Gay Pride and Prejudice

For three days I’ve been trying to write something. I’ve been sitting in my apartment, not particularly busy on the weekend, trying to think of something to say about the most recent events in Israel. But the truth is, I’m speechless. I have no words. But just because I have no words doesn’t mean I can sit back and say nothing. So I’m going to try and put words to my feelings. Bear with me.

I’m going to address two main events that happened in the past few days in Israel: 1) On Thursday, six people were stabbed at the Pride March, and 2) early Friday morning two Palestinian homes were set on fire and as a result four family members were hospitalized and a baby died.  It’s horrifying enough just to read the headlines without thinking too deeply about it. But unfortunately both of those events comes in a context of a long and painful history, spattering more blood on the already stained pages.

The Jerusalem Pride Parade is one of my favorite things that happens in my city. Obviously I agree with what it stands for – the protest demanding equal rights under the law. I also just like being there. I feel safe there. I feel like I belong. Forget the fact that I identify as Bisexual – that’s the B in LGBT – it’s a place where everyone feels like they belong. Even if you are straight, female, single, socially awkward, none of those things matter at Pride. Pride is all about feeling good about who you are. For a few hours once a year, people who are bullied and discriminated against can finally feel normal and accepted. We can finally feel safe. On Thursday someone burst into that bubble and took away the safety of thousands. Not just the people he stabbed. Not just the people who were at the parade. He took away the safety of every religious, closeted LGBT person in the city. He gave a voice to all the hatred that is harbored towards LGBTs everywhere and especially within the Orthodox communities in Israel.

I was flipping through the comments on one of the articles discussing this event. I saw several comments insinuating that Israelis are a savage, blood-thirsty nation who just kill everyone we hate: Palestinians, gays, etc. I spent some time being patriotic and defending my people on the internet, only to wake up the following morning to the news about the Palestinian homes burned down.  I wasn’t shocked. It’s happened before. I just couldn’t help think about all those anti-Israeli commenters on the internet who had just been proven right. My insides squirmed at the notion that someone who identifies with the same nationality as I do would commit such a heinous act as burning a baby. This time the media was full of lots of posts talking about how the Jewish faith condemns any type of murder, and people who stab at the Pride parade or who kill anyone “aren’t really Jews.”

Except that they are Jews. And they are Israelis. And the world is looking at us now, in this moment, watching us cast off this act as the doings of a couple of crazy fanatics. Maybe it’s true – maybe it’s really only a handful of crazies committing these crimes. But as Brigitte Gabriel wisely said, “The peaceful majority are irrelevant.” It only took a handful of crazy fanatics to bring the twin towers to the ground.

But as a friend of mine said, there’s a reason these radicals attacked Palestinians, and not Russians, for example. There is a reason the stabber went to Gay Pride instead of going after red heads. The reason is that our culture tolerates hate.

Maybe instead of saying “they’re not really Jews” or “they got Judaism wrong,” it is time for us to take responsibility for the actions of our brethren and take a look at what messages in our culture could have led to this kind of violence. Maybe it’s time to just stop and say, we’re sorry. We screwed up. And now we are going to do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  For example, our politicians are now going to refrain from making racist and homophobic comments, even in jest. Our schools are going to stop tolerating racist teachings and ideas in the classroom. Our rabbis are going to stop giving legitimacy to discrimimation against gays. Our country is now going to catch up with the rest of the modern world and finally pass marriage equality. Those would be some nice places to start.

So, in the name of all Israelis and all Jews everywhere, I’m sorry. We’re sorry. To the Palestinians and the family of sweet baby Ali, we’re sorry. I know it’s not enough and will never be enough. But I’m saying it because I want you to know that there are people in this country and in this world who reject hate and condemn violence of any kind. We are sorry. We screwed up and we hurt you.

To my brothers and sisters at Jerusalem Pride, we are sorry. We screwed up. We let too much homophobia settle into our culture. Don’t let it discourage you even for a moment. Keep Pride alive.

