(July 22, 2016 / JNS) By Eliana Rudee/JNS.org
As I walked hand in hand with my boyfriend to Jerusalem’s March for Pride and Tolerance, we got some confused looks from passersby as we proudly waved our rainbow flag. I wondered how many more looks we would have gotten if we were walking with a same-sex partner. I felt proud walking with him, showing that it is important for everyone to support the LGBTQ community.
As we neared the festivities, we found hundreds of other Jerusalemites on the street walking to the same festival. The supporters were diverse: some had piercings and tattoos, others had tzitzit and kippot. Some walked with their children, others with their elderly parents. The diversity in age gave me hope for the next generation of Jerusalemites.
Walking to the pride march reminded me of walking to a Seattle Seahawks game in downtown Seattle, where everyone is dressed in blue and green, walking towards the football stadium. But this time, we held Israeli flags, rainbow flags, and flags with rainbow Jewish stars. And the team we were all rooting for was human rights.
As I walked toward a street where some armed officers were stationed, I was redirected by another police officer to walk on a different street. As more police cars drove by, I realized just how many police were out. The immense police presence was nothing I had seen before, even compared to what I saw minutes after a terrorist attack in my neighborhood. At this point, it seemed the police were out solely for crowd control, but later, we realized the great extent to which they were here to protect us, the marchers.
What was assumed to be under 5,000 people, according to the organizers, turned out to be 25,000 strong. The lines to get into the celebration were Disneyland-esque. We waited while security checked each individual and barred protestors from our sight with buses, police vehicles, and barricades. It was almost like the protestors didn’t even exist—finally, a public safe space for LGBTQ Jerusalemites.
At the parade, I witnessed an intense amount of love, pride, celebration, and mourning. We began the parade with happiness and pride, receiving cheers from onlooking hotel guests peering from their hotel porches. People danced, chanted, sang, and honored the memory of Shira Banki z”l, the girl who was murdered in last year’s celebration at the hands of a haredi extremist. Shira’s memory was ever present. Before marching, we were handed flowers to place at the site of her murder. As we approached the site of Shira’s murder, the mood became immediately somber. Her picture with a quote hung above the thousands of flowers and notes placed below. Shira’s best friends huddled next to the memorial, laying on one another, crying together in a silence that deeply contrasted with the rest of the parade.
But alas, the parade moved on. Once 15 meters from Shira’s memorial, the mood became celebratory again. The span of just 30 meters or so, from celebration to sadness, back to celebration, struck me as particularly Jewish—it also reminded me of how in Israel, we go from two very sad holidays (Holocaust Remembrance Day and the day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror) to a happy one (Israel’s Independence Day) in the same week. Israelis are quite used to this type of emotional roller coaster. We all understand that with life and perseverance comes sadness and loss. This is true for the establishment and continuation of the State of Israel, and it is true for the fight for human rights. The whole moment was a harrowing reminder of how far the community has come since last year and how far we still have to go.
And we do have a long way to go, both within Israel and the world. On our way back from the march, we passed the American Consulate General, which even had a supportive sign up saying, “The U.S. Consulate General proudly supports your right to love and live with dignity.” Of course, Israel is the only Middle Eastern country where they so outwardly support gay rights. I’m thankful for the Israeli public’s progressiveness on LGBTQ issues, significant police and political support, and the safe space that Israel offers for the Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim LGBTQ communities.
Of course, even within Israel, the situation is not perfect. I disagree with the mayor of Jerusalem’s decision to not attend the parade out of respect for the haredi community, which is offended by the parade. Even though he wasn’t there, the very groups he chose not to offend showed up instead, many with signs and some with knives.
The extremist group “Lahava” protested the event and police detained numerous potential attackers, two of whom were found with knives. Last year’s attacker and his family were said to have been plotting another attack, from the attacker’s jail cell, and police escorted his relatives out of Jerusalem for the day. The extent to which the police worked to ensure our safety was nothing less than incredible. They truly honored Shira’s memory and legacy, and made marchers feel protected by the state through their dedication to protecting our rights.
I left the evening with hope and confidence for the future. I cannot wait to see how many people show up next year in support of Jerusalem’s LGBTQ community—which is here to stay. Until then, may we continue to preach love, humanity, tolerance, and pride in our differences.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Israel Girl” column (formerly “Aliyah Annotated”) for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her column on JNS.org.