On a recent trip to Israel, Tye Gregory noticed a recurring pattern everywhere he went: bear hugs for Arthur Slepian, the executive director of A Wider Bridge, were the order of a day when meeting with Israel’s LGBTQ leaders.
“I saw in their eyes what A Wider Bridge meant to them, and what a special partnership Arthur had built with the many important [organizations] on the ground in Israel,” Gregory said.
Gregory knows he has big shoes to fill as he prepares to take the helm of the organization, ending Slepian’s seven years as boss of the prominent Bay Area-based LGBTQ organization. The leadership change takes place in January of next year.
Slepian, 62, founded the organization in San Francisco, and has since grown its operating budget to $700,000. A Wider Bridge has five full-time staffers in offices in Chicago, New York, Tel Aviv and Washington D.C. It aims to build mutual support for the LGBTQ communities in America and Israel, and do a little positive PR for Israel in the process.
“I think there is a lot of misinformation about Israel in the LGBTQ community, and I can’t think of a better way to change that,” Gregory said, referring to the part played by A Wider Bridge. “We aim to help people here understand what LGBTQ life is really like in Israel, and help them understand the struggles.”
Growing up in San Diego, Gregory, 29, moved to the Bay Area after college and began working at AIPAC’s San Francisco office. Gregory started working for A Wider Bridge in 2014, after attending a program run by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation called “LGBT Pathways to Leadership.” There, he met Slepian, who was one of the program chairs.
“I got to know him through that process,” Gregory recalled. “I was very impressed by how he presented himself.”
That introduction led directly to his work for A Wider Bridge.
Gregory said the Wider Bridge board of directors is pleased that a millennial is taking the helm.
“The transition was warmly embraced by the board,” Gregory said. “I think they’re pleased to have a millennial perspective. We look at the world in a different way, talk about the world in a different way.”
Gregory has plans to continue to grow the organization. “A Wider Bridge started in San Francisco,” he said. “From an operational standpoint, our goal is to round out … offices [across the country] with a focus on Florida and Los Angeles, so we have representation of the community around us … We want to fulfill the idea that we’re a national organization that serves the largest cities, and many of the smaller cities all around the country.”
One of the organization’s objectives is to tap donor and fundraising resources in the United States to help LGBTQ organizations in Israel. Gregory said organizations in the Jewish state tend to have a less developed fundraising infrastructure.
“We see it as our responsibility to help,” he said. “Most of them have one or zero professional staff, and they’re doing national work in a difficult country. We have a lot of resources here in the U.S.”
Describing A Wider Bridge’s evolving mission, Gregory said that when it started, simply taking LGBTQ community members on fact-finding trips to Israel was a novel approach. Now it’s routine.
“We think that by engaging LGBTQ leaders we may have more success,” he said. “Our focus has changed to taking leaders and organizations who can come home and partner with us. We see these trips as an investment in leadership development. There’s nothing like being there, and having a community in Israel.”
Having a younger executive director, the organization aims to engage those younger Jews who may be more connected to their LGBTQ identity than their Jewish identity or their attachment to Israel.
“I think that [engaging young Jews] is not unique to A Wider Bridge’s story,” he said. “We meet young Jews where they are. Our parents and grandparents had a much stronger connection to their Jewish identity and Israel.”