That’s all for now. Wishing everybody that the month of August may bring upon us a time of love and peace and coexistence and harmony. Alla yisalmakum.

Liora Sophie.

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To You, With Love From A Fellow Human

To the invaluable human soul behind the screen reading my words,

I want to talk to you about this week. Sunday the semester starts, and that’s not enough time to recover from the emotional impact of this week’s events. It’s not fair. Yesterday, a crazy person killed a baby with a car. Today, both Jews and Arabs threw rocks at each other. We’re all upset. Nobody can focus. It’s a terrible, horrible situation.

I want you to know that no matter what you think, no matter who you are, I feel your pain. Because pain is not something which belongs on any side of the political spectrum. Pain is human. As are all of us. So why can’t we stand together, hold hands, comfort each other?

If you’ll stick with me for just a moment longer, I’d like to share with you some beautiful words I heard from a speaker about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict several weeks ago. His name is Ali abu Awwad. It begins with the definition of hope.

“Hope is a place where people create, not just expect,” he says.

Ali Abu Awwad preaches non-violent action. Take action, but not violent action. His first experience of this concept was participating in a 17-day hunger strike in prison, as a protest against the separation of families inside the prison. He wanted to be reunited with his mother. This kind of action, he says is something powerful – it’s fighting with your humanity, more than violence, more than your political rights. “Non violence is to be an artist for your humanity.”

What is the most powerful tool of non-violent action? “Non-violent action causes the other side to see their own actions.” It creates a mirror for your opponent, rather than fueling his violence. “By not giving legitimacy to their violence, you create a safe place for them to give up.”

At 31, Ali’s brother was violently killed by an IDF soldier. The pain of loss and mourning led Ali to realize that there is no revenge good enough. Taking the life of another person can not ease the pain and will not bring back his brother. What keeps a person who has lost something so huge from turning into a murderer? Ali says that even though he lost his brother, his dreams, his land, and his rights, one thing he didn’t lose – his mind. When his brother was killed, a group of bereaved Israelis asked to come and meet his mother. For the first time in his life, Ali witnessed an Israeli person cry.

Israelis can cry? He asked himself. He was shocked. Before this incident he couldn’t imagine that Israelis could cry.

And what about forgiveness? How can you forgive someone for killing your brother? But Ali says he learned about forgiveness from a Sount African mother who told him, “Forgiveness is not giving up your right to justice, but giving up your just right to revenge.

It couldn’t be more clear that Ali does not believe war is any kind of solution. “Palestinian freedom has to go through Israeli hearts, not bodies.” He impresses the interdependence of the two nations by saying, “If Israel is not secure, Palestineans will never have freedom – but if Palestine doesn’t have freedom, Israel will never have security.”

And since then, he’s been an activist for Palestinian rights. He marches and speaks in favor of non violent action. One incident he told of stood out to me. When speaking at an Israeli school in the West Bank, one of the students, a nineteen year old, called him “a babboon.” Ali flattened him with heart-piercing dialogue, appealing to his humanity and commanding his respect. The student fell silent and later approached him, apologizing for his words and admitting that he had never met a Palestinian before. “I never imagined Palestinians had feelings.”

Do you see the striking parallel in these two stories? Each is a tale of a human experience, a raw encounter with our more basic instincts and our ability to overcome them in order to be civilized. Each tells about a person who had never met someone so different from them, but then learned that the other is human just as they are.

Ok, time to wrap things up. I just want to say to my friends at school, my neighbors in the dormitories, my friends in the West Bank and my friends far away in the United States and everywhere, at the end of the day, we’re all human, we can all cry, and that’s okay….

I’m going to leave you with a final quote from Ali, about what he sees as the definition of peace:

“Peace is the courage to engage in each other’s rights.”

