By Hannah Henschel
I was prompted about a week ago to write a blog post about Creating Change 2016 by the Tzedek Residency. Formulating the words to express my experience at Creating Change has been one of the most difficult tasks of this residency. Before boarding my plane to Chicago, where the conference was held, I was getting calls from my peers who wanted to make sure I was prepared for events that might unfold at the conference, and which eventually did. Just a couple of days before the Conference began, a statement went out from the creators of Creating Change. The “Beyond the Bridge” reception hosted by A Wider Bridge and Jerusalem Open House was canceled, due to the divisiveness from the attendees of the conference. In those same couple of days, I was asked about my viewpoints about BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) which up until that day, I hadn’t had to face head on. The battles I had faced in the past when it came to politics and Judaism was the push back against LGBTQ inclusion in Jewish organizations which was the focus of work in my home state of Ohio.
On my way to Chicago another statement was made by the LGBTQ Task Force, the “Beyond the Bridge” reception was back on. So there I sat on my 2 hour flight feeling like I had to start formulating my thoughts and actions on the matter in one weekend. Usually, my political standings and thoughts are easy to formulate but my opinion on the matter weighs so heavy in all matters of my life. Since I have worked for organizations that can be seen as pushing the Pinkwashing agenda, (the theory behind the branding of Israel as being pro-LGBTQ to further its stake in the Middle East), I didn’t know where I would be during the reception. I had worked endlessly to create these inclusive spaces but what was it all for?
A staircase on the outskirts of the crowd is where I found myself that night, watching the protest being broken up and watching a flood of my peers from sessions I attended earlier squeezing out of the reception. I had shown up late, too late to be a part of either side. I had shown up late due to a Friday night ritual of mine. Something that I hold sacred, a time to be with friends and sharing a meal, there is nothing more precious to me than this. A setting just like this connected me to my Judaism, a setting like this has connected me to those I hold dear. This setting grounded me before entering into a space where I saw the movement I work day in and day out with, and for clashing on an issue that my peers in just a few generations past have also had to take on.
Upon returning to Asheville, I have been contacted by those who found out that I was at the Conference. I have told them the news that I was just an on looker and I can tell they were hoping for more. Many seem to want to hear what could have been my lived experience of seeing the protesters take over the stage at the reception or to talk about the exact chants I heard from the protestors. But I didn’t have that experience at Creating Change. I had the experience of sitting in a Queer-Muslim and Jewish dialogue group with a majority of Jewish attendee’s wondering, where was the other side to this dialogue? I had the experience of sitting in a crowded room of peers most of whom put together the cancel pinkwashing protest where they talked about the state of Trans and Gender Non-Conforming People of Color. I had the experience of ending my time in a Jewish Caucus with those who I had not seen throughout the Conference and who were able to talk about what their Judaism means to them. This conference was turbulent as any reform or revolution should be.