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Being both gay and Orthodox, a difficult existential reality under normal circumstances, may have never been harder.
Opposition to the Gay Pride March is gaining steam as the scheduled date approaches. Leading rabbis and Jewish spiritual leaders representing the entire ideological gamut have upped the ante, unleashing caustic rhetoric and doomsday prophesies of violence, bloodshed and even murder if the parade is allowed to take place.
Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, the head of the ultra-Orthodox and anti-Zionist Eda Haredit rabbinic court, has blamed homosexuals' "obscenity and promiscuity in the Holy Land" for Israel's loss in the second war in Lebanon, while the moderate Rabbi Ya'acov Meidan, one of the heads of the Har Etzion Yeshiva in Alon Shvut, attacked the idea of a gay pride parade in a scathing opinion piece entitled "Stopping the parade of abomination." This week, unidentified activists distributed a pamphlet in Jerusalem that promised a NIS 20,000 bounty for killing a homosexual.
How do these expressions of violence and hatred affect the faith of Orthodox homosexuals? Ronen Hady-Cohen, a gay modern Orthodox resident of Jerusalem, said he makes a distinction between Judaism and faith on one hand and the hatred of individuals who claim to represent his religion on the other.
"I refuse to give up something so beautiful because of the hatred of another," said Hady-Cohen, a medical student who connected his partner's last name (Cohen) to his own.
"What they are doing has nothing to do with religion or God," said Hady-Cohen.
"Judaism accepts the other, the different. I believe God is on our side. I believe He loves all of his creations and he commands us to do the same."
Through Jerusalem's Open House, a center for the capital's homosexual community, Hady-Cohen heads a support group for religious gay men. He said that the haredi community refuses to come to terms with the reality of homosexuality in its ranks.
"One of the things that hurts me most in my work with the haredi community is the willingness of parents to disown their children if they are gay.
"I would have thought that the first instinct is to protect your own flesh and blood."
Ze'ev Shveidel, who manages an Internet forum for gay Orthodox men, estimated that there were hundreds of gay Orthodox men in Jerusalem.
"It's a rough estimate based on the religious people I see at the Shoshan [a Jerusalem bar for gays] or at the Open House," said Shveidel.
"For haredim there is no way of 'coming out' without also leaving their community. But in modern Orthodox communities the situation is better." Shveidel, who is modern Orthodox, said that all of the members of the synagogue where he prays in Petah Tikva know that he is gay.
"I began telling people in private conversations," said Shveidel. "Slowly, the word got around. And when I appeared on a TV talk show, those who had not known found out."
Both Shveidel and Hady-Cohen said that no haredi gays would agree to talk to The Jerusalem Post, even anonymously, for fear that they would be revealed and ostracized by their community.
"They would be endangering everything dear to them, their family, their marriage, their children's future," said Hady-Cohen, who pointed out that many gay male haredim are married with children.
Shveidel and Hady-Cohen are split on the Gay Pride Parade. Shveidel thinks the parade will not encourage real dialogue that can lead to more understanding. That is why he has decided not to take part.
However, Hady-Cohen thinks the parade is of utmost importance.
"This parade is for all those religious boys in Jerusalem who are afraid to come out of the closet. We need to show them that someone can be gay and proud. For me the parade is a way of showing that I am not embarrassed of what I am. And I want to do it in my own city."
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