By Rabbi Yehoshua Looks
This Thursday is the annual Jerusalem Gay Pride parade. I consider myself an ally of the LGBTQ community on protection of their rights and freedom from harassment, as well as respect for the challenges they face, which I cannot even imagine. But, it hadn’t crossed my mind to attend the parade, until I received a group email from a friend, Mia Elitzur, urging us to march with her. Mia is an observant Jew, a lesbian, and a feminist. Her powerful words caused me to reconsider my complacency and then after thinking through the issues involved and the ramifications, decided to attend.
We are living in times when incitement is a deadly force, around the world and here in Israel. Just within the last week, Rabbi Yig’al Levinstein, pre-military academy head of a yeshiva in Eli, publically referred to gays as perverts and speaking about the LGBTQ community said, “It is an insane movement whose members have lost the normalcy of life. This group makes the country mad and has now penetrated the IDF in full force – and no one dares voice an opinion and mock it.” Words such as these have the power to incite to violence, even to murder.
During last year’s parade, Yishai Schlissel, an Orthodox Jew, murdered a young Israeli, Shira Banki and wounded six other people. We are commanded in the Torah to raise our voices in protest, as Mia reminded me, lo ta’amod al dam re’echa, not to stand on your fellow’s blood. As such, I realize now that it is important for me, a rabbi, also an Orthodox Jew, to make a personal statement through participation in this year’s parade.
I am expressing with my presence that LGBTQ people need to be seen first as human beings, created b’tzelem Elokim, in the image of G-d, and to be accepted for their sexual identity. My acceptance does not cross over to what may or may not happen behind the bedroom door, but it does challenge me with the Biblical injunction, “V’ahavta et ha’ger,” to love the stranger, really the other, the one who is not like you.
Standing in unfortunate opposition to this Biblical commandment, is the prevailing toxic climate of extreme polarization. We live in times when opposing camps on contentious issues resort to inflammatory language and character condemnation, sometimes violence, just for the “sin” of speaking to the other side.
We need to be able to speak to all, particularly to those we may not agree with, and particularly on contentious issues. Our presence doesn’t mean we agree with each other on everything or even anything, but it does mean that we do respect each other and that we must learn to live with each other through dialogue.
We also need to express compassion with our presence when others are hurting, even when we lack the understanding to truly empathize. After the massacre in Orlando, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, accompanied by members of his Washington DC congregation visited a local gay bar to express their solidarity with the victims and those who were grieving. Afterwards, Rabbi Herzfeld reflected that the visit was “a tremendous learning experience” for him.
“I felt the reality that we are living in a time of enormous pain,” he said. “I learned that when a rabbi and members of an Orthodox synagogue walk into a gay African American bar, it is not the opening line of a joke but an opportunity to connect; it is an opportunity to break down barriers and come together as one; it is an opportunity to learn that if we are going to survive, we all need each other.”
And so, this Thursday, I am planning on marching with Mia and invite all of you to join us. My presence is to lend my voice in protest against violence, in any form, against the LGBTQ community. I am also expressing my belief that to create a better world, we need to be able to talk and walk together.
Rabbi Yehoshua Looks is COO of Ayeka, a member of the David Cardozo Academy Think Tank and a freelance consultant to nonprofit organizations. The opinions expressed are personal and not representative of any organization with which he is associated.