Elech Havdalah Brings LGBTQ Jews Together Against Antisemitism

Recently around 25 members of the Jewish community and members of Elech, a Cincinnati Queer Jew-ish group, gathered at Cafe Alma for a Solidarity Havdalah. 

The event was held as a safe space for members of the LGBTQ Jewish community to come together to process the rise in antisemitism since Oct. 7, when Hamas – the terrorist organization based in Gaza – killed 1,200 people in a brutal attack on southern Israel and took 240 hostages. A large portion of antisemitism recorded by the ADL is Israel-related according to the org

Since Oct. 7, many Jews feel that progressive spaces have become openly hostile to Jews. The idea for the Solidarity Havdalah to address this came from members of the Elech community. 

“Our leaders asked me if we could have a community discussion about the things we’re experiencing,” said Elliot Draznin, who founded Elech with their partner Zak Draznin. 

There have been rising tensions for several years in LGBTQ spaces regarding Israel and Jews. In 2019 organizers of the D.C. Dyke March banned pride flags with the Star of David, calling it a violent nationalist symbol (the Star of David is featured on the Israeli flag). According to Draznin, antisemitism isn’t new in queer spaces, having been there long before Oct. 7. 

“Within queer spaces, I have experienced antisemitism, so it just hasn’t necessarily changed all that much for me,” they said. 

After the attendees settled in, Draznin led the group in havdalah before splitting the crowd into two groups. 

Then, members of the community spoke about their experiences on Oct. 7 – the fear and shock of the horrific attacks, of following the ensuing Israel-Hamas war, and its effects on them personally. 

Many in attendance shared similar experiences. They no longer felt accepted or safe in the queer spaces they had once relied on. An attendee, who requested anonymity, expressed concerns about feeling increasingly unwelcome as a Jew in what were once considered safe, progressive environments.

“As a queer person, I would feel accepted, but as a Jewish person…I don’t know,” they said.

For many in attendance who had usually felt unsafe because of their LGBTQ identity, now they were coming to terms with antisemitism for the first time. Art Crowe, expressed their confusion and frustration after coming face to face with antisemitism.

“It feels like you were pretending you didn’t hate [me because] I was Jewish,” he said. 

A prevailing feeling among attendees was the struggle to conform to an imposed standard of being a “good Jew” in the eyes of antisemites, which often involves sacrificing aspects of their Jewish identity for acceptance. This conflict is especially pronounced in progressive circles, where a divide is emerging between anti-Zionist Jews and those who identify as Zionists. The underlying tension stems from a perceived pressure to denounce Israel – home to half of the world’s Jewish population – as a prerequisite for acceptance in these spaces.

The event was a cathartic experience for those who attended. Many were holding onto complicated feelings of grief, anxiety, and fear for months. The Elech organizers were surprised by the outpouring of feeling at the discussion.

“I was surprised that no one wanted to talk about actions we could take to face…antisemitism,” said Draznin.“Folks got exactly what they needed out of the conversations that they were having.”

The organizers of the havdalah and discussion were happy that members of their community left feeling better. To Draznin, providing a space for people to be themselves is an important part of Elech’s mission. 

“If we’re doing something right, it’s literally because folks are feeling like they have a space to just exist with other people like themselves,” they said.