About The Author
Chelsea Feuchs is the Communications and Social Media Associate for ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America. After studying for a year in Israel as a Dorot Fellow, she now works and lives in New York City.
This Hanukkah, ARZA is working to shine a light on several challenges facing progressive Judaism in Israel. We do so with the intention to generate greater understanding, to increase the investment of Reform Jews in the Jewish State, and to center a connection to Israel in our communities. Each night for eight nights, check in with us to learn more about pressing issues and to advocate for equality, pluralism, and democracy in Israel.
For the second night of Hanukkah, we considered the imperfections of the Maccabees, the obstacles they faced transitioning from insurrectionary force to governing authority. While it is important to include the complicated end to this story in our retelling, it is equally important to remember the events that caused the Maccabean revolt in the first place. The Jews in Judea, now Israel, faced an aggressive Hellenization campaign that threatened their community, defiled their holy places, and denigrated their religion. Those who objected to this political and cultural agenda faced dire consequences. In a world determined to erase Jewish distinctiveness, the Maccabees stood up and succeeded in one of the earliest fights for freedom of conscience and expression.
These revolutionaries celebrated their distinctiveness, no matter how many forces pressured them to conform or to accept poor treatment based on their identity. Many have drawn parallels between this ancient fight and the modern movement for LGBTQ rights. Though there are always complications making direct historical parallels, the spirit of pride and the insistence on equal rights certainly connects these two struggles.
Unfortunately, this spirit does not always animate the Israeli government’s approach to the LGBTQ community. Certainly, Israel is a safer country than many of its regional neighbors for non-heterosexual people, but that does not mean it is living up to the highest possible standards of equality and acceptance. Because the ultra-Orthodox Rabbanut exercises complete control over marriage in Israel, same-sex couples cannot get married legally within the country. The government has recognized same-sex marriages performed abroad since 2006, but the fact remains that LGBTQ Israelis cannot hold a ceremony in their home country.
In addition to this long-standing policy toward same-sex marriage, this year brought several other challenges for the LGBTQ community in Israel. Multiple government agencies advanced the position that adoption by same-sex couples is either undesirable or unacceptable. Although they later backed down from this rhetoric, the fact remains that only three same-sex couples have adopted in Israel compared to over 1,000 opposite-sex couples in the past nine years. Member of Knesset Yigal Guetta was forced to resign from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party for attending his nephew’s gay wedding, and a prominent rabbi left the Bayit Yehudi party because of the employment of a lesbian aide. Though these stories are disheartening, they also show that the LGBTQ community is making many advances in all corners of society despite the backlash.
This Hanukkah, let’s commit to making Israel a more accepting place that welcomes all Jews regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Just as the Maccabees maintained pride in their identity, we as a community that includes LGBTQ folks and allies will continue to stand up for equality and recognition. Movements such as ours that refuse to compromise individual expression and dignity deserve a place in Israel every day, and especially on this holiday that celebrates revolutionaries.