June 6, 2012
As featured on The Huffington Post: http://huff.to/KR2JVG
I grew up in the aftermath of the worst Jewish tragedy on record — the Holocaust. My father was a Holocaust survivor — a victim of hate, purely because he was a Jew. As a young boy, he was forced into hibernation from his family for over five years, seeking refuge in strangers’ houses. He constantly feared for his life — and tragically lost his own father and most of his family, all because of hate and ignorance.
For me this is not a story, a movie, or a TV series. This has been my reality my whole life.
My dad never completely recovered from what he experienced, and his suffering took a great toll on me and the rest of our family. Growing up in this environment made it very clear to me that I would not tolerate any hate, and would fight to my core for equality and freedom for all.
As a young man, I moved to New York, where I found a city that embraced me for who I am and for what I have to offer the world. New York is filled with people from all over the globe – all walks of life, all colors, all religions, all sexual orientations. I learned very quickly that you are judged in this city by how productive you are and what’s in your heart, not where you come from, who you sleep with, or who you love.
One of the most amazing people I’ve had the chance to meet in this vibrant metropolis is my dentist Joey. We met through his brother-in-law, someone I grew up with in Israel. I knew Joey before he came out, during, and after — he was always a great guy! Joey became a very successful dentist with a huge practice in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood.
Thirteen years ago Joey met a beautiful man named Roberto. Their meeting was the beginning of a huge love story that blossomed into a beautiful family with three children, who share the same biological mother. They are a true model of stability and love.
When America’s acceleration towards marriage equality (at least, in the more progressive states and localities) swept New York State last year, Joey and Roberto finally won the right to get married — and they were just married last month! I was honored to be invited and proud to be a guest at my first legal gay wedding. I have been a part of the fight for a long time, so for me it was a very meaningful moment. Also, if I knew Joey and Roberto as well as I thought I did, their nuptials would be nothing less than fabulous! For my gift, I chose to give them a set of coffee mugs and shot glasses from Peter Ibruegger Studio, sold on loveandpride.com, the LGBT e-commerce jewelry and lifestyle website I co-founded in 2005. They were registered at Tiffany & Co., but what gay newlyweds don’t need glassware emblazoned with mustaches and bow ties?
Joey is Jewish — something I share with him — and the couple decided to have a Jewish wedding. But they’re gay, and I’m straight. I have to admit — I was confused about what I should expect from their wedding. Would it be “It’s Raining Men” or “Hava Nagila” – oy vey or oy gay?
Well, I got the answer the moment I walked into the reception hall and saw the crowd. I saw children running around, Jewish grandmothers, friends, coworkers, extended family, best friends, but mainly; a whole lotta love. It was not a “gay wedding” – it was a wedding. It was music and dancing and performances, but it was really all about the love and commitment these two men share with one another.
After I decided to write this post, I sat down with Joey and Roberto and asked them a few questions about their wedding – everything from funny topics like Did you coordinate your wedding suits?and Did either of you invite your personal trainer? to more personal questions like How do your children feel about you being married? and whether any of their vendors were initially surprised about working on a same-sex wedding.
There were two answers that greatly touched me that I would like to share with you all.
When asked about how their children felt about the wedding they Joey replied, “Our children were watching the news with us when they announced the passing of the law allowing gay marriage in New York State. They were jumping for joy! My oldest daughter presented this current event orally to her school as a class project. She was very proud to announce that her two dads were going to get married. We had our civil marriage service at City Hall the same day she gave her presentation. At school, she was applauded and thanked by many students in her class. What a great gift it is to be applauded for being yourself!”
Roberto added, “Our religious ceremony and party were on May 12th. After the service, our daughter broke down and cried. She was so touched with joy that our love was finally recognized and applauded. Our son Jacob also cried during the ceremony. He was our Best Man. My youngest daughter, Sophia, couldn’t stop smiling and danced all night at the reception. This was a joyous occasion and triumph for all of us.”
It’s really incredible to see how much a true family unit Joey, Roberto and their children are. I think they are an authentic example of what family is supposed to be, no matter what the dynamic is.
