Young (Gay) Judea
Photos: Getty Images
Story by Joseph Alexiou
Editor's Note:This trip, unfortunately, has been postponed until Summer 2009, but Israel is still an up-and-coming international LGBT destination with a number of recent political and social changes encouraging this. The Pride in Israel trip remains a worthwhile example of these changes affecting youth and an impetus for future change.
When searching for a gay travel destination, citing the “promised land” normally invokes images of Provincetown, downtown New York City, or perhaps the beaches of Mykonos. But more now than ever Israel, holy land of the Abrahamic religions, is a destination of special LGBT tours. Jewish youth are flocking in droves to visit what is considered the diamond in the rough of gay destinations in the Middle East.
Pride in Israel, a recently-unveiled luxury tour for LGBT Jewish Americans in their 20s and 30s, is a unique 10-day trip to the Holy Land organized by YJ Impact, part of the Young Judea organization. The trip, which costs $1199 for double occupancy and includes transportation, lodging, group activities, and meals (but not airfare), was conceived with the intention of familiarizing the participants with gay life and history in Israel. The vast itinerary includes tours of the hip gay district of Tel Aviv, which includes several nights of dancing among Israel’s best gay nightlife, numerous panels and lectures about LGBT life in Israel, and visits to the traditional historic sites including the Old City of Jerusalem, Masada, and the Dead Sea (obviously with the chance to buy mineral-rich Dead Sea beauty products). The whole trip is presented from a Jewish and queer angle and encourages connections between queer Jewish youth.
Other LGBT-oriented Jewish trips include the Taglit-Birthright Rainbow Trip. Affiliated the Birthright program, this tour is one of the free trips to Israel available for Jewish youth who have never experienced the visit in a group setting. This trip is unique among the Birthright tours due to its LGBT angle; however participants in this tour must be 26 or younger.
Israel is without question the most accepting and LGBT-friendly country in the Middle East region (the obligatory army service welcomes gay and lesbian soldiers), although it wasn’t always the case. This past year has proven to be a successful one for LGBT Israelis; in February Attorney General Menachem Mazuz publically announced the right for queer citizens to adopt children, and the courts have legally recognized a same-sex marriage of two Israeli citizens. Huge victory for gay rights in Israel, there were previous pitfalls, such as cancellation of the 2006 Jerusalem pride parade, although it proceeded with less of an issue this past year (see the article in our sister publication, the Advocate). A much more detailed outline of the gay life in Israel was outlined by our recent article by David Kaufman in the most recent issue of Out Traveler.