How many times in your life have you looked around to see who are the people you are surrounded by?  How often do you ask yourself if you and your community are inclusive enough? How good do you know your neighbors? How well do you respect their needs, culture or believes?

Most people would be afraid to answer those questions or even ask them at all. Fortunately, last weekend I was honored to speak at Gesher 2016, a JDC Junction event in Greece. Gesher is one of the largest annual events in the Balkans for young Jewish adults, bringing people together to explore and celebrate what it means to be Jewish through Balkan, European, and global lenses. It is a wonderful platform for young adults to explore international Jewish life and their own Jewish identities.

Gesher festival lasted 4 days, in Haldiki, Greece, where the participants were able to explore and celebrate their Jewish identity in different forms; They attended workshops and discussions and heard about the variety of sectors, various movements and different initiatives in the Jewish world.

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(Photo: Phelia Barouh)

I was given the honor to take part in a panel, and talk about identity and Inclusion in the Jewish World in regard to History, culture and tradition of Ethiopian Jews, together with Dave Shaw and David Gee, founders of Keshet UK – An organization works to promote equality and diversity, advance education and eliminate discrimination in relation to LGBT people, in particular LGBT Jews within the Jewish and wider community in the UK. With regard to the Jewish LGBT community in England.
Dave and David presented the main difficulty of accepting a sexual orientation and integration with Jewish identity. The main activity of Keshet is not Halacha issues, but issues of identity, acceptance and inclusion within the LGBT community and the Jewish community.

Deborah Blausten — A Jewish educator and rabbinical student from London, England, who shared her amazing story of growing up in a secular family in London and her journey to become a reform woman rabbi. At some point of her life Deborah realized she can do it, or even more important — she should do it. Not only because she, as she says “Loves the Torah”, but because she can love the Torah and teach it as well.

Arnon Zamir and Dana Yichye-shwachman to present TOM – Tikkun Olam Makers, an amazing innovation connecting people with disabilities with Makers and developing solutions for everyday challenges.

Each one of the panel speakers presented their work, challenges and shared their hopes and dreams.

More than anything else, this panel was very empowering and eye opening.

When we think of conflicts or inclusion in the Jewish world, we often think of the Orthodox-Reform issues and disagreements. Fortunately, my friends and I were given the privilege to share and tell the story of diversity in the Jewish world and to address the fact that there is more than one way to be a Jew.

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(Photo: Phelia Barouh)

It seemed that the Gesher participants, who come from communities that are relatively traditional, were determined and open to listen to us and share with us the attitude and struggles in their own communities to the issues that came up in the discussion. It seemed to me that we reached a broad understanding on the part of the audience, on raising awareness and openness in the community they come from.

I’m very grateful I was invited to share my story and the story of Ethiopian Jews, moreover, I got the chance be exposed to a new world I did not know before — the Eastern European Jewry and other young Jewish entrepreneurs, and change agents from around the world. The idea of creating a network of young Jews from around the world, who come from different worlds, different cultures and different Jewish identity is an excellent way to promote openness, understanding and inspire some young Jewish entrepreneurs to recognize and accommodate other aspects of Judaism.