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For American Zionist LGBTQ group, Israel’s right-wing government has created an urgent crisis



(JTA) — The annual gala of A Wider Bridge, a Jewish LGBTQ group, had all the trappings of a festive event: Guests arrived in cocktail attire finery — one woman wore a tiered, ruffled rainbow dress — to enjoy salad, rice, chicken, an assortment of desserts and schmoozing — and to celebrate the achievements of four Jewish activists.

But even though it was the group’s first in-person gala since before the COVID-19 pandemic, the mood on Monday night wasn’t entirely celebratory. Throughout the speeches and sideline conversations was the sense that A Wider Bridge — which advocates for the LGBTQ community in Israel, and for Israel in the U.S. LGBTQ community — was entering a new and uncertain era.

“For Israeli LGBTQ, the ground has shifted beneath their feet,” the group’s executive director, Ethan Felson, said in a speech to the crowd of about 200 attendees. Citing LGBTQ activists in Israel, he added, “Calls to crisis hotlines are up. Incidents of emotional and physical violence are up in Israel against the LGBTQ community. … You can imagine the challenges the trans community is facing — a full assault on their rights and on their lives.”

The crisis Felson depicted has materialized under a new Israeli government that includes vocal anti-LGBTQ officials in senior positions, whose signature legislation to reform the judiciary threatens the set of LGBTQ rights that Israel has long pointed to as evidence of its open society.

That new reality has complicated the work of A Wider Bridge both in the United States and Israel, and interspersed in the night’s program — speeches celebrating four honorees, some stand up comedy from Jewish comedian Judy Gold, and even a recorded video from Vice President Kamala Harris — was an acknowledgement of the challenges facing LGBTQ rights in Israel. It has also caused the group to double its donations to Israeli LGBTQ groups this year.

“I’ve been in this work for 35 years, and through very complex times, I’ve never felt a greater sense of urgency,” Felson told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency at the event. “The urgency of this moment overshadows everything I’ve certainly done in my career.”

The gala, which took place in an event space lined with golden pillars whose arched windows overlooked Manhattan’s Union Square, occurred at the same time that Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich visited the Hasidic community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Smotrich has called himself a “proud homophobe” and sits in Israel’s governing coalition alongside Avi Maoz, who heads the anti-LGBTQ party Noam. The coalition also includes haredi Orthodox parties that have long opposed LGBTQ rights.

Approximately 200 guests attended the gala Monday night, where executive director Ethan Felson announced a new emergency campaign for LGBTQ causes in Israel. (Jackie Hajdenberg)

Legislation the coalition is now advancing to sap the Supreme Court of much of its power and independence also endangers LGBTQ rights in Israel. While same-sex couples are not permitted to legally marry in Israel, the court ruled in 2006 that the country must recognize same-sex marriages performed abroad. A court decision in 2021 also paved the way for LGBTQ couples to have children via surrogacy.

“The conversation about the Israeli LGBTQ community has changed dramatically,” Felson said. “The Israeli LGBTQ community was always perceived as safe, secure and successful and not among the vulnerable constituencies. But that wasn’t an accurate picture. It’s always been vulnerable to conversion therapy, transphobia, violence. And there are ministers in this current government that make those situations worse, that play on those vulnerabilities.”

But Felson said that the core work of A Wider Bridge in the United States — to cultivate relationships between Israeli LGBTQ groups and those here — will not be diminished because of who is in power.

“We love Israel as much today as we did yesterday, as much as we did last year,” he said. “We hold Israel and its LGBTQ community close. And a country is more than its leaders at any time.”

He added, “We never lobbied for a government. We never were in this to support a government. And so it has been a truism of everybody involved in this conversation about Israel that there have been governments that have come and gone, with which we’ve aligned or haven’t aligned — that doesn’t change the equation of our connection to a country.”

Since the beginning of the year, A Wider Bridge has donated $180,000 to 20 different Israeli LGBTQ organizations — the same amount it has given annually in recent years. At the end of the evening, Felson announced an emergency campaign to raise another $180,000, adding that the organization received a $75,000 anonymous match to start off the campaign.

Other speakers also discussed the changing situation for LGBTQ Israelis in forthright terms. In a prerecorded video, Rotem Sorek, CEO of Ma’avarim, a transgender advocacy organization in Israel, said that since the new government coalition took over, she has noticed an increase in phone calls to her organization’s crisis call center.

“What’s happening right now is there is a shift in power, a particular new brand of transphobia,” Sorek said. “People start to believe that trans people are not regular human beings.”

Harris’ prerecorded remarks didn’t address the situation in Israel and instead focused on honoree Roselyne “Cissie” Swig, a longtime donor to the group from San Francisco who received its Tzedek Award. But Swig herself sounded a note of concern about LGBTQ rights in Israel in her acceptance speech.

“I’m old enough now to have been part of the beginning of Israel,” said Swig, who is in her early 90s. “What I think it’s going through right now, from a legal point of view, is a little unsettling for me, and I’m sure others. And I would prefer that it was more stable.”

But Felson said that although his group is facing a new set of daunting challenges, he doesn’t feel like he and his colleagues are alone.

“People are keenly aware now that there are problems that can’t be swept under the rug,” he said. “These are not debates about fine policy points. This is an existential debate.”

The post For American Zionist LGBTQ group, Israel’s right-wing government has created an urgent crisis appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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