Another short story Joey shared was when he found out that one of his housekeepers who had been working with the family for years decided that their wedding was wrong and that she would not attend. Joey said, “One of my own housekeepers did not come because of what she is taught by her church. She called our marriage an abomination. I really struggled with that. At first, I wanted to fire her and never allow her to be in my house again. But then I decided that would make me exactly like her. She struggled with her comment, and we went head to head on it. I could not understand how she could work for us and accept our gay dollars and be part of my family for years. We thought of her as our friend. When we sat down and discussed why she would not come, she explained the conflict with her church. But I didn’t’ believe she really felt that way inside. Was she really fine with being a part of our life and family — as long as we didn’t have any legal rights? Was it just about the money and not her relationship with us?
I quoted Leviticus to her and pointed out how judgmental of a book it is. I asked her if she eats shrimp, and she said yes. I explained that the book says no one should eat any bottom dwellers. She told me she likes shrimp. I asked: How is this different? You’re deciding to follow certain Biblical teachings, but not really living ‘by the book.’ A few days later she came back to me and reaffirmed how much she loves us, and how I made her think a lot. I spoke with a Catholic priest, who is a patient of mine. He gave me great insight to this situation. He said not to be angry with her. He explained that religion is like a triangle. Some people stay in the corners of the triangle and do not mix what they were taught with what they experience. Most people stand in the middle of the triangle, where what they were taught and what they experience mix and influence each other. She is blinded by what she thinks, when she could instead choose to believe what she wants. The day before the wedding, she hugged me and told me that she respects me and loves our family. It was her way of making it right.”
One thing that I love about Joey is that story doesn’t make him angry. He is strong enough to understand that some people have not been taught about love, and that love is not a decision, but an emotional connection with a person. He proves that by waking up every day with his beautiful husband and their wonderful children and living his life the way that makes them happy.
This is where I go back to my own life experiences, and the way I see the world in the shadow of my dad. Discrimination is never forgiven. It destroys your soul, it destroys harmony, and it stops you and the world from growing and progressing.
If you had the chance to be at Joey and Roberto’s wedding you would have had the chance to see love, to feel love, to embrace love just as simply as that.
Sometimes you learn lessons in school, or at church — but I learn my lessons from life. I learned it from my dad — and as long as I can and have the means, I will fight for equality, acceptance, tolerance, and what always guides me in life — love.
April 4, 2012
In the fall of 2005, at a store event in Denver, I met a great man by the name of Denise Dorothy. Denise is one of the founders and board members of the Matthew Sheppard Foundation. It took only a few minutes of conversation for me to know that I wanted to be a part of this organization’s mission and help to raise money toward supporting their cause. Shortly after, I met Judy, and fell in love with her extraordinary & powerful dedication to passing the Hate Crime Bill. At that time she had already been working on this for years, traveling around the country and to Washington D.C., talking to everyone that was willing to listen- from the common man to congressmen and our president. After years of hard work, she won and so did we, the Hate Crime Bill became law! Today it is part of our lives and part of our justice system. We all owe this accomplishment to Judy, an exceptional woman who suffered more than most can imagine when she lost her son Matthew to hate, a woman who was able to turn that loss into progress for our nation!
Reading the story about Daniel Zamudio from Chile takes me back to Nov 1999 when we first learned about Matt.
If we have learned anything from that tragedy, it is that there are people with so much hatred for others because of their sexual orientation, religion or color that we must recognize it, fight it, and punish those that act out their hate so brutally, not only in the United States but worldwide. I send my condolences to Daniel Zamudio’s family and friends. Words cannot describe my outrage against those that were so cruel to such a promising young man who was loved by so many. I hope Daniel’s death will do for the Chilean people what Matthew Sheppard’s murder did for us Americans – bring an awareness to a very important reality- a fear that many gay men and women live with ever day. Help to erase hate – in Chile and around the world.
March 5, 2012
Love and Pride is a dream come true for me. As an artist I get to create collections & new products for some of our most popular collections and it really is my favorite part of the job! During the past two months I was able to travel the world, doing what I love to do.
