Diaspora youth studying Torah in Jerusalem express a range of reactions to the parade.
By RACHEL BEITSCH
The Gay Pride Parade scheduled to be held in Jerusalem on Friday has sparked reactions ranging from violent riots to interfaith and intercultural dialogue.
Among those affected are overseas students in the capital's seminaries and yeshivot. As tensions run high and Torah values clash with secular liberties, the staff members are trying to guide the young people in their charge.
"They're telling girls to go and pray at the Kotel [Western Wall] on the night of [the parade]," said K. on Monday evening, adding that a special lecture was planned for later in the week. She is spending the year studying at a haredi seminary for newly religious women in the capital.
She said one of her teachers had been attending anti-parade protests, though not violent ones.
Asked her opinion of the parade, K. said, "I feel like they're asking to be respected without respecting other people back. They're saying, 'Accept us, but we're not going to accept that you don't want it here.'"
"Girls ask a lot of questions," said K.'s friend, S. [The counselors are] telling girls not to go and protest. They don't want us to be put in harm's way. I can do more by davening [praying] for the situation," she said.
As for the parade, S. said, "I think that it's wrong, and I think the way they're going about it is wrong, and just in general, to do it so close to Shabbos... They're looking for a reaction from people who regularly give a reaction."
She said gay-rights protesters were deliberately provoking the haredi community.
"They're doing as much as they can to make as big of a deal as they can in the haredi world," she said, adding that everyone knew the haredim would receive negative press for their reactions, and that this was a means of making the haredi community look bad.
"The whole situation is very sad," she said.
K. added, "I think that the protesters are going about it all wrong... The violence is wrong, and you're not going to solve anything that way. I get why both sides are doing it - it's just not good. It's a nasty situation. Violence is not helping."
Students and teachers alike expressed dismay at both the "provocative nature" of holding a Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem and the media's penchant for highlighting extremist reactions in the haredi community.
Rabbi Yehoshua Freilich, dean of Be'er Miriam, another Orthodox women's seminary in the capital, said, "Right now, we're telling them that on the one hand... it has no place in Jerusalem, and we're appalled that such a thing can happen here.
"On the other hand, we don't believe [in] the extreme methods that are being used right now by religious groups - extremists - [that are] creating all types of dangerous situations. We condemn that, as well."
He said "a middle-of-the-road path can be found to go ahead and show how this terrible parade has no place here, but not at the expense of the safety of your fellow Jews in Jerusalem." He, too, condemned the media for blowing haredi reactions out of proportion.
"They want to make fun of the haredim, when it's just a small group of people doing crazy things," he said.
The reaction at the yeshivot seemed much the same. Y., a student at a well-known haredi yeshiva for newly religious men in Jerusalem, said a senior rabbi had given a lecture on the violent reactions to the parade plans.
"He said that homosexuality is wrong from a Torah perspective, and that protesting is good, but rioting is a hillul Hashem [a desecration of God's name] and discounts the whole positive aspect of protesting," he said.
"I think it's wrong to have a parade that's spiteful to many of the people in this area," Y. said. "I think their arguments are better done through debate than through... getting in everyone's face. I'm not getting good vibes."
Y. said the negative press coverage the haredi world had been receiving was "nothing new," and that haredim had "never gotten positive press - not in Israel, and not overseas. It's not surprising, and it's not good."
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