Growing up in Lakewood, NJ, I have had ample opportunity for the synapses between the idea of homosexuality and my shock and disgust reflex to establish themselves securely in my brain. So one could imagine the cognitive dissonance I experienced this weekend when I read about the gay pride parade in Tel Aviv, and felt…absolutely nothing. I skimmed an article or two and browsed through the pictures. I saw people who are proud of who they are, and people who wished to support them. Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Shortly after that, I experienced a second bout of cognitive dissonance as I read a message on my community email group, sent out by one of the founders of Women For the Wall (or W4W for short), an organization which vocally opposes Women of the Wall’s monthly prayer group. The email was sent out to let everyone know that there will be a bus straight to the Kotel on Sunday morning to bring people to protest the Women of the Wall, and suddenly, that shock and disgust reflex that had previously been remiss began to kick in. But why was this so disturbing to me? Shouldn’t the people whose flamboyant behavior, whose lifestyle is an “abomination” to God, be the ones who raise my ire? Why was I having a negative reaction to the women of W4W going to the Kotel and pouring their hearts out to Hashem?
Unfortunately, my immediate reaction was to wonder if perhaps I’m just a “bad Jew,” and my priorities are simply skewed. I’ve let the outside world inform my opinions to the extent that they are no longer in line with Torah.
Why does the gay pride parade not faze me at all, but I’m getting all worked up about the W4W ‘unity prayer?’
I asked on Facebook. (Admittedly, not the best place for soul-searching, but I have numerous contacts with Yoda-like wisdom.)
One friend suggested W4W simply hits closer to home, so it bothers me more. While there was definitely truth to that idea, I still felt something was missing from the equation. Then came this response:
One group is seeking to be included and accepted, the other is seeking to oust a community from the public domain.
Bingo! That was the answer.
On the surface, if you put a picture of a Chareidi girl with her face buried in a siddur next to a photo of a bare-chested man covered in rainbow paints, it should be obvious to an Orthodox Jew which of these things is “good” and which is “bad.” But just get past that gut reaction, consider each idea critically, and suddenly the lines become much less distinct, and may even disappear altogether.
A group whose mission is to gain acceptance for people who, for too long, have been marginalized, denied basic rights, bullied, and excluded, is the epitome of “good.” And whether the men and women of that group are attracted to the same or the opposite sex, has no bearing whatsoever on the goodness of their mission.
And, while I do not wish to label the second group as “bad,” I can say with certainty that so far, their organization and the ironically-entitled “unity prayer,” have only served to exclude and disrespect fellow Jews, and fellow women.
Now, as we enter the month of Tammuz, it is an opportune time to reflect on the reason we have been left with just the Kotel, a small scrap of what once was a dwelling-place for God Himself. If baseless hatred has brought us to this point, my hope is that the Kotel, and the controversy surrounding it, can serve as a catalyst to help us all practice ahavat chinam, and invite the Shechina to dwell amongst us once again.