works of Israeli photographer David Adika were displayed, as part of the 13th Annual Gay and Lesbian Art Exhibit. Titled Equator, Adika’s photographs were displayed on the north, east south, and west sides of the lobby, representing similar regions in Israel.

More after the jump.

Left to right: Equality Forum Executive Director Malcolm Lazin, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, and Houston Mayor Annise Parker

Of his photography, Adika said, “It’s about the place I come from, and I wanted to give a record from Israel.” Asked whether his sexuality affects his work, Adika says, “Yes, but it’s not my agenda. My sexuality is not my agenda, it’s part of my identity. Of course it reflects (in his works), but it’s not very particular, it’s in it, but it’s not talking about it.”    

Explaining the exhibit on the walls of the lobby, Adika said, “Here there are four walls, the south wall, the north wall, the east wall, and the west wall. Each wall are related to their (equivalents) in Israel.” The south wall, he said, shows the Dead Sea, which is in the south of Israel; “I want to show in this work,” he added, “two (opposing) forces, the one that sinks, like this, it’s a sinkhole, and the one that floats, when you’re in the Dead Sea, you float.” The opposite forces at work, added Adika, were “sinking and floating, with all the metaphor you can think of.”

Debra Blair, Chair of the Board of the Equality Forum, said of Israel as a featured nation, “We’ve had several key countries from around the world, that are in stages of Gay liberation. I think to look at Israel, amongst the number of countries we’ve looked at, it’s just timely. There’s quite a bit of controversy around  having Israel, and that’s all the better for us, because that means we’re pushing the envelope for folks to be seen in terms of what they’re trying to do to get in a better place for equality for LGBT citizens.”

Elaborating on the controversy around Israel, Blair added, “With any particular country that has extenuating issues, that may or may not even deal with the LGBT movement, there will always be folks that, when you decide to honor or feature a particular country, they look for things to say, ‘Oh, they’re doing this, they’re doing that wrong.’ We’re simply focusing on the issues of LGBT civil rights around the world. When you have folks coming in to talk about what Israel may or may not be doing in terms of their political positions, or things of that nature, that’s where we put the stops on.” The focus, said Blair is “what (Israel is) doing to move the LGBT citizen to a different place of visibility.”

What has Israel done towards LGBT equality? “They have a number of initiatives,” replied Blair, who is an Assistant Professor in the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management of Temple University. “One of things we look at are those countries that are looking at (the LGBT) market as a potential tourism market. They, like many other countries around the world, are looking at the LGBT market and saying, ‘Come to Israel, we are a great destination.'” Israel, said Blair, has “challenges like every other place around the world around freedoms, but (Israel is) trying to be pro-active, to be welcoming.”

At the start of the kickoff, Malcolm Lazin, Executive Director of Equality Forum, spoke of the history of the Forum, stating that the organizers called it “a civil rights summit,” adding, “People in our own community really didn’t believe us, they thought we were engaging in hyperbola. Back when we said (the Forum) has an international focus, there was a moment in time when people were not focusing internationally, in terms of our national organizations…

“We’re (of Equality Forum) proud of our history,” added Lazin, “As you know, we co-produced (the documentary) Gay Pioneers, at a moment in time when very few in this community knew who Barbara Gittings was.” Gittings, along with Frank Kameny, were, as Lazin put it, “the father and mother of our organized (LGBT) civil-rights movement. We make the film Gay Pioneers with PBS and went out across PBS (stations) and schools across the country.”

Daniel Kuttner, Counsel-General of Israel to Philadelphia, said, “Israel resides in a rough neighborhood…but in spite of the hardship we sometimes bear, Israel is a state (with a) thriving cultural life-music, dance, theater, literature, I could go on,” as Kuttner commended David Adika, “whose photographic art is critically acclaimed throughout the world.” Kuttner gave his thanks to the University of the Arts, the Gershman Y, and Equality Forum for their work in putting together the events of the Forum.

