At Tel Aviv Pride conference (from left): Elliot Vaisrub Glassenberg, native Chicagoan now with BINA: Social Justice and Pluralistic Judaism in Israel; Grauer;Gretchen Rachel Hammon, reporter with Windy City Media Group; and Edwards Bruice, chair of Am Keshet, the LGBTQ arm of Temple Sholom in Chicago.
If the whole world is, according to Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, a gesher tzar m'od, or a "very narrow bridge," then Laurie Grauer is working tirelessly to make it wider.
In 2012, Grauer was among the first honorees of Oy!Chicago and YLD's Double Chai in the Chi, Chicago's Jewish 36 Under 36 list, primarily for her work as co-founder and executive director of Gesher Chicago, which brought LGBT Jews and allies together through original programming and partnering with other local organizations.
Today, Gesher Chicago has joined the ranks of San Francisco-based nonprofit A Wider Bridge, which connects LGBT communities in the U.S. with Israel and LGBT Israeli leaders through programming, resources and trips, to become A Wider Bridge Chicago.
Thanks to a Breakthrough Fund grant from the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, Grauer, now AWB's Midwest manager, will bring top speakers and programming to the Chicago area to strengthen the ties between LGBT communities in Israel and Chicago.
Grauer's own ties to Israel's LGBT communities were transformed in June when she traveled with an AWB delegation to Israel (read about the trip in her blog on Oy!Chicago) to experience the country from an LGBT perspective.The participants visited a kibbutz, Hannaton, with five LGBT families, observed the Knesset's first LGBT forum, attended a three-day leadership conference in Tel Aviv in conjunction with the city's 40th Pride celebration and even toured the West Bank.
Grauer and Todd Shotz, Chair of JQ International, an L.A. based Jewish LGBTQ non-profit, holding a Jewish Pride flag at the start of the 2015 Tel Aviv Pride Parade.
Grauer said the trip drove home a lesson that she learned long ago from a friend.
"I asked [my friend], 'what do you think is so unique about Jews?' She said it's unity. No matter who you are, where you are, if you know someone is Jewish, instantly there's a connection," Grauer said. "Jews, like everyone else, we need to make the world a better place, but especially LGBT Jews; we have this commitment to help each other make the world a better place and to stand by one another, and that shouldn't change no matter the borders or the politics of the countries that are involved."
The trip also gave Grauer a much deeper look into Israel's complexities, especially as both a progressive place in terms of LGBT rights and protections in the Middle East but still one with challenges, as evidence by the stabbing at Jerusalem's Pride parade last month. A Wider Bridge, she says, creates a safe space for asking difficult questions about Israel.
"I wish I could say the stories become simpler with the people you talk to; it doesn't. It gets more complex," Grauer said, "but that doesn't mean you should remove yourself from the conversation."
Grauer created a space for those conversations at JCC's Shabbat on the Lake last Friday and looks forward to getting A Wider Bridge more involved in the community.
In October, A Wider Bridge will bring Anat Nir to Chicago. Nir is an accomplished marketing and advertising professional and LGBT activist in Tel Aviv who co-created the Tel Aviv Gay Vibe online tourism campaign, helping Tel Aviv become known as one of the top LGBT travel destinations in the world. Also, in January, A Wider Bridge is hoping to run programs and seminars in conjuction with the National LGBTQ Task Force's esteemed Creating Change conference, to be held this year at the Hilton Chicago.
But A Wider Bridge is also looking to do more than simply reach Chicago, Grauer says.
"They don't want to simply have a place where they do programs in Chicago, they want Chicago to be a part of the organization," she said.
In the coming months, AWB Chicago will be looking for people who want to become its leaders and stakeholders in Chicago. AWB is also intentionally leaving room for Chicagoans to serve on its advisory board.
"What I love about A Wider Bridge is they are truly looking for partners in this," Grauer said.
Aside from her new role with AWB, Grauer has had other big changes in her life recently including leaving Andersonville after several years and moving in with her partner in Albany Park with their two dogs, Roscoe and Lulav.
To contact Laurie about A Wider Bridge, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Roscoe and Lulav