Much love and wishes for a quiet weekend,

Liora Sophie

Why We Need Pride In Jerusalem

Too many people have asked me that question, so here’s your answer.

I am so incredibly proud to be a resident of Jerusalem right now. For one shining moment, no matter who you are – gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer, pan, in, out, religious, secular, in between…for one moment you can just live in a bubble of freedom and acceptance. If you are at the parade you are cool by definition. For one blissful afternoon you can live your life without fear of judgment, discrimination, and violence. You can walk through the streets of this holy city and be totally free.

But here’s the catch: One afternoon every year or two is not enough. We march because we have the guts to expect more than that.

Before I go on about how much fun the parade was, I’d like to clear up a few misconceptions about the event itself. Some people feel that the Pride Parade is not appropriate in Jerusalem, the holy city. I’d like to clarify why I believe that there is no place more appropriate than Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.

  1. A religious man marches wearing a Gay Pride flag with Star of David, a mix of Pride and the Israeli flag.

     Inappropriate dress. This is not true for the Jerusalem Pride Parade. Out of 3,000 people, there were only two men who were not wearing shirts. And a male to female transgender in a dress does not count as cross dressing.

  2. Public Display of Affection. Again, out of 3,000 people I saw one couple kissing and a few couples holding hands. Yeah, PDA is gross! But straight PDA is not any less gross than gay PDA.

  3. It’s a secular event. In case you aren’t familiar with the demographics of Jerusalem, a large percentage of the population here are religious Jews / Christians / Muslims / Other. The Pride Parade was packed with kippas and tzitzit, skirts and hair coverings – our symbols of a religious lifestyle. Some of them are out of the closet religious people, some are straight supporters. There were far too many religious people at the parade to say that it is not relevant in a largely religious city.

  4. It’s a sex parade. It’s not. In Jerusalem, it’s a protest. We march for social change. We march because we deserve to live a life without violence, discrimination at work or anywhere else. We deserve health and marriage equality. And we’re not going to get those things by sitting down and being quiet.

In case you still aren’t convinced, let me address a specific moment of the parade. As we marched down Ramban street – which borders on a mainly religious neighborhood but does not go through it – somebody threw a stink bomb. I have to admit I was impressed. It seems like it would take quite a lot of premeditation and preparation to do such a thing. It seems like an enormous amount of energy to waste on hating someone. I’m glad to report that the person who did it was arrested while the parade was still going on, and what a shame, in the end he just stank up his own street.

Seriously, though. It wasn’t as if we didn’t know that was coming. It’s not the first time that has happened. Don’t you think it takes a good deal of courage and purpose to walk down the roads when you know you could be hit by a bag of someone else’s crap? So it smelled a little bad. It stopped no one. The parade marched on. Honestly, what’s a little stink bomb to the LGBT community, who endures far worse on a daily basis?

With that in mind, let’s not forget that a lot of people who march in the parade are not L, G, B, T or Q, but they recognize that this is a protest for human rights. The needs of the LGBT community are relevant to straight people as well. Because bullying and violence, discrimination based on race or gender, hate crimes, equality in health care and marriage are issues that hit every one of us close to home, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

So next year, pick a basic human right you feel you need, make a rainbow colored sign and come march with us. And if you feel you enjoy complete freedom and full human rights, come get your face painted and stand up for someone who doesn’t.

Women Talk to a Wall – and Get Arrested

On the first day of every Jewish month, women all over the world hold their breath. Some of us cross our fingers; some of us pray or meditate. Some of us can’t be there to support them, so wherever we are we hold still and hope really hard that the Women of the Wall don’t go to jail this month. We know what they are doing is illegal. We know it upsets people. We know it’s looked down upon by authorities. But for some reason we get it into our head that maybe this time it won’t bother anyone.

