Ofer ErezJerusalem Open House ( JOH ) CEO and the first trans officer to serve openly in the Israel Defense Forces ( IDF )was the featured speaker recently at Temple Sholom.
Erez is currently on A Wider Bridge's ( AWB ) Impact Tour, in which the organization brings Israeli grantees to the United States to share their stories. AWB, the Jewish United Fund/Federation of Metropolitan Chicago ( JUF ) and Temple Sholom co-sponsored this particular event.
Temple Sholom Associate Rabbi Shoshanah Conover spoke about how important it is for their synagogue to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community, and recited a portion of the Torah that talks about who is seen and not seen, and how people are perceived by the wider world.
AWB Western and Midwest States Director Jeroen Vahrmeijer led the discussion. In addition, Vahrmeijer said Erez recently received AWB's first-ever LGBTQ Trailblazer Award.
Erez spoke about his upbringing on a kibbutz, saying he felt different than the other kids, and wanting to have a shaved head and wear boys' clothes. His parents were supportive and granted his wishes. He did not know there was a word for how he was feeling until he met another trans young man when he was 16; there was no trans visibility or awareness in his community.
According to Erez, he was terrified to be an out trans man when he got his mandatory recruitment letter, so he entered the IDF as a woman. He said the process of coming out publicly to his entire unit did not happen until he finished officer training school everyone was very supportive. An article about Erezone in which he had issues with how the author portrayed himnevertheless led to other trans people coming to him for advice.
After coming out, Erez co-led the creation and implementation of a trans-inclusive policy for the IDf. It discussed medical services; addressing trans people by their preferred pronoun and chosen name; and uniforms and living quarters that matches one's gender identity. Erez noted that the IDF publicly announced that gender dysphoria is not a mental health disability.
Erez is the first trans person to head JOH, one of the oldest LGBTQ organizations in Israel. He said many LGBTQ Jerusalem residents rely on JOH to provide them with services and support; that includes an HIV clinic that provides confidential and anonymous testing, the only one of its kind in the city.
Erez said that unlike Tel Aviv, which has its Pride parade financed by the city government, Jerusalem's March for Pride and Tolerance, which JOH organizes, is made possible by the community and outside donations like AWB's impact grant. He added that the march has grown every year, but there has been opposition. A man who stabbed marchers in 2005 was sent to prison and released 10 years later, even though he said he would stab marchers again. He did just that in 2015, where he injured five people and killed Shira Banki.
It is important to be engaged and take action on behalf of minority communities across the globe who are being targeted for hate and violence, especially in this current political climate, said Erez.
Other speakers included Jewish Federations of North America LGBTQ Mission to Israel Co-Chair Michael Bauer, AWB Board Chair Bruce Maxwell and JUF Next Gen Initiatives Assistant Vice President Sally Preminger.
To read more about Erez, visit www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Trans-Israeli-activist-Ofer-Erez-on-making-IDF-history-Open-House-role/64455.html .
See www.jerusalemopenhouse.com/ .