My name is Monroe Marshall, and I was born in Brooklyn, raised on Long Island, and am currently living in Albany, NY. I am working towards a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology, and Certificate in Public Health Preparedness and Surveillance at The University at Albany, State University of New York.
At the time of my LGBTQ+ Birthright Israel trip in December 2017, I had just graduated with a Bachelor’s in Neuroscience from Adelphi University on Long Island. I actually had decided I was going to Israel when my campus’ Chabad group (which I was secretary of) posted that applications were open. I didn’t even have a passport yet, which made it even more of a surprise to people when I told them of my plans!
Being part of the transgender community, I knew an LGBTQ+ trip would be perfect for me. I wanted to be with a group of people where we understood each other’s struggles and did not have to worry about hiding who we were. I have had many queer friends who have gone on non-LGBTQ+ trips and have had extraordinary experiences, but other than guaranteeing comfort, I wanted my journey to be tailored towards experiencing Israel’s LGBTQ+ culture. To this day, this trip was the best experience I have ever had.
One of my fears before the trip was the roommate situation as I was at the point where I was being read as a male, but my documents still said female; it meant the world to me that on my trip, rooms were not determined based on gender.
Most importantly, though, this trip allowed me to explore the intersectionality of my Jewish identity and LGBTQ+ identity. When I introduce myself to people, I say I am a Queer Jew; this is not something I used to say before my trip. Being able to go on LGBTQ+ tours of different cities, visit pride centers such as the Jerusalem Open House For Pride and Tolerance, celebrating Shabbat with rainbow candles, and experiencing the nightlife of Tel Aviv all allowed me for the first time to connect my LGBTQ+ identity and Jewish identity. I also got to see the diversity within the queer Jewish communities through people I met, including the IDF soldiers who joined my group. It was amazing how much we all connected not only as Jews but as members of the LGBTQ+ community. I have always had pride in both of my identities, queer, and Jewish, but it was only now that I began to realize the pride I felt as a queer Jew.
I am incredibly grateful to all those who make it possible for Birthright Israel to exist and for the increasing diversity of opportunities such as these LGBTQ+ trips. I honestly do not think I would have made the decision to apply for a trip if LGBTQ+ groups were not available. But this trip changed my life as I came back to America feeling a connection to Judaism and Israel that I never imagined I would feel. I remember at the marketplace in Jerusalem, a friend, and I asked directions to this Israeli woman with her young children; after pointing us in the right direction, she said: “Welcome home.” Her words stuck out to me, we did not know each other, but those two words were sincere and heartfelt. Although I will always acknowledge myself as a Jewish American, I now know that Israel always has a place for me, a place where I can have pride in who I am.