When Tyler Gregory was a teenager, he, like a lot of Jewish teenagers in the Reform movement, went to Israel for a month with the movement’s youth group, NFTY.
He came home changed.
“That was a transformative experience in my relationship with Judaism,” he said. He now saw Judaism as more than going to synagogue. It was something “vibrant and alive and very modern.” It was through NFTY, he said, “that I developed this concept … that we’re not just a religion but that we’re also a people. To me Israel is what best represents that, and I’ve made it a major part of my life ever since.”
Graduating from University of California Davis in 2009 with degrees in economics and political science, Gregory went to work for AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, in San Francisco, first as a fundraising campaign assistant, then as deputy political director for the Pacific Northwest region.
Then, while on an LGBTQ Jewish leadership development program run by the San Francisco Jewish Federation, he met Arthur Slepian, founder of A Wider Bridge, an LGBTQ organization that fights for equality for LGBTQ people in Israel and equality for Israel in LGBTQ communities.
“Inspired by his work and his mission,” he said, “I left AIPAC to pursue the other passion that I have, which is LGBTQ rights. I love this work because I get to combine a love for Israel with a love for the LGBTQ community.”
This June, Gregory is set to marry his fiancé, Nithan Narendra, who is South Indian.
He sees the marriage as a way of “coming full circle” — the ceremony combining his LGBTQ identity with his Jewish communal roots.
“It took me three Reform rabbis to find one that would marry us — not because we were a same-sex couple, but because we were an interfaith couple,” he said.
While Gregory had a “strong enough Jewish identity” that he was able to push past the first two rejections, he worries that others might give up.
“What worries me, and this is my message to the Reform movement or to liberal Judaism [interested in] engaging millennials in the next generation: This community is changing whether you want it to or not, and unless you find ways to adapt, there won’t be a community.”
Songstar: While in college, Gregory spent two summers leading singing and prayer services at Camp Mountain Chai in Southern California.