The Women of the Wall struggle with a limitation of religious freedom in the state of Israel. Personally, it baffles me that this is a problem in a state which is one of the most socially progressive in the whole world in equality for women, where we have free health care, free day care, and such fierce laws protecting women’s rights. Moreover, it seems ironic that it would be a problem to practice a Jewish custom in what is supposed to be the Jewish state. (I’ll elaborate in the next few paragraphs.)

Women of the Wall

As it turned out this month not many people were bothered, and still ten women got arrested. The Women of the Wall gathered as usual and held an inspiring, exciting prayer on the women’s side of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. They danced and sang and wore prayer shawls. These actions are what have been deemed illegal by the Supreme Court of Israel.

1. Wearing a prayer shawl. For those unfamiliar with the different religious practices: in Orthodox Judaism it is traditional only for men to wear a shawl during prayer, and if a woman wants to wear one it is looked down upon, but it is one hundred percent allowed and backed up by some of the greatest Rabbis in our history.

2. Conducting a religious service. It seems odd to me that this sort of thing would be prohibited at a holy site. But the law is the law.

3. Singing and dancing. These actions are prohibited because in Orthodox Judaism it is considered immodest for a woman to sing or dance in the presence of a man (who is not her husband). As far as I understand, the idea behind this tradition is that a woman’s singing voice (or dancing) can cause a man to become sexually aroused. So to avoid adultery, we (women) avoid public singing and mixed dancing.

At this point, I would like to recommend this post I read on one of my favorite blogs, the Good Men Project. It talks about why saying ‘men are slaves to their sex drive’ is offensive to men. Please take a minute to look over it, it’s awesome.

With all this in mind, I would like to express my confusion about why the Women of the Wall get arrested. It seems to me that the ruling of the Supreme Court which prohibits these women’s prayer was made out of fear. If religious extremists complain that a group of women are ‘being provocative’ and ‘disrespecting the holy site’, and threaten to start a riot, obviously we should take action to make sure no one gets hurt. But last time I checked, threatening, black mail, and violence were illegal. So the Supreme Court appears to be telling us that we, the Jewish people living in the state of Israel, give in to fear instead of standing up for religious freedom. It seems like the Women of the Wall get arrested because someone out there might get angry and start acting violent. It sounds like we’re blaming the victim. It seems like we are holding women responsible for the actions of men. Here’s where the Good Men Project would say we’re wrong. Men are responsible for their own actions. They can control themselves and make their own decisions, and saying otherwise sets us back centuries. We should hold these extremists responsible for their own actions. People who use violence should be arrested, not people who just want to worship God in their own way.

In the Israeli national anthem, called ‘Hatikva’ which means ‘Our Hope’, we sing about our hope to one day be a truly free nation in our country. We hope to have full religious freedom. We hope to have liberty to make decisions based on our principles, not our fear. The Women of the Wall are the manifestation of this hope, just like the paratroopers who liberated the Wailing Wall in 1967.

Stand With Israel, Chances Are You Owe Us One

Being a university student means occasionally getting emails from the Dean’s office. But how often do they say something like this:

“Due to the security situation, students wishing to host relatives and friends from the South of Israel in their dormitories may file a request.”
Only in Israel would the Dean’s Office give permission to students to host their families in the dorms. How awesome is that!
 
The IDF has “recommended” to evacuate the south of Israel due to a bazillion rockets being fired in the vicinity. It’s recommended because a bazillion rockets can be quite a nuissance to civillians trying to study or meditate, etc. It’s not manditory because the Iron Dome takes care of most of them. We listen to the news and hear that rockets were fired and caused damage to a house, but fortunately the people were not home at that time and no one was hurt. Hundreds of rockets fall every day and hardly anyone gets hurt.
 
I deliberately avoid reading the news as much as possible. I started to hear about the unusual amount of rockets by facebook posts. Following the IDF’s suggestion, many of my friends have posted that there is spare room in their home for those who need to come and stay. The fact that Israel is a Jewish state means that all of the citizens are one big extended family. Rick Riordan says, “Families are messy, immortal families are eternally messