The trip, slated to take place from Aug. 3 to Aug. 13, will coincide with Jerusalem World Pride, a weeklong series of events that will advocate tolerance and acceptance of gay and lesbian lifestyles; all told, it's expected to draw thousands of attendees and activists from throughout the globe.
The World Pride slate was originally scheduled for August 2005, but it was postponed until this year due to fears that disengagement from the Gaza Strip might lead to chaos and violence in the Jewish state. United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group for Jewish federations, planned to send a large contingent anyway; however, most groups pulled out when World Pride was postponed.
World Pride normally takes place every four years; the last gathering occurred in Rome in 2001.
Lynn Zeitlin, a Center City attorney and co-chair of Philly Pride, said that once it became clear that World Pride was being rescheduled for 2006, the decision was made that the Philadelphia federation would organize its own mission to Israel.
"This shows that federation feels it's time to reach out and hopefully engage in a meaningful way with the gay and lesbian community," said Zeitlin. "Once these folks get a chance to visit Israel and see for themselves the wonderful work that federation does there, the social services it supports, that will enable us to develop more of a community."
Zeitlin, 65, said the mission will be the first trip to Israel for most of the roughly 30 people expected to take part.
She said that participants who have signed on seem to be roughly divided between singles and couples – and that a number of the couples are interfaith ones.
In addition to Jerusalem, participants on the mission will spend time in Tel Aviv, Tiberias, Tzfat and the Golan Heights
In recent years, the expression of gay pride in Jerusalem has become a contentious issue.
Last June, in fact, a district-court ruling was required in order for an annual gay pride parade to go forward. Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski had previously ordered the cancellation of the event.
At the parade – which had transpired without incident in earlier years – various small-scale violence broke out between participants and ultra-Orthodox Jews; several people were stabbed and taken to the hospital, according to news reports. Certain Jewish and Islamic leaders have also spoken out against the gathering in general.
Despite such difficulties, participants are still looking forward with anticipation to being in Jerusalem for the momentous occasion.
"We are going to celebrate gay pride in one of the holiest cities in the world," said 38-year-old Lee Rosenfield, another co-chair for the mission.
Rosenfield said that in the United States, he and many others are minorities twice over – being both gay and Jewish – but that things are changing, he stated, though slowly.
"There is a whole range of acceptance within the Jewish community," attested Rosenfield, director of development at Gratz College. "Some sections are very welcoming, [though] some sections are downright hostile."
He noted that when it comes to him and his partner searching for a synagogue to join, "we want to know that a community is going to welcome us in all forms."
Still, he acknowledged, "the Jewish community in some ways has come a long way."