haredi riot flames.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
It was 1964. I was living in the dormitories of Boston University. My roommate returned from a class looking forlorn. I asked what was wrong, to which he responded that his history professor was no longer "interested in him." I expressed my sympathy, but did not understand why he was so exercised, as I, having studied with the same professor, found him quite stand-offish.
He then said that he had fallen in love with the historian. I thought this was strange and made some glib comment about unrequited love, adding that, in time, he would get over his infatuation and find another teacher who would equally inspire him.
My friend looked at me curiously, and said: "David, don't you get it? I'm a homosexual." (The word "gay" was not part of our vocabulary in the early Sixties.)
Homosexual! Who talked of such things then? Who even knew about such a phenomenon? Homosexuals were perverted, taunted by male classmates and beaten by the police. My instinctive reaction was to create a physical space between the two of us.
He then sat down, thankfully across from me - although what I was thinking as to what this declared homosexual might actually do to me, I have no idea.
He then poured his heart out, expressing guilt, shame, disappointment, rejection, loneliness and, most of all, a piercing sadness. I immediately asked myself: Had I said or done anything to contribute to his lowly emotional state? Had I joined in any college "bull sessions," making fun of anyone who was the least bit effeminate?
Being part of a historically persecuted minority and aware that the fate of homosexuals during those awful Hitler years was the same as that of the Jews, I should have been sensitized. So why, when my roommate revealed his sexual preference for men over women, was I initially put off?
A FEW years later, he committed suicide. (The highest numbers of teenage suicides are among gays and lesbians.) If only there had been, in his day, an openness to homosexuality, he might have lived out his life with joy and freedom instead of being encased in his own body, suffering terrible emotional pain. If only I and other like-minded social activists had spoken up in favor of understanding and acceptance of alternative sexual life-styles, instead of remaining silent when gays and lesbians were (and are) abused, my friend, and many others like him, might be alive today.
If we are not all guilty of the demonstrative negative actions by segments in our society to people who live a sexual life-style different than what is considered the "norm," we are all responsible for this reality, be it through inattentiveness, passivity, indifference or silence.
Therefore, it is morally incumbent on any enlightened individual to not only stand with the gay community in Israel who wish to publicly express their self-acceptance, but also to speak out against those, primarily in the religious community who, based on their ancient sacred texts, oppose the gay pride march through the streets of Jerusalem.
JERUSALEM IS the Jewish people's holy city. As such, we have fortified ourselves with our traditional literature to oppose this march - precisely because it is in Jerusalem, the focal point of our emotional, spiritual and historical attachments.
We read: "If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death" (Lev. 18:22, 20:13).
But what those religious Jews who so vehemently oppose the gay pride parade fail to understand is that this prohibition against homosexuality is predated by the creation story, which sees human beings all equally created in the image of God.
They further do not understand that what was written in the Torah was written at a particular time-frame in human development, and cannot be blindly applied to the realities of today's world.
I sometimes sense that the opposition to the gay pride parade by religious fundamentalists is a mere cover for repressed sexual tendencies on the part of many in that community. How sad that an Orthodox gay or lesbian is forced to remain in the closet because of outdated puritanical strictures, and the fear of ostracism. Religious gays and lesbians are doomed to suffer a fate not different than that of my college roommate.
WE MUST not let these religious bigots impose their divine commandments on those who do not accept their theological world view; enforcing their practices and mores by physically attacking those who are participating in Jerusalem's gay pride parade.
Further, how dare they garner support for their opposition to the march by soliciting the involvement of their Islamic and Christian counterparts in condemning the parade? It is both ironic and sad that the only cause on which the clerics of the three monotheistic religions in our region can find common ground is one that promotes intolerance toward gays and lesbians. Wouldn't it be far more constructive if they put their collective religious energies together to foster understanding, cooperation and peace between our two peoples?
What is surprising about this interreligious alignment is that it puts us in bed with Muslims who, in some countries, actually put homosexuals to death. It seems that our venerable rabbinic leadership knows no limits in their hatred of the Other.
Being gay or lesbian is not an abomination. Religious gay bashing, verbal and physical, is.
The writer is a Reform rabbi.