GLBT Pride in Jerusalem

It’s appalling. Jerusalem is rioting. No, parts of Jerusalem and other ultra-Orthodox enclaves are rioting. Why? Because the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade, which is actually called “The Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance,” will take place on November 10, 2006.

(Why didn’t I know about this? Where have I been the last week? Caring for 48 chickens — Gimpy didn’t make it — and welcoming a third foster child. Then we constructed a temporary chicken pen and moved the chickens to the barn, in time for the arrival of a new foster cat. Two vehicles were disabled over the weekend, and we celebrated the congregation’s 140th anniversary on Sunday — see previous posting, which was published last Saturday in the “real” Times-Union, and has been getting quite some good feedback. Did I mention that the dog is sick? So I haven’t looked at the news in days, other than to see who won the elections. But for some reason I looked at the “Pride in the Pulpit” newsletter and the top action item was “Urgent Action Needed in Support of Gay Rights in Israel” or something like that. In my experience, politically left-wing organizations rarely support Israel, so I wanted to find out what was going on. I suppose this could be considered Israel-bashing, but at least it’s supporting Israeli citizens.)

It’s not that there’s never been a Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem before. I’m sure the first-ever Israeli Gay Pride parade was in Tel Aviv, which is far more secular than Jerusalem. But the Jerusalem Open House, the GLBT center in Jerusalem, has been there for nine years, and there’s been a Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem for the past few years.

The organizers even assure everyone that “the parade will have a Jerusalem character — nothing sexual or provocative” — a.k.a. family-friendly. (Which is also becoming an issue in the gay community around Gay Pride parades!) But apparently that’s not enough. Clearly, our very existence is provocative, and what it’s provoking is ugly. Awful. Amazing. Terrible. Look at Ynet’s site for a lot of info about the march and the violent opposition, and here’s the daily paper Haaretz. The latest news is that in the wake of the Gaza shelling (note: shelling civilians is NOT OK — neither is firing rockets at civilians), the parade has been turned into a rally in the Hebrew University stadium, due to more generalized security concerns.

It’s telling that the Orthodox rabbis who agreed to this compromise did so on condition that no gay-friendly signs, symbols, etc. be visible outside the stadium. This is the “lenient” position: We’re ok, or at least tolerable, if we stay hidden. Publicly noticing, much less celebrating, men who fall in love with men, or women who fall in love with women, isn’t ok. Are they worried that their children will get the “wrong idea”? Do they think that just anybody can fall in love with their own gender? If they would realize that this is basically not a “choice” for most people, maybe they wouldn’t be so scared. (See Trembling Before G-d — amazing movie. Look especially under “reactions.”)

Actually, I assume that the people (men? are they all men?) who are organizing and threatening and carrying out violence are not thinking about love at all. They’re thinking about sex and they don’t realize (care? believe) that we love.

Look at this article , in which a religious Jerusalemite explains that a loving relationship is permitted by halachah, although certain sexual acts are not; on the other hand, he points out, arson, attempted murder, speaking ill of another, destroying public property and endangering life and limb are forbidden by halachah. HeLLO … Actually, I have no proof that this article was written by who it says it was, but I hope there is such a religious man, heterosexual himself, who will march in support. The argument stands either way.

It’s the same argument that finally broke the stalemate when I was in Jerusalem almost 3 years ago and a young Orthodox man from Brooklyn, young enough to be my son, was chastizing me for wearing a kippah. Seeing a woman in a kippah in “his” home, in Jerusalem, he said, was like seeing a woman wearing a skimpy bathing suit walking down the street; he was offended by it, and thought I should show respect for the Jews who live in Israel (like him) by not doing it. I made the mistake of engaging in dialogue with him. The argument continued for a long time, probably more than half an hour, until another young woman, also clearly observant, took him to task. “Is this the way your Rabbi taught you to give mussar?” she asked. “By humiliating another Jew in public?”

And this is the essence of what’s happening, I think. There can be an arrogance when you know that you’ve got it right. You’ve got the secret code, the secret handshake, you know what God wants and you’re doing it … and “those others” (like me) are not, and you have the right to correct them however you choose. Which arrogance often leads to bad behavior. And this bad behavior, whether violence to achieve your ends or embarrassing a “guest” in your “home,” is not condoned by traditional Judaism. (Any more than it is by Islam, for that matter. Or, probably, most religions.)

Read what MK Yossi Beilin says: “After all, the abomination of a city where residents are killing and wounding other residents just because of hatred and racism is immeasurably larger than the abomination of a city whose residents are marching and supporting their right to live in accordance with their sexual orientation.” Amen!

He also makes it clear that this parade has been held for several years in Jerusalem already. Mah nishtanah ha-shanah ha-zot mi-kol ha-shanim? Why is this year different from all other years? Is it because of the Gaza pullout? The horror of the war in the summer? Is the haredi (“fervently Orthodox”) community especially traumatized?

The march is being held on the day associated with the commemoration of Kristallnacht. Of course that matters too, and probably sets off fearful echoes in the ultra-Orthodox community. Though they came for gay men and lesbians in Germany along with and in some cases before they came for the Jews…

And consider this. The Women of the Wall (or see here) have been trying to hold services near the Western Wall for years. They have been trying to wear tallit and kippah and read Torah. And they have been subjected to vicious and violent harrassment by some Orthodox men and some Orthodox women. And basically, they’ve been told by the police that they’re the problem, that if they wouldn’t try to do things that offended the Orthodox Jews who seem to “own” the place, then they wouldn’t be subject to this harrassment. In the end (2003), that is the exact position upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court — despite their having ruled in the women’s favor in an earlier decision.

We call this blaming the victim.

And if we buy the argument, then the holiest of Jewish places becomes the exclusive property of the people who have the strictest and most limiting interpretation of what is legitimate Jewish practice.

It’s not OK.

You can donate through CBST to help defray the massive expenses faced and incurred by the Jerusalem Open House.