International Jewish gay conference to honor Jerusalem parade victim


(JTA) — Gay Jewish community builders from across the world are set to convene in Austria for the inauguration of an international think tank on their communities’ needs.

The 70 participants coming to Salzburg next week for the think tank, which is called Eighteen:22, also will commemorate Shira Benki, the Jerusalem 16-year-old who died from injuries suffered in last week’s stabbing at her city’s gay pride parade.

Eighteen:22 is a reference to Leviticus 18:22, a biblical verse that forbids men from having “sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman.”

“Despite major advances in gay rights issues, we really have a lot of work to do inside the LGBTQ community and out,” said Robert Saferstein, who  initiated the think tank, which is part of the Connection Points program of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

While many Orthodox rabbis have spoken out against the murder, “we also see some rabbis who are more interested in promoting hate than condemning the loss of life, which is the most sacred principle in Judaism,” Saferstein said.

LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.

Among the conference participants will be Zehorit Sorek, an Orthodox lesbian woman from Jerusalem who is a co-founder of Bat Kol, Israel’s organization for religious lesbians, and head of the gay rights caucus of the centrist Yesh Atid party. Sorek attended the Jerusalem parade where Yishai Schlissel, a haredi Orthodox man from the West Bank, allegedly stabbed Benki and five others. Schlissel had recently been released from prison for a similar attack at the 2005 Jerusalem gay pride parade.

Other participants are expected to include Mordechai Levovitz, a social worker and a director of Jewish Queer Youth, a U.S. nonprofit that assists Orthodox and Hasidic young gays and their families, and Eli Nassau, founder of Guimel, the first LGBT Jewish initiative in Mexico.

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