As Tenure Ends, Philadelphia Says Goodbye to Strohmayer


Elad Strohmayer never expected to find so much brotherly love when he moved to Philadelphia three years ago.

Elad Strohmayer never expected to find so much brotherly love when he moved to Philadelphia three years ago.

The deputy consul general of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region said he developed a lot of close friendships during his time here, including one with the man who would become his husband, Oren Ben-Yosef.
Strohmayer made gay rights a priority during his time here. He sponsored gay rights groups such as Spectrum and J.Proud Consortium. He sponsored other LGBT events too, both Jewish and non-Jewish, where he said he learned more about his identity each time he spoke at these events.
The reason he has provided so much support to these groups is simple, he said: Every gay person should be able to share his or her story. He said he didn’t have gay role models growing up, but definitely needed them. Now, he himself is a role model in the community, hoping to make a difference and educate people.
Although his family and friends were very accepting, coming out was still not an easy process. He was afraid about how others would react.
“How will other people accept that? How will other people see that?” he said. “I just want to be a role model for other people who are afraid.”
Fortunately, Strohmayer said he has not faced any discrimination in his work.
“If you have a problem with it, it’s your problem, not mine,” he said.
He’s worked with liberals and conservatives, but as long as they support Israel, “everyone who is pro-Israel is a friend of mine,” he said.
Prior to his position in Philadelphia, Strohmayer was the deputy ambassador of the Embassy of Israel in Luanda, Angola.
Even in Angola, Strohmayer said he did not face any problems dealing with adversity. Although it was a different environment, he was not closeted about his sexuality.
He said he was just more discreet and private; it wasn’t something that was very out in the open.
“I kept my personal life to myself,” he said.
Alongside Ben-Yosef, Strohmayer will return to Israel in September, where he will continue working in Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the North American Division. (Ministry employees are required to return to Israel after five years of working abroad, a limit that Strohmayer reached during his time in Luanda and Philadelphia.)
In addition to his work with the LGBTQ community, Strohmayer oversaw programs for Israel advocacy, community outreach and Israeli businesses and start-ups while in Philadelphia.
Across the Mid-Atlantic region, which includes Pennsylvania, Delaware, Southern New Jersey, Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky, Strohmayer said he heard many different reasons why both Jews and non-Jews support Israel.
Some relate to the religious aspects, others to the culture, but he also found a lot who admired Israeli business and the innovation that Israel demonstrates in the business world so frequently that it has become known in some circles as the “start-up nation.”
“I learned that our relationship with the Jewish community and Israel is a two-way street,” he said.
Philadelphia is a great place to expand those Israeli markets, Strohmayer said, because it is ideally located between the financial capital of New York and the nation’s capital of Washington, D.C. As such, many Israeli companies intend to move to Philadelphia, he said.
“Israeli business has a lot to offer to Philadelphia, and Philadelphia has a lot to offer to Israelis,” he said. “It’s a win for Philadelphia because when they come here there are more jobs.”
But of course, of all the work he’s done here, Strohmayer said the ne plus ultra of his time in Philadelphia was his marriage to Ben-Yosef by Mayor Michael Nutter. After gay marriage was legalized in the area, Strohmayer and Ben-Yosef were one of the first international couples to be married by the mayor.
“When I came to Philadelphia three years ago, I didn’t know that here I’m going to find my love,” he said.
Nancy Gilboy, president and CEO of Citizen Diplomacy International of Philadelphia, was terrified when Strohmayer asked her to be the MC at their wedding. She had only been to one other Jewish wedding beforehand, but she said it turned out to be one of her fondest memories with him.
She recalled sitting in the second row and watching Strohmayer’s father record the ceremony in City Hall on his cellphone for Strohmayer’s mother back in Israel.
Gilboy said Strohmayer got to know everyone in and around the city, and she’s excited to have a more personal connection back in their sister city of Tel Aviv.
“International relations is all about making friends, and that is what he does so well,” she said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever known anybody to be quite like him before.”
Gilboy said she knows Strohmayer will succeed in his future endeavors, whether eventually becoming a consulate general in the U.S. or another country.
“He’s such a good representative for Israel, and I really see that he would be moving up pretty quickly,” she said.
Strohmayer joked that he must have done his job well because so many people are saying their goodbyes and inviting him to farewell dinners, but really, he said it shows that he has become a part of this community while also interacting and creating an open dialogue about Israel.
Jeri Zimmerman, director of the Center for Israel and Overseas at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said she and Strohmayer have a close working relationship and friendship, whether he’s partnering with her on projects or teaching her a bit of Bulgarian.
“I’m very privileged to consider him a friend as well as a professional colleague,” she said.
Zimmerman also attended Strohmayer’s wedding, which she said was very moving. She said friendship is all about sharing those life cycle moments.
Last year when Zimmerman’s father passed away, Strohmayer and Ben-Yosef were there for her and her family.
Additionally, three of Zimmerman’s five children have been to Israel, so she said everyone enjoys Strohmayer’s company.
“Those connections to Israel has been so meaningful to my family,” she said.
The Jewish Federation and the consulate are also sponsoring a mural arts project with the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program that will debut in May 2016, and she said it will be a wonderful reminder of the work she and Strohmayer did together.
As far as what the future holds, Strohmayer said he wants to continue to work with the diplomatic service. He wants to do more for Jewish communities and Israel while also maintaining the relationship between the United States and Israel.
He said he may come back to the U.S. for a different post in a larger capacity, whether in Philadelphia or elsewhere.
When asked if he had any advice for his successor, he suggested simply being himself/herself and making sure to put in the effort to connect with as many people as possible in the community. He said that when you show you want to become a part of the community, they will welcome you in wholeheartedly. And, he added, he did the same with them.
“I really made friends that will last forever, and I’ll truly miss a lot of the people that I met.”
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