by Jaclyn Finestone
In June, I lead Canada Israel Experiences very first LGBTQ birthright trip. The entire trip feels like a dream. We spent 9 months training, prepping and planning for a 10 day experience that was more than we had ever hoped for. We came together as 37 Canadian strangers in Toronto and quickly became a Queer Mishpacha. Everyone always asks what is the real difference between the classic birthright trip and the LGBTQ birthright trip. And the answer is nothing, but everything. Our itineraries were similar, the sights all the same, but the difference is the people.
This group of strangers that are so vulnerable with one another immediately due to two shared minority identities, and the willingness within the group to accept and learn from one another. I have been asked to share some highlights of the trip, but the truth is the entire experience was a highlight of my life. I will share one of the most meaningful memories from our trip which occurred at the Western Wall. We were a group of Queer individuals, many of whom do not identify within the gender binary, so the Western Wall wasn’t a place we would feel very comfortable.
It was important to our Israeli educator to provide the opportunity for people interested, to go to their respective gendered sides of the wall. Many of us stayed back, respecting the sanctity and holiness of the Kotel, but chose not to go up to the wall or pick a gender. We collected as a group and our Israeli educator brought us over to the Egalitarian side of the wall. We walked up to the wall as a group, with every person, regardless of their gender identities. I watched as individuals broke down crying, they never thought they could touch the Western Wall if they didn’t conform to the gender binary.
As we were leaving the Egalitarian side of the wall, we watched as a Chasidic couple walked to the wall together, holding hands. This validated the entire experience for our group. A religious Jewish couple praying at the same wall that we were at, the same wall outside of security. This was by far the most meaningful moment of our trip, and the reason that this LGBTQ trip needed to be offered. I am so proud to have lead this trip and for the impact it made on all 37 of our participants.
After returning to Canada, one individual from our trip wrote a beautiful article for the Canadian Jewish News.