Growing up gay in a religious Jewish family, Lior Eliav felt lonely and isolated. Knowing that he was different since the sixth grade, Lior, now a confident 18-year-old, kept his sexuality a closely guarded secret from his family and friends, hoping that someday he would “change.” Needless to say, that never happened, and the older he got, the lonelier he felt. Having attended religious school in Jerusalem since the fifth grade, Lior – who loves to draw, read novels and do Origami – never heard discussion of what it meant to be gay, let alone know an adult who identified as gay or lesbian.
By the time he was 13, Lior was desperate for a place he could feel safe and meet other kids struggling with self-acceptance. He joined an online Gay Youth forum that connected him with other gay teens in Israel, but he longed to meet kids like himself face to face. Surfing the internet one afternoon, Lior found exactly what he was looking for: the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, a safe space for gays and lesbians located in downtown Jerusalem. With encouragement from a supportive friend, Lior went to his first Wednesday afternoon youth group meeting, which the Federation supports. “I was nervous all the way there,” he said. “I got lost at some point, but then I saw windows with colorful curtains and I guessed it was there.” Lior was painfully shy at first, but the social workers and his fellow teenagers were so welcoming, he said, that he soon felt right at home. That was three years ago. “Since then, I come to the Open House every week,” he said.
Federation funds the Open House’s weekly youth group meetings as part of our focus on creating a just and equitable society in Israel. Over the last six decades, Israel has built roads and bridges, laying the foundations of a solid infrastructure. Today, it is equally important that Israel build a strong civil society – one that is tolerant, inclusive, and reflective of the democratic values it seeks to embody.