Malcolm Lazin presented the Forum’s Distinguished Service Award to local philanthropist Mel Heifetz. “Many of you know Mel,” added Lazin, “because of his really remarkable philanthropy, there is certainly in the Philadelphia region who has been more philanthropic across the board to the LGBT community.” Heifets, said Lazin, helped to pay off the mortgage for the William Way LGBT Center, located at 13th and Spruce streets, and has donated generously to the AIDS community and to gay-friendly political candidates.  

Philadelphia Interfaith Walk Supports Park 51

As members of the Philadelphia Interfaith Walk for Peace and Reconciliation, we write to express our strongest support for the construction of Park51, previously known as Cordoba  House, a community center and mosque to be located near the site of the former World Trade Center. For seven years now, members of the Peace Walk-Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and Buddhists, among others-have gathered monthly at the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society in North Philadelphia to learn and draw strength from each other as we work toward a more peaceful world. Our Muslim brothers and sisters at Al-Aqsa and elsewhere have been gracious hosts and models for the open-mindedness, peacefulness, and compassion at the heart of their faith. Those same values are evident in those who seek to found Park51. According to its own vision, it plans to be a “center for multifaith dialogue and engagement.” One of the leaders of the proposal, Imam Feisal Abdul-Rauf, has justly been recognized as a courageous and eloquent leader in improving relations between Islam and other faiths.

More (including list of co-signers) after the jump.
We, too, feel the lingering trauma of 9/11. We continue to mourn the victims, including the many Muslims killed and wounded. We unequivocally denounce the attackers’ perversion of a holy faith shared by a billion people, just as we denounce all violence that profanes the name of God. But it is precisely for these reasons that we support the construction of Cordoba House, along with Mayor Bloomberg, President Obama, many survivors of 9/11 and their families, and the majority of those who actually live in Manhattan.

The question is not simply whether the groups sponsoring Park51 have a right to build it. The Constitution makes it clear that they do, though we are dismayed that some would question it or even argue, as has one prominent commentator, that no more mosques should be built anywhere in the United States. The question is whether this center should be built in this place. Our answer: An unequivocal yes. This mosque and community center will build bridges among various faiths (just as we seek to do in the Peace Walk). In doing so, Park51 will concretely and symbolically reject the evil aims of those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and their allies. It will be a sign of our resilience. It will promote something even better than tolerance­-mutual understanding and a celebration of differences as well as commonalities. In other words, it will
embody our nation’s unofficial motto: E Pluribus Unum, “Out of many, one.” We can’t think of anything more American than that. We also can’t think of a better way to honor the image of
God in all of us.


(affiliations listed for identification purposes only)

Ronald Abrams, Mishkan Shalom
Margarita (Miriam) Abuawadeh, Al-aqsa Islamic Society
Anthony Brummans, St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church
Vic Compher, Tabernacle United Church
Edd Conboy, Broad Street Ministry
Patricia Coyne, Peace Walk
Katy Friggle-Norton, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America
Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Ayala Guy, Peace Walk
Peter Handler, Mishkan Shalom
Adab Ibrahim, Al-Aqsa Islamic Society
Wilson Kratz, Chestnut Hill United Church
Lance Laver, Mishkan Shalom
Brenda Lazin, Mishkan Shalom
James McGovern, Catholic Peace Fellowship
Neomosha Nelson, Metropolitan Christian Council of Philadelphia
Steve Newman, Mishkan Shalom
Douglas Norton, Central Baptist Church
Ruthy Lachman Paul, Peace Walk
Peter Pedemonti, New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia
Jeanne Swartz, Peace Walk
Linda Toia, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
Rev. Frank P. Toia, priest, Episcopal Church
Ayesha Weinberg, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship
Justina Wiggins, Mirabilia Circle
Pecki Witonsky, Peace Walk
Pam Yaller, Upper Dublin Friends Meeting