Beth Cohen
Unabashed lesbian equalist and ardent Zionist

Coming Out

Coming out, coming home (Courtesy)

As this is my first blog post — there are some things I wanted to get down right away.

When I turned 12, the voices of my great grandparents blew the spirit of Judaism and Zionism into my heart and soul. This spirit gripped me much stronger than anyone could have imagined. Although I grew up in a Jewish home, Israel and Zionism were not part of the mains. Much to everyone’s dismay, soon after my bat mitzvah, I was single-minded in most of what I did and thought. In other words — stubborn. I did not yet have a plan of how or when — but I was going to make Aliyah. I was going to move to Israel.

So — at the age of 12, I came out as a Zionist. At the age of 21, after forming an Aliyah group, I moved to Israel. On September 25th, 1983 we landed in Ben Gurion Airport and took an Egged bus down through the Negev, into the Arava where we finally landed on the kibbutz. Israel has been my home ever since. I could not, and still cannot imagine living anywhere else.

On the kibbutz, I married a man I loved and gave birth to two wonderful boys. I was enchanted and we were home. On kibbutz I learned to cook for ‘the masses’ in the kitchen. I learned to change cloth diapers, tucked and folded without pins. I learned to lay irrigation pipes. I learned to plant trees and flowers. I learned how to correctly prune trees, both fruit and noy. I learned how to fix plumbing leaks and how to fix window screens, to fix locks and doors and clogged pipes. I learned to drive a tractor and even got a tractor license. I learned to climb mountains in the desert and sleep under the stars. I learned to be part of a community, to be part of something bigger than myself.

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And there in the Arava, in my 30s, I came out as a feminist. I would not work in the kitchen. I would not work in the children’s house. I would get my tractor’s license. I would learn how to operate the power tools. I would give my boys dolls as well as cars. I would revise my goals to include raising boys to be kinder, to reject violence and stand up for those in need. I wanted to be seen as equal in their eyes as well as my own.

Later, when we left the kibbutz, I had a new goal — to raise my children in the best way I could. I learned to care for my family and I learned that sometimes I wasn’t enough, but I was lucky and my boys, brilliant as the Arava sun, flourished despite my shortcomings as a parent.

And so — in my 40s, I came out as a lesbian. Coming out to my children was no small challenge — a challenge greater for them than for me. After all, it was me that was making the decision to come out in the world and since my world was also their world, they were not given the choice. Their Ema came out in their world as well. And so, the world shook and we were all shaken. Time and circumstances, the Israeli sun rising and setting — and love came into my life in the form of a wonderful woman, whom I married in 2008.

But this particular blog is not to be about all of that. This post takes place in the present. It is now 2020. I have spent most of my life — over 37 years (!) living as an Israeli citizen. As an Israeli, I have been blessed to live in a country that recognizes the importance of its citizens. I am proud to live in a country where individuals on the street look out for each other. Strangers will tell you to put a hat on your baby in the supermarket. When I get on the train, with my now grey hair and crinkly skin, someone gets up and offers me her seat. In general, for as long as I can remember, I have felt this country to be caring and as well as tough, people willing to give what they have to those in need and willing to fight for those in danger. I have been lucky enough to never really feel unsafe in this country. I have always had a sense, that if I was ever in trouble -there would be someone to come to my aid.

And now, here we are, the year is 2020 -and this country that I love, is heading for its third round of elections. This government, that I have put my faith in for so very many years, cannot get it together. People are angry. People are frustrated. People are in pain. We seem to be going around in circles and waking up in the morning and listening to the news often gives me the feeling of being on one of those fast spinning rides at an amusement park and the ride has completely gone rogue -spinning faster and faster out of control with nobody at the helm.

So, in 2020, at the age of 57, I came out as a founding member of the party Kol Hanashim, running in the 2020 elections for Knesset. And that is where this story will begin.

