Celebrating Pride in Jerusalem (And Seeing a Man Stabbed) Woke Me Up
Loyalty isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
One summer in 2005 while visiting Israel with a friend, we learned that Jerusalem was having a Pride parade. There was a lot of fanfare surrounding this parade. The story I got was that the new mayor of Jerusalem, closely aligned with the religious movement opposed to homosexuality, tried to block the parade from happening. The case went before the courts, who ruled against the mayor, required him to provide security, hang rainbow flags along the parade route and personally fined him for his efforts. Because of all this, the parade was highly publicized, and my friend and I wanted to join and show our support.
* Then, one man broke through, ran onto the parade route and stabbed the person in front of me in the chest. *
The gay movement in Israel was relatively new at that time following another explosive event a few years earlier when Dana International, a trans woman, represented Israel in the Eurovision song contest. Then, religious conservatives opposed her selection by the ministry of culture. She won the Eurovision that year, and Israel was awash in rainbow flags as all the gays in the land spontaneously took to the streets in buoyant collective applause.
Jerusalem is of course the highly revered living artifact of historical Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. It is smooshed into the West Bank and therefore in constant tension among the religious factions as well as a large population of secular people. I looked forward to attending a gay pride parade in Jerusalem as the dynamic cultural experience it was sure to be.
I arrived, and the parade was packed. There were thousands of marchers, far more than I could have expected, many families with young children. The spectators were mostly ultra-orthodox men, lots of them. The parade route was heavily protected by a continuous line of police in military gear, while officers in black Ghostrider outfits slowly snaked through the parading crowd on motorcycles, keeping watch.
* It was only the beginning of my appreciation of how much gay people represent a threat to some people because we have sex for pleasure. *
As we, the marchers, moved through the parade route, the spectators threw bags of feces and lunged at us in masses, each time pushed back by the police line. Then, one man broke through, ran onto the parade route and stabbed the person in front of me in the chest. He stabbed two other people in quick succession before being apprehended by the police.
I grew up in New York City, and back then, it was the dangerous place of legend. In my youth, I was mugged several times, beaten to the ground by a random gang of kids and even carjacked at gunpoint, all before I turned 18.
But I can honestly say that EVEN BEFORE THE STABBING, the Jerusalem gay pride parade was the most violent experience I’ve ever been part of.
The parade ended in the aptly named Independence Park, where there was a festival of sorts, but not the type we have during New York Pride where everyone’s drinking and partying. This was much more homegrown, families picnicking, lots of communal singing and chanting, much more of a political rally. For the Israelis, the gay movement was a definitive symbol of secularism and the freedom of human expression which comes with that.
Hence, parents with their kids came from all around the country to represent.
That same trip, I encountered a gay christian who was visiting Israel with a group of foreign tourist. He explained his own upbringing in a religious community in the American South. In my childhood, I learned the story about God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as an allegory about excessive hedonism. He learned it as being about the sin of homosexuality. Wow. It seems so obvious to me now. Sodom. Sodomy. Homosexuality. I was well into adulthood, but it was only the beginning of my appreciation of how much gay people represent a threat to some people because we have sex for pleasure, not for procreating.
Because otherwise, who cares what gay people are doing?
The conservative movement in America is now emboldened to return to this conviction. Queer people are Sodomites once again. Conservative legislators are suppressing our self-expression, separating kids from their families, and imprisoning our parents for supporting us. Doctors are being threatened for carrying out medical procedures consistent with modern medical practice. Homosexuality is once again being openly conflated with child sex abuse and pornography. It’s 2005 again, but this time much bigger.
How do we deal with life when it starts to feel hopeless, unfair, crazy?
In 1959, Switzerland held its first public referendum around women’s suffrage. It was overwhelmingly rejected. It wasn’t until 1971 that women were granted the right to vote by federal referendum. Some provinces continued to refuse women the right to vote until 1990 when the Supreme Court ruled that refusing women the right to vote violated the equality clause of their constitution. 1959, 1971, 1990. Switzerland. Let’s take in these dates, how crazy this sounds. It’s messed up, but in its own way, it’s grounding.
Humans are weird creatures and very often we don’t make sense.
We fight all kinds of fights that have no particular purpose, motivated by fear and anger, but also loyalty. Loyalty sounds like such a wonderful quality, and it is, but like many characteristics of the human condition, we have to consider when to heed its call vs. listening but making a different choice. Loyalty motivates us to be there for the people we love in times of celebration and times of hardship, but it also has another side. It causes us to fight for things we don’t need to be fighting about, things that were once important to somebody else, or things that our past selves considered important; those past selves were likely our childhood selves who weren’t very wise or experienced.
That’s the human condition. Loyalty, as wonderful as it may be, is tied very much to the past. Loyalty to old ways. I don’t want to be limited by the past, and I don’t want to live in a world defined by it either. I want to choose my life considering all the disparate contemporary variables, as confusing as that becomes sometimes, and I want to live in a world which welcomes that kind of life. That is a world which respects the past but looks around and looks forward.
Remembering these stories about the struggle for progress keeps me engaged in that struggle, and in its own way makes me feel hopeful. While my fear and laziness will hold me back from taking a stand for what I want, stories keep me coming back. The right choices may seem obvious, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to make those choices. How many times have I known what’s good for me, even simple things like going to bed earlier or stretching, but haven’t done them? Things like that happen every day. And what about things that require more courage, more hard work? How many times has fear and laziness stopped me from reaching for things which I know have true value for me and everyone around me? How many times have I talked myself out of fighting for what I believe in or for what I really want, or simply ignored my inner voice telling me what I should do, what I believe is the right thing? That happens every day as well.
The world isn’t inviting us to be happy, it’s inviting us to be challenged, and it’s deeply within the human spirit to challenge ourselves. All of change and progress happens that way for us. That is the normal human condition. If we want the world to look a certain way, we have to work hard for it and challenge ourselves, at least a little bit every day. And then, on those days when things come together for us, we have to remember to celebrate in all the most colorful ways. That’s what makes life worth living, and those are happy days.
Incidentally, Dana International is now a highly respected musician and producer in Israel. The guy who stabbed those people in 2005? He went to jail for 10 years, and then, three weeks after his release, stabbed 6 more people at the Jerusalem gay pride parade, killing a 16-year-old girl. This isn’t the way we want the world to be, but in order to have the world we want, we have to make a conscious choice to represent.