I have been in Israel, Berlin, Bangkok and Hong Kong- working with great people in amazing production facilities and I am truly grateful for that experience. In the upcoming month, I will introduce a lot of new products including engagement rings from our #1 wedding collection: ‘Love and Honor.’ There will also be new additions to our ‘Love, Peace and Earth’ and ‘Love Made in Heaven’ collections.
Our team is in the process of creating a new website that will be easier to navigate. With so many changes to the site, we really have our customers in mind. We want there to be more options but an overall simple and straightforward shopping experience. Keep checking back to see what’s in store!
Last but not least, we have been talking to good people and good friends from Marriage Equality USA. We’re working to add them to our family and raising money to help push for what I strongly believe possible: federal marriage equality and an end to discrimination! We will pursue this goal state by state, court by court and get the right people elected.
I’m looking forward to hearing from you, your comments are very important to me so please don’t be shy and don’t hold back – share your thoughts.
January 27, 2012
Dear readers, please take a minute to watch this video: http://huff.to/xh48k8
I have been working with Dennis and Judy for the past six years. I was truly touched and honored to win their Essential Piece Award 2010. I’m so proud of their continuous work to fight for equality and their efforts to make this world a better place.
November 25, 2011
7 is my lucky number and on the 7th year of Love and Pride I feel just that – lucky.
I am lucky to have such a wonderful team, to have met such amazing people and to work with such dedicated organizations that fight so hard for justice and equality. I am lucky to have been able to create such meaningful jewelry and to have an audience that is so loyal and so encouraging. These are just a few examples of the long list of things that truly make me feel like a lucky person.
In the last year we have worked hard at Love and Pride to expand - bringing you more categories with more great products. We aim to give you not only a variety of unique products, but to give you value and meaning in each purchase that you make with us.
I was asked to pick some of my favorite styles for this newsletter and I must say this was a very difficult task. It is like picking your favorite child, an impossible challenge. I love them all, each for a different reason. This year we worked hard to reorganize our collections and make room for new ones to come in 2012. So to make room for the new arrivals we have expanded our clearance section, an array of beautiful pieces that we must soon say goodbye to.
In a time like this we could all use some savings. In the clearance section you will find products that are discounted up to 70% off. I hope you enjoy the great selection.
Thanks for giving us your loyalty and trust. With more than $300,000 in donations under our belt already, I can promise you we will continue to give back. We will continue to fight for LGBT rights together.
This is what Thanksgiving, to me, is all about.
~ Udi Behr
Check out the newsletter here! http://bit.ly/veRpl7
November 3, 2011
On Wednesday I had a very interesting day filled with a bundle of mixed emotions.
For the first time, I visited the new 9/11 memorial downtown, followed by a return visit to Zucotti park to support the protestors of Occupy Wall Street.
Being that I live in downtown in New York City, both of these sites are essentially in my “backyard”, creating a special attachment between myself and both of these heavily symbolic areas.
Standing and being immersed in the emotion of this new memorial, I began to reflect on how significant this sight is in representing who I am. 9/11 is a major part of my past, and has had a huge impact on me in a way that has changed the course of my present and future. After all, the unification of this neighborhood, and the hope that we all collectively shared is what inspired Love Peace and Hope, as well as Love and Pride. The events that took place on 9/11 and the effect it had on me, our community and the world will always be a part of me. Looking at the two beautiful swimming pools that now lay where the late Twin Towers stood was a powerful experience.
Preceding my visit to the memorial, I took the short 2 block walk to visit, what I believe is, a movement that will inspire our future in more ways than we can even imagine – Occupy Wall Street.
The energy of the park and the people so determinately inhabiting it keeps me excited and filled with true faith that our future is bright, and headed in the right direction.
Every time I visit Occupy Wall Street it is a new experience of democracy at its best; a new experience of the people’s power and their will to change the unjust present and the wrongdoing of the past with the dedication of a better future.
It is not a coincidence that both sites sit next to one another as they work in a way that compliments each other in such a hopeful manner.
