News / Ottawa

Daniel Jonas is building bridges between LGBT and Orthodox communities

After growing up as a gay man and an Orthodox Jew, Daniel Jonas is working to find a way to build bridges between those two communities.

Israeli ambassador Nimrod Barkan, Daniel Jonas, and Mayor Jim Watson. Jonas, who runs an organization which provides support for LGBT teens in the Orthodox Jewish community, met with Watson over the weekend.

Phil Renaud/City of Ottawa

Israeli ambassador Nimrod Barkan, Daniel Jonas, and Mayor Jim Watson. Jonas, who runs an organization which provides support for LGBT teens in the Orthodox Jewish community, met with Watson over the weekend.

Daniel Jonas knew from a young age that he was gay—though for a long time he didn’t know what that meant, or what it was; he simply felt like something was wrong with him. His sexuality, this fundamental thing about himself that he was only beginning to identify, much less understand, was complicated by the other fundamental part of who he is: Jonas is an Orthodox Jew who grew up and lives in Israel.

“It was not an issue being spoken about whatsoever in Israeli society, especially not in religious society,” said Jonas. “When they started to speak about it, it was so far from my experience as a religious teenager that I felt it was very remote, very far, very strange.”

Jonas, who runs an organization called Havruta, which provides support to LGBT teens in the Orthodox Jewish community met with Mayor Jim Watson, as well as with Capital Pride, over the weekend, hoping to increase the cross-cultural communication and to focus on how groups can learn from one another. The two spoke in a private meeting for about half an hour on Friday.

As part of a trip to Canada to speak to a number of organizations, Jonas hopes not only to learn from Pride organizations in Canada, but to highlight the importance of finding spaces for religious LGBT people. He also said that he hoped that he would be able to learn to improve the relationship between LGBT groups and Jerusalem’s municipal government.

“We wish that the Jerusalem mayor would ever march,” said Jonas. “I hope that if, one day, he comes here for a visit or the mayor of Ottawa will come to Israel for a visit, he will push him—the Ottawa mayor will push the Jerusalem mayor—to show more support.”

While there are significant differences in the legal context — same-sex marriage is still not permitted in Israel, for one thing—there are many things in common, especially for religious individuals. “We’re talking about Jewish populations and Christian populations, but the experiences are very similar,” said Jonas. “It helps when the law stands beside you, but if your community or family are more conservative, your private experience is similar.”

Religion has, in the past and today, caused some tensions with the North American LGBT community. This year the Chicago Pride Parade banned Israeli flags, calling them a Zionist symbol. Israel has also been accused of playing up its relatively friendly LGBT stance as propaganda to implicitly excuse its occupation of Palestine.

When asked, Jonas said, “I’m not trying to avoid the problems that we have—poverty, discrimination, the problem with the Palestinians. But it doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to be proud of the advantage that we’ve achieved.”

But as Pride organizations, including Capital Pride, turn towards foregrounding their politics over their pageantry—which has, at times, produced tensions with the Jewish community—Jonas sees, in some of the successes of the LGBT community in Israel, the seed of a way towards greater peace.

“When you enter that gay bar in Jerusalem, you can see Palestinian, ultra-orthodox, secular, and modern orthodox people sit and drink beer together,” said Jonas. “That’s the connecting point, where we all together can sit and talk and meet, and I think the world needs to embrace that and support that and not to say that until everything is solved you have no space. We can be the path, maybe, to solve some of the conflicts.”

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