“Shlichut gave me the freedom to come out of the closet”

After finding the right balance between his sexual identity and his Jewish identity, Jewish Agency emissary Slav Leibin is teaching the world about LGBTQ-Judaism on a unique tour through the streets of Tel Aviv

Just before Eurovision arrives in Israel, momentarily making the country the unofficial LGBTQ world headquarters, there is already someone showcasing this side of Tel Aviv and Israel. Meet Slav Adam Leibin, 32, who was born in Belarus. His journey as an emissary of The Jewish Agency (shaliach) led to his personal strength to come out which inspired him to found Rainbow Tour – an organized excursion to see LGBTQ sites in Tel Aviv which he has already given to thousands of Jewish visitors to Israel.

Confidence to come out

Leibin decided to become a Jewish Agency emissary at a pivotal moment in his life. “At that time, I started an internal process of coming out of the closet,” he says. “My close friends knew, but I wanted to further explore that process, and I knew my time as a shaliach would give me this freedom. Also important to me was my burning passion for  Zionism. When a position opened up to serve as an Israel fellow at Princeton University, it a was perfect.”

When Leibin arrived at Princeton, he found a campus with about 8,000 students, of whom a few hundred were active Jews. Before leaving for Princeton, he attended a Jewish Agency training seminar, which gave him the tools to build his self confidence. “I went to Princeton on behalf of The Jewish Agency, but I spoke with my own voice.” Leibin recalls.

“I worked hard to connect Judaism with the LGBTQ issue and that wasn’t easy, however I felt unconditional acceptance from The Jewish Agency during my time at Princeton, in fact, I still do today. When I decided to engage in LGBTQ Judaism during my fellowship by leading programs on this subject, I received tremendous support – and that can’t be taken for granted.”

Leibin fondly remembers one experience, “I met a Haredi guy who had come out. He began to speak about his identity and how he was rejected by the community. I had a lot of discussions with him, and we tried to build a bridge between keeping commandments and sexual identity.

The Birth of Rainbow Tour

On his return, Leibin looked for things to do in Israel as a continuation of his fellowship with The Jewish Agency. “I started working in a high-tech company but it didn’t satisfy me. I really missed the whole aspect of my values and the desire to change something in the world.”

This led to the birth of Rainbow Tour. “At first I wanted to run tours that would tell the history of the LGBTQ community. I studied and built a tour around significant sites to the LGBTQ community in Tel Aviv. One of the first tours I led was for a group of Jewish Agency shlichim, and they loved it. When they returned to Israel from the communities they were serving abroad, they wanted to bring other groups to me. That’s when I understood the importance of the LGBTQ community in Israeli society and it’s importance to visitors from overseas as well.”

“On one of my tours, I noticed a very quiet father who had come with his daughter.” he recalls. “I felt tension in the air and then he suddenly asked me: I don’t understand, were you born like this or did you catch it somehow?” People around me were very embarrassed by the question, but I just smiled at him, thanked him for his question, and said that I was very happy that he asked this. I said that I believe it was from birth and told him my story. At the end he thanked me for not forcing my position on him, and for making him feel comfortable.”

Today Rainbow Tour has expanded, becoming a go-to tourist experience in Tel Aviv. They have hosted hundreds of groups from Israel and around the world, and Leibin expects record demand in 2019 following the launch of new tours in time for Eurovision. “I see a direct line from my mission as a shaliach in the U.S. and the tours I lead in Tel Aviv,” he says. “It moves me to see how this small project has become something so significant.”

04 Apr 2019 / 28 Adar II 5779 0
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