Yesterday morning Mitzpe Ramon held its 3rd annual Pride Parade. Hundreds of people, mostly from Tel Aviv, arrived there to support the local community in the most remote town in the south of Israel. Now in the midst of the Judicial overhaul Mitzpe seems more divided and more isolated than ever.
In 1989 my late husband got a position in Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva , we travelled to Mitzpe Ramon, fell in love with the Ramon crater, and bought a house there. We never actually lived full time in Mitzpe, but as we moved around a lot, we considered that house as our real home.
Throughout the years we have noticed that, apart from the core population of real Mitzpaim (the people who were born, grew up there, or had real connection to town), most of the residents were in town for a relatively short time. It is not surprising, as it is not an easy place: the weather in the desert mountains is extreme, Mitzpe is isolated (the closest city Beer Sheva is an hour away, and the professional opportunities are very limited).
Like many other small peripheral towns in Israel, most of the core population in Mitzpe used to be traditional (Sepharadi Masorti). Every so often families moved there as it was a wonderful opportunity for children to grow up immersed in nature and clean air. Some “Alternative” people arrived to Mitzpe and perhaps they were looked upon at first with some reservations. But there was always a feeling of tolerance, kind of “live and let live”.
But all that changed when several years ago a group of religious extremists moved to Mitzpe, disturbed the equilibrium of the small communities, and took over the town. Two years ago a dear friend of mine left Mitzpe. He told me that the town has changed, and he couldn’t stand the hatred, incitement, and the bad energy. Of course he is not the only one. It seems that what my friend saw was a glimpse of the future, a sneak preview of what is going on right now in the Israeli coalition and government.
In the last twenty years Pride Parade in Tel Aviv, for example, has been mostly a celebration, but not in Mitzpe Ramon. Here it was a demonstration and a real protest, and the police was there to protect the participants. Pride Parades are also an effective thermometer that measures the general tolerance, and the attitude towards minorities, at a certain time and place. And right now, the situation in Mitzpe Ramon is bleak. In my neighborhood there are numerous ugly signs against LGBTQ coercion. This is an intentional, and eerie word choice, as secular Jews we often cite religious coercion as a reason why, for example, there is no public transportation in Israel on Shabbat. The LGBTQ community here is an oppressed minority, it has no power to force a thing. There are also the usual NOAM signs announcing their “family values”: “A Normal Family Consists of Mother And Father”. Unfortunately these religious people forgot another important value in Judaism: “Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself”, in Mitzpe Ramon the newcomers detest their LGBTQ neighbors, threaten them and throw raw eggs at them.