Yesterday was a study in contrasts in Jerusalem. For several days prior to the Jerusalem, March for Pride and Tolerance there was a hate-fest exhibited on social media. It is not as if it is unexpected, but, this year, I was stunned at how vicious it became.
One person, who I know attempted to backpedal with the “I don’t hate gays but….” which was reminiscent of the “I don’t hate Jews but…..” I had heard in America prior to making aliyah. This is a person I know. A person who once, when I was still living in the United States, I tried to help arrange appointments with members of Congress when he was part of a pro-Israel delegation to America. This is someone who I respected, so when I read his words, denigrating other Jews, I was surprised. There were others, but anyone in Israel who was on social media the past week knows what was written and the hateful language that was used. One person typed in all capital letters that all LGBT people should die. This blog will probably generate some of that, but it cannot change what happened yesterday.
Yesterday, in Jerusalem, the city I love so much, I saw what a civil society can be even in a city divided by religious and political differences. And I am speaking here about Jewish Jerusalem, the one I know. These divisions are among Jews, living in the capital of a Jewish homeland that is a miracle of indigenous rights and persistence.
The annual Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance, held yesterday drew at least 30,000 people, with estimates running higher from some reports. This is the fourth march since I make aliyah. In 2015, I was doing a little pro bono work with the chair of the board for the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance (where I worked for nearly a year later on). While running late, I was walking toward the march on Keren Hayesod when my phone rang. A friend on the route called to tell me that there had been a stabbing and several people were seriously hurt. Shira Banki z”l, a teenager walking with her friends, died that day. She died because of hate and because people are taught that being LGBT is an “abomination” to be wiped out. The command in the Torah that “a man shall not lie with a man as with a woman” says nothing about human beings, but only about an act. One act. Anyone who can tie that to a teenage girl marching for civil rights with her friends or peaceful people marching on a public street is either deranged or so filled with hate that the truth no longer exists for that person. Shira’s murderer was both.
In 2016 and 2017, it is estimated that 25,000 people came to the Jerusalem March, a sign that thousands of people, many not LGBT, wanted to stand up to hatred and say: “Not in my city.” Yesterday reaffirmed that there are enough people of good will and true belief in equality for LGBT citizens that they will be visible and outspoken, even when they know that they might be exposed to criticism, including hateful language.
What I saw was an outpouring of support. Dati (religious) families with kids and strollers mixed along the march with young gay men wearing kippot. There were old and young. And yes, in the park before the march began, I saw black hats and white shirts. There were parents marching with their LGBT children. There were people I know to be considered “right-wing” or “left-wing,” but who believe that a civil society means equality under the law for all. And, because I had worked at the Jerusalem Open House for awhile, I saw young people who I know might have been vulnerable to suicidal ideation, drug or alcohol abuse, homelessness caused by violence in their homes….all of this, if the Open House did not exist and provide a safe haven. The attendees at this event were polite, gracious, and helpful. As people stood around the large photo of Shira Banki on the corner where she was murdered, I saw old people, young people, straight people, LGBT. People who might not have ever known this girl with tears in their eyes watched as her friends sang and held each other.
This morning, the next day, I saw a video showing a group of Haredi men rioting and being removed from blocking a street by soldiers and police. It does not really matter to me what they were protesting (LGBT march? the IDF draft?), but that they chose to do so in a violent manner. We have seen this over and over again.
The contrasts in this city are evident, day in and day out, but not as sharply evident as they were this week. Hate language perpetrated by Jews on other Jews permeated social media among Israelis. Haredim (and here I will say this is not a reflection on all Haredim…. many would never act in this way and many serve in the IDF) fighting with soldiers and cops because……pick a reason. And the contrast of at least 30,000 people marching in peace.
Our dreams of Jerusalem have been with us for centuries. We have been given a blessing to be able to live, work, and thrive in this city. Yesterday, one group of people chose to honor that blessing by calling for equality and a civil society in which we respect each other despite our differences. That’s my Jerusalem.