Last week the ROI Community announced $500,000 in project grants. These grants are meant to foster innovation and help advance projects in early to mid-stage development. We’ve decided to feature a number of these projects – we’ve already discussed Manuela Zoninsein and Agrigate and, as the title suggests, Talya Lev and Bat Kol are next.CK: So Talya, what exactly is Bat Kol and can you tell us a bit about the project that ROI is supporting and why you think it is needed?
TL: Bat Kol is an Israel-based religious lesbian group. It’s meant to provide a path of love and acceptance for Orthodox and religious lesbians to express both their sexual orientation and their religious beliefs without sacrificing either identity. What my project is meant to accomplish is to expand Bat Kol from a relatively insular Israeli, Hebrew language based organization to create an international community uniting and mobilizing religious lesbians across the globe.
Is everyone in Bat Kol Orthodox?
It’s a very diverse group. Some were brought up Orthodox and left the community, others are very Orthodox but for the most part, they are all seeking greater spirituality within the confines of a sympathetic, non-judgmental community of peers who share and understand each others experiences. Many of the women in Bat Kol are closeted, some are married with children, and the group has to walk a tight line between openness and confidentiality, maintaining the group’s visibility while protecting the members’ privacy. I’d say that currently 95% of the women are from religious backgrounds. Most of the women in Bat Kol come from Modern Orthodox or Haredi backgrounds and they are struggling to hold on to both identities. Bat Kol provides these women with an Orthodox framework that is both loving and supportive.
But you want to move beyond that insularity? It seems like you want to do some serious outreach!
We’re developing an English language Web site in the hopes of creating a vibrant, centralized, safe, international online community containing all the info, articles, news, interviews, events etc. found on the Hebrew Web site. We want the Bat Kol online community to be accessible to people around the world. We’re pretty sure that there are Jewish Lesbians around the world who can benefit from the resources, experience and infrastructure that Bat Kol in Israel has developed. All those resources are in Hebrew and so it is difficult for non-Israelis to make effective use of them.
More after the bump
You’re kind of a big deal at ROI, right? Since the ROI Summit last summer you’ve met with Sandy Cardin and Lynn Schusterman and you’re going to be attending this summer’s ROI summit. Why do you think your Bat Kol project got funding?
Well, I like to think that everyone at ROI is kind of a big deal. I’ve met so many impressive and committed people, it’s both humbling and inspiring. Bat Kol received funding because we are fighting for tolerance and our right to exist within the religious world, which is no small task. It is a grassroots movement begun by women who are struggling for their right to live a complete life – one where they don’t have to mute or suppress their spirituality. Lynn and Sandy are both incredible individuals who understand the importance of what we are doing and the weight of the burden we are shouldering in choosing to fight this battle. I feel they wanted to lend as much support as they could as they recognized the potential impact of this project.
What can we expect next? The Web site’s on its way right? What else will you be doing to make this project come to fruition?
There’s all the boring geeky stuff of course. We’re already hard at work on creating the Web site which will be a combination of a content management system and a social networking platform. We have to put together a small army of translators to begin work on the vast amount of material that is currently in Hebrew only. In general there will also be more outreach as we try to find collaborators in other countries. That’s one of the reasons why I was thrilled to be invited to speak at the Jewlicious Festival. If anyone reading this interview wants to help, please contact me through the Jewlicious contact us page and ck will pass the message on, right David?
Right-o Talya! Alright, last question. I remember how nervous you were prior to the last ROI summit, and now look at you! How did attending the summit help you in furtherance
of your goals?
I was nervous because I never thought that i would have to put myself out there like that. I never ever dreamed that coming out as a lesbian would end up with me being an activist. To me, my sexuality is private, but when I understood that I was fighting for people’s lives… things changed. Too many women are still sitting at home contemplating suicide because they can’t find a way to make peace with their sexuality due to the intolerance and ignorance of the religious world. Once I went to ROI, I went from feeling frustrated to feeling empowered. All of a sudden I was in contact with individuals who really were making change and pushing for a better world. The support, encouragement, advice, and connections I received were invaluable and inspiring. I know now that I have an entire community at my back, which gives me all the more strength to fight such a difficult and uphill battle.
Thanks Talya, that was great!