So I recommend, if you live in New York City or plan to visit any time soon, take the time to experience both of these sites and all they have to offer.
As a proud New York resident for 28 years, I feel compelled to share this great short video of “the new World Trade Center” with everyone.
September 2, 2011
To see Udi featured in the Speak Out report, check out page 7! Click here for the article: http://bit.ly/nCOVyR
~ The Love and Pride Team
My special guest blogger for today is Romi Klinger from the Real L Word. It has been a great pleasure working with her on her new jewelry line, Hija Por Vida. She is an extremely talented upcoming designer in the jewelry world. I’m looking forward to having her as a regular guest on my blog! ~Udi
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always been into fashion and accessories. I truly feel so lucky to finally share my love with all of you. Udi is an amazing man that I look up too for so many reasons. I love what he does for the LGBT community – taking his love for jewelry and using it as a way to give back is so inspiring. I am honored that Hija Por Vida gets to be a part of this.
I wanted to do a jewelry line inspired by my fathers family. My mother is German and my father was Mexican. He passed away a few years ago from cancer and I have used Hija as a way to explore my Mexican roots and connect with him. I know he is looking down and smiling.
Making jewelry is my passion. I love it. The most rewarding part of it all is seeing someone wearing something I made with the same passion and love that I put into it. Putting my love and focus into Hija has changed my whole life.
I’m looking forward to my future blog posts and hope you will all take the time to interact, comment and post.
We are who we are because of where we have been.
August 23, 2011
Guest Blogger: Ido Levanon, CEO of Love and Pride
Dear Love and Pride friends and family,
It’s a great pleasure to share with you a brand new phase of Love and Pride. We are expanding LoveandPride.com to include new categories for your shopping pleasure. We have added men’s and women’s fashion, accessories, beauty and personal grooming along with incredible home and design items. We have partnered with some of the most unique and exciting new designers in order to bring you products you won’t find at just any old store. From fashion to accessories to home and design items we will feature products that are cutting edge and exclusive. Our soul will always remain the same as we will continue to fight for equality while working with great organizations such as The Matthew Shepard Foundation and The Human Rights Campaign. Giving back is in our DNA. We love it. We are proud of it. We hope this new phase of Love and Pride will allow us to give even more!
I want to take this opportunity to introduce you to an incredible new member of our team that has worked very hard to get us here today. Karen Meena is our latest addition to the Love and Pride family. She is sharing with us her sixteen years of experience at one of the most fashion forward boutiques in the world – Ron Robinson’s Fred Segal. Karen is thrilled to be able to collaborate with us on this new project and is impressed by our commitment to the LGBT community.
“Love and Pride is leading the way in so many areas – in design with Udi’s creative jewelry offerings, in social consciousness with giving back to the community, and in showing that fashion can create change. I love the passion and integrity of the Love and Pride team and feel so grateful for this amazing opportunity!”
For the last 6 years our designer, Udi Behr, has brought us some of the most incredible and unique designs and he has vowed to continue fighting for equality while fighting for our rights to “Look Good. Do Good”. We can’t wait to show you some of the great new jewelry designs Udi has been working on!
I want to end this letter with my sincere hope that you will discover our website and experience all it has to offer from the original products to the one-of-a-kind customer service. As the CEO, it is my responsibility to drive my company to excellence and I cannot do this without you. So please experience Love and Pride for yourself and don’t be afraid to let us know of your ideas on how we can improve and what you would like to see from us in the future. Reach out to our customer service team with an email or phone call or get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter.
We are proud to introduce you to new brand partners such as: Alpha Industries, Apothia, Baskit Wear, Dirtee Hollywood, Earnest Sewn, EvolutionMan, Faceplant, Gypsy Junkies, Hasso, Jimmyjane, Mayron’s Goods, Michele Keeler Home, Moods of Norway, Osea Malibu, Pure Style Girlfriends, Rich In Clothing, Sabre, SkarGorn, Sir Richards, So Charlotte, The Furies, Vivvos and ZH Collection. Click here to check out all of our new brand partners: http://bit.ly/LPbrands
With Love and Pride,
Ido Levanon, CEO