Fourteen sponsors and 200+ attendees made MHB's 3-day conference in Israel our most successful yet!

With the enthusiastic and hard working team of the Tel Aviv Gay center as a partner, Men Having Babies has produced its most elaborate and well attended conference yet! The three-day extended-format conference attracted about 200 intended parents from around Israel (and several couples from Italy and Germany), dozens of parents who came with their children for a surrogacy family reunion, fourteen agencies and clinics from around the world, the Tel Aviv mayor and other dignitaries, and much press attention. Proceeds from sponsorship fees will allow us to award three financial assistance grants to Israeli gay men in the coming months.

The International Surrogacy Conference in Israel was Men Having Babies’ second major international event (the first one was in Barcelona last year), and the first since the organization’s formal incorporation. “The close partnership with the Tel Aviv Gay Center, located in a beautiful park at the heart of the city, allowed us to expand the format over three days, and include new features such as in-depth workshops and a full day during which ten agencies and clinics were available for private consultations in a battery of offices the Center made available,” said Ron Poole-Dayan, the organization’s executive director.

Producing an international conference outside the USA presented additional logistical and linguistic challenges, which were successfully met with the cooperation of the local partners. From translation of marketing materials into Hebrew, coordinating travel and shipment of materials for the expo, to arranging simultaneous wireless translation, everything worked without a hitch. “It was an amazing conference that managed to present a wide range of content and possibilities, in the right amount of depth yet without overwhelming the participants,” said Victoria Gelfand, an Israeli attorney specializing in surrogacy and reproductive law.

The conference was opened with greetings from the Tel Aviv mayor and other dignitaries, followed by an expert panel that gave an overview of the legal, medical and psychological aspects of typical surrogacy journeys. While Israeli law permits domestic surrogacy arrangements, singles and same sex couples are currently excluded. Therefore the focus of the conference was on international surrogacy opportunities, mostly in the USA, but also Thailand, Mexico and Nepal. While India was a popular surrogacy destination for Israelis until recently, it is no longer viable due to recent visa regulations that effectively bar gay men from entering India for this purpose.

Over the three days, the conference also included a personal stories panel, introductory breakout sessions with the presenting clinics and agencies, a service providers’ expo, four in-depth workshops, and private consultations opportunities. As well, a Kabbalat Shabbat (a welcoming of the Sabbath ceremony) was held, where surrogacy parents and their children reunited with the representatives of the agencies and clinics that helped create their families. A unique panel with rabbis of various denominations was also added to the program, discussing the question of how gay fathers who have had a child with the help of a surrogate can get their children officially accepted and registered as Jews by the rabbinical authorities.
The conference enjoyed much media attention, in part due to recent developments regarding the closing of surrogacy opportunities in India and a Supreme Court petition by two gay couples to ease the legal process of registering the non-biological father as a legal parent. Articles were written (in Hebrew) about the financial burden of international surrogacy (and therefore the importance of the financial assistance fund), the personal story of an American surrogate who helped an Israeli couple, an interview with surrogacy children, and coverage of the conference and the various options presented by the visiting agencies. Haaretz, one of Israel’s leading newspapers, also published a story in English, excerpts of which we include below.

The trials and treasures of Tel Aviv's gay-by boom
By Danna Harman | Feb.18, 2013 |

It's a spring-like Friday morning in mid-February at the Landver Café in Tel Aviv's Gan Meir park, and young couples in trendy sneakers are ordering up cappuccinos, reading the papers, fiddling around on iPads and rearranging the outdoor chairs so as to catch the sun rays of the day. Almost everyone here is simultaneously rocking a stroller, or two, or bouncing a baby, or two, on their laps. And almost every grown-up here is a man.
As Tel Aviv winds down from the work week and heads into Shabbat, this relaxed, baby- friendly gay scene is the new normal, and a clear indication of the baby boom taking place within the gay male community in Israel over the past few years.

…Some say we are all betraying our queer radical roots or trying to 'fit in' with the mainstream," says Ron Poole-Dayan, a gay father of three who is married to a Canadian. "But I say, no. Many of us share the values of the larger community here. And in Israel, family is everything."

This past weekend, at the roomy, four-story gay center in Gan Meir, adjacent to the Landver Café, some 150 members of the community keen to start families, to add on to their existing ones or to learn about the possibilities gathered for Israel's first three-day conference on surrogacy.

The conference, organized jointly by Dayan's New York based support organization "Men Having Babies," and the local Gan Meir gay center, included an expo by representatives of the different surrogacy agencies, discussion groups with medical professionals and psychologists, presentations by financial planners and lawyers -- and a Kabbalat Shabbat, a welcoming of the Sabbath ceremony, for fathers, children and other family members to join in on together.

"When these conferences take place in New York or LA, about the same numbers of people show up," says Yuval Egertt, another father of three, the head of the gay center and a co-host of the event. "Think about it – New York City has about 8 million inhabitants, and in Tel Aviv we have 250,000. That gives you a sense of how much enthusiasm and support there is for the gay community to start families."