Helicopters were circling over Jerusalem as the gay pride parade was about to begin. This was a special moment in Jerusalem: two thousand police were out. They wanted to assure that the horror of the parade three years ago would not occur again. The police were taking no chances, and I was very pleased because three years ago a 17-year-old girl, Shira Banki, was killed by a maniacal Charedi. I do not want that to ever happen again. Have to be honest, I never knew there were gay people when I grew up in Atlanta. Now I am a bit wiser. If this is their sexual preference, I assume, it is a major aspect of their lives. I believe in individual freedom. They must be permitted to live as they choose – be it in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or anywhere in the world.
The parade, for me, began earlier than Aug. 2. I was riding on a bus traveling to the southernmost neighborhood of the city to buy a medical device not sold in the city. All of a sudden police on motorcycles were guarding cars in a motorcade with gay banners. They were blowing their horns and had loud speaker systems. The police made sure they would not be attacked; they were not.
The parade started at Liberty Bell Park and continued to Independence Park about a mile and a half away. Various estimates of the marchers were finalized, with a 20,000-participant count. In the rally in Tel Aviv two weeks ago, 80,000 people gathered to protest the new law just passed, which does not allow gay men to have children through surrogacy in Israel. Dana International, the transgender singer who won the Eurovision title for Israel about 10 years ago, entertained: “I think,” she said emphatically, “that education regarding acceptance of homosexuals and lesbians will take time. The state of Israel, via Orthodox and Charedim, see the gay pattern of life as a ‘toeva,’ an ‘abomination.’ Gay pride is wonderful to watch, but prejudice still exists towards these individuals. I just recorded the song, “Mee Haish SheHafetz Chayim – Who is the person who wants life?” because of what it should mean to all Israelis. I am happy that so many people came – Orthodox, some Charedim, men, women, children of all ages.”
I want to share with you some of the comments women in my senior residence made to me when I told them that I was writing an article. One said, “ These individuals are making this wonderful city filthy. Why all these parades?” Another said, “People like this just have an abnormal sexual flow, which could disrupt the normal pattern of life.” One, whose ancestors were discriminated against over 140 years ago when they came on aliyah, was more tolerant. “I don’t agree with what they are doing, but let them live their lives as long as they don’t hurt someone else.” A 40-year-old staff member here, native Israeli, told me that she was so delighted that gays have come out of the closet. She feels that recognizing them for who they are is a major step forward for Israel.
The police on the ground and the helicopters in the air made sure the parade was safe. Only a few ultra-Orthodox right-wingers, known for their tactics, tried to break into the parade. They were wrestled to the ground and arrested.
A large crowd of Orthodox of all types gathered at the entrance to Jerusalem. The police protected them as well. One of the most outspoken rabbis with his long white beard called out: “This must end.”
A former Atlantan, Geffen is a Conservative rabbi reporting directly from Israel.