So — who am I? I am a woman, in my late 50s. I am a lesbian. I am, unapologetically and unabashed, a Zionist and a feminist. I am both idealistic and fearful. All of these together have led me to be a part of the creating — the birthing of the party called, Kol Hanashim – the Voice of Women. We are a group of over 100 women — each of us a different shade and piece of the mosaic we call the Israel. As a group, as a political party, running for the Knesset in the March 2020 elections, we share the values that are the basis of our beautiful country: equality for all citizens, integrity in the decision-making process, responsibility for all the members of our society, democracy for all our citizens, compassion as a way of life and a guiding factor in all decisions affection our citizens. Kol Hanashim was formed not only out of the despair stemming from the failure of the last two elections to form a government and the failure of those elected officials to serve the needs of the people of this country and their utter failure to take responsibility for our collective health, education and welfare, all the while fighting with each other over who has the greatest power -but also, Kol Hanashim was born out of our collective hope for a better future and the belief that we, as women have the intellectual maturity and compassion to achieve what needs to be done. We believe, collectively, that these values and our capabilities together with our drive, compassion and creativity are the change that needs to take place. We believe, collectively, that Kol Hanashim is the only balanced choice for Israel in 2020.

It has taken me as an individual many years to reach this point in my life where I can say -yes, it is our time as women to take the reins of government. My reaching this point of being ‘ripe’ to be part of this is a cumulation of my experiences growing up in a patriarchal, sexist, oppressive society wearing the mask of acceptance; first scraping me raw and vulnerable, unable to find an opening where I could advance as an outspoken observant, Jewish, lesbian, Israeli woman.  Brought up to fill a certain role in society as a woman, caretaker, mother who is gentle and dainty, always striving to be lady-like, sitting with my legs tightly closed, taking care not to expose anything -body or soul, that would open me up to the ‘natural aggression’ of the men who dominate society. I do believe that the #MeToo movement brought with it a wave of strength that many women like me were able to tap into and harness strength -harness a vocabulary that until recently was dismissed in the public arena as being exaggerated and baseless. While I may have been able to make other decisions, take other directions -I was still in a place of not knowing that there were other directions to take. It is my experience, as I observe women even and only 10 years my junior, know so much more about the possibilities that are out there. I look in awe at these women who seem so self-assured -they chose their careers, their lifestyles with such authority and certainty. They mirror a certainty that I never had. I admire what seems to be their innate ability to just know that they can do their own will.

Back to Kol Hanashim -for me, it is the overwhelming strength and decisiveness of these women – that has given me the additional push needed -indeed it is these women who are the launch pad for moving us forward, providing the fuel and support for us all to move forward together with the decision and then the action to become Kol Hanashim. To be clear, we are a group of women that span the age range from 20 years through 80 plus. We are a group of women, with experience ranging the gamut of newbie to the ruffians of politics to the experienced crone (and this word for me is filled with respect, strength and power), women who have been working their entire adult lives to better the world we live in.

I know that many of you might not understand. And this being my first blog post for TOI, I ask that you bear with me and trust that I do own my experiences as my own, fully aware that while the hills and valleys of my particular of life are not unique -my interpretation and internalization of these experiences is as unique as a blade of grass. It is my intention that this blog give you a different perspective. Be you straight, male, young or old – it is my hope that my writing will open you up to the possibilities that we are all individuals whose specific combination of ingredients, consisting of all the nature and the nurture we have each come into. It is my hope that as I write my journey here, you will follow and eventually come to understand that there is indeed another way -and we all therefore come out as unique individuals with a common bond of humanity.

The Arava Desert (courtesy)
About the Author
Beth Cohen, born July 19th 1962 in Brooklyn, NY. Attended Syracuse University and made Aliyah upon graduation in Sept 1983. She became a member of Kibbutz Ketura, married and started the journey as a mother to two boys, now 28 and 31 years. Grandmother to Eitan, aged 23 months. In 1997, Beth moved her family to Binyamina, where she lived until moving to Zichron with her wife. Throughout the years, Beth has had many jobs, including speech therapist, shiatsu therapist, kibbutz gardner and irrigation manager, medical sales rep, regional sales manager and client retention. Beth and her wife co-founded a medical writing business, and she continues to work as a medical marketing writer and editor. While these occupations have been a constant, Beth's passion and constant is writing, using the written platform as her mediium to share her experiences and life views. In 2017, Beth published her first novel, a futuristic women's dystopian novel, Her Destiny Is Change. The feedback was, and continues to be fantastic. Beth promoted the book with book readings here in Israel and in Amsterdam. In the early 2000's Beth started writing and publish her blog, LesbosOnTheCouch, which became popular both here in Israel and abroad, giving her almost celebrity status among English speaking lesbians in Israel. Beth is currently diligently working to get members of the political party, Kol Hanashim, elected into the 23rd Knesset.
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