Why a rabbi will march in Worldpride

The issues at stake transcend the gay community.

rainbow flag 88 (photo credit: )
rainbow flag 88
(photo credit: )
Jews have been marching to and in Jerusalem since the days of the Temple. One of my favorite descriptions is of the bringing of the first fruits on Shavuot. The usually business-like Mishna describes the streets of Jerusalem filled with farmers bringing their fruits and produce to the Temple. The colors and sounds practically jump off the page. (Tractate Bikurim, chapter 3) The ancient pilgrimage symbolized the centrality of Jerusalem to all Jews. In the 1950s the IDF began the tradition of a military parade in Jerusalem on Independence Day (the last one was in 1973). On Jerusalem Day an overwhelmingly national-Orthodox parade celebrates the liberation (or what others call the conquest, and still other the Occupation) of Jerusalem. Another annual event many residents of Jerusalem look forward to on August 10 will be the fifth annual Gay Pride march in the streets of downtown Jerusalem, this time as an international event. While the organizers emphasize the themes of openness and acceptance, opponents of the march do not try to hide their anger and disgust. LAST YEAR, I marched with my family (including my newly married daughter and son in law). I was amazed at what a uniquely Jerusalem-style event it was. Gay pride parades in other cities around the world seem like an opportunity for the gay community to act out some of its more bizarre fantasies. The Jerusalem march had very little parading in outlandish costumes. Our march had lots of ordinary Jerusalemites (not known for flamboyant dress in general) imagining a Jerusalem united by mutual respect, tolerance and openness. This reflects the vision of the Jerusalem Open House that has become an integral part of the Jerusalem landscape. It is a center for the GLBT community. It is a communal center and a spiritual center filled with traditional Jewish practices of prayer, learning and festive meals. It is a haven for Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and secular Jews, and Jerusalem Arabs as well. The Open House struggles to accommodate a variety of beliefs, practices, religious and ethnic identities. AS RABBI of a congregation that strives to be welcoming to all, I was moved by the many members of my congregation, Kehillat Kol HaNeshama, gay and straight, at last year's march. For many it was their first time joining in the pride-march. Mayor Uri Lupolianski and other Orthodox politicians brought out the participants by attempting to prevent the march. The mayor's abusive attack on the gay and lesbian community redefined its purpose. The annual gay pride march has become one of those rare events that transcends the narrow boundaries of a specific issue (the rights of gays and lesbians in this case) and symbolizes broader, more universal issues. The march symbolizes how we understand democracy. Democracy is not only based on "majority rules." Democracy is also about protecting and cherishing minorities. If that were limited to minorities that we liked or agreed with, it wouldn't be much of a democracy. The glory of true democracies is that they recognize the importance of tolerating unpopular ideas and groups. Every year the march is marred by the despicable behavior of protesters hurling verbal abuse and bags of excrement and urine. People hold placards calling on God to strike those in the march with cancer and other ills. (It is a serious spiritual challenge to view these hate-filled people with compassion and love.) Last year, however, the violence escalated with three people being stabbed by a haredi protester. Mayor Lupolianski's demonization of the gay and lesbian community created the climate that empowered the evil man who attacked the marchers. Opponents of the march predictably blamed the victims. ALL OF us have gay and lesbian friends, whether we know it or not, many of whom haven't been able to come out of the closet. These decent human beings are forced to live secret lives. Our inaction compels them to lie. As a result of society's ostracizing of gay identity, every year a third of teenage suicides are related to sexual orientation - to the fear of coming out, self-hatred, or a deep sense of loneliness. Thus, participating in the march is a way of fulfilling the commandment of pikuah nefesh, saving a life. The march is an opportunity for people struggling with their sexual identity to feel accepted and supported. The march is not about encouraging any kind of sexual behavior; it is about encouraging all of us to be honest and accepting. This year I invite all residents of Jerusalem to join the march and demand that Jerusalem remain both a holy and a democratic city. The prophet Zachariah calls on us to imagine the plazas of Jerusalem filled with old men and women, boys and girls playing together. The prophet adds, "Do not contrive evil against one another… those are the things I hate, declares the Lord." If we wish to see Zachariah's prophecy come true, we have to fight evil by speaking lovingly and respectfully - especially when we disagree. The writer is rabbi of Kehillat Kol HaNeshama, a Reform congregation in Jerusalem.