Raised in a small, politically conservative, Christian town in western Iowa, Quentin Ozeri came out of the closet as a teenager and immediately became involved with the LGBTQ+ movement.
Though he had been raised secularly by a mother who had been adopted and was unaware of her biological parents’ ethnic background, he believes his fiery passion for LGBTQ+ rights were fueled, in part, by a Jewishness that had yet to be confirmed genetically.
While in college, he got a DNA test for his mother—”almost as a joke,” he said—and lo-and-behold he discovered he was Jewish. Upon learning this, “I understood where that fire to pursue justice came from,” Ozeri, 28, reflected in a recent phone interview. “This tikkun olam lived inside me, and I realized, ‘These are Jewish values, this is what we are here to do, to make the world a better place.’”
Ozeri, Associate Director of Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA) of Los Angeles, will share his efforts toward fixing the world during his organization’s inaugural LGBTQ+ event, “Pride in the Israeli Frontier: A Virtual Event for Young Professionals,” showcasing LGBTQ+ life in Israel outside of Tel Aviv.
While Tel Aviv is considered one of the most queer-friendly cities in the world—a Middle Eastern mecca of LGBTQ+ rights—the flourishing of LGBTQ+ life in Israel’s more remote cities, from the Galilee in the north to the Negev in the south, is less known, and the program will attempt to shine a light on those communities.
“As wonderful and fabulous as Tel Aviv Pride is, Israel is not only Tel Aviv, and there are other wonderful, vibrant LGBTQ+ communities finding their own voice and space,” Ozeri said.
JNF-USA is holding the virtual event in honor of Pride Month, celebrated every year during the month of June. It is an initiative of JNFuture, JNF-USA’s community of philanthropists ages 22-40. The organization is hoping the program attracts a new generation of young people who love Israel and consider LGBTQ+ acceptance central to their Zionist identities.
“The LGBTQ+ movement is an important connection for many individuals from the Millennial and Gen Z generations when it comes to supporting Israel because it is such an open and welcoming society,” Ozeri said. “As a broad-based organization, it’s important for us to provide programming and content that resonates with our diverse partner base and shows them that JNF-USA remains committed to fostering diversity and inclusion.”
“The LGBTQ+ movement is an important connection for many individuals from the Millennial and Gen Z generations when it comes to supporting Israel because it is such an open and welcoming society,” Ozeri said.
The Israel-focused nonprofit is also hoping the event serves as an antidote to the growing animus toward the Jewish State in progressive spaces, particularly facing Jewish LGBTQ+ activists when expressing their love for Israel. As an example, Ozeri cited the Chicago Dyke March in 2017 when several rally participants attempted to march while waving a rainbow-colored Star of David flag and were told by the march’s organizers to leave.
“So, this is our response to some of our challenges coming up in these spaces. We want to show there is a sizable portion of people in the LGBTQ+ community that are proud of their relationship with Israel,” the JNF-USA professional said. “I think this will be a step into the LGBTQ+ space for JNF-USA.”
Joining Ozeri on the panel are three speakers who are active in the Israeli LGBTQ+ community: Hadas Goldman, co-founder of JNF-USA affiliate MAKOM, a network focused on empowering and revitalizing towns and villages throughout Israel; Gil Elias, CEO of Pride House in Be’er Sheva; and Arnon Allouche, manager of the Haifa Communities’ House for Pride and Tolerance, an LGBTQ+ center located in an integrated Muslim and Jewish neighborhood.
Elias will be speaking about his work in Be’er Sheva, where the Pride House he runs has provided vital services and a sense of “real chosen family” for the LGBTQ+ community in the Negev’s largest city, Elias said in an interview from Israel.
Elias is the language and sexuality researcher at the Hebrew language department at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. He is also a poet. In leading the Pride House, he has tried to incorporate arts and culture programming into the center. Recent Pride Month events have included a queer drag show, a lecture about an ongoing oral history project on Be’er Sheva’s queer community, and the forthcoming June 17 Pride March.
The history of the Pride Parade in Be’er Sheva has been bumpy. When a Pride March in Be’er Sheva was conceived in 2016, the idea was met with resistance by the city’s religious leaders and was diverted from its main route by the city’s police, leading its organizers to instead stage a protest outside the Be’er Sheva municipality. This, in turn, brought more visibility to the city’s LGBTQ+ community than the march would have gotten, and ultimately led to a partnership between the Pride House and the municipality, Elias said.
Eager to share the progress surrounding LGBTQ+ acceptance in his city, Elias said he is hopeful that the upcoming event will be the first of many Be’er Sheva Pride House collaborations with JNF-USA.
To register for the upcoming JNF-USA event on June 13, visit www.jnf.org/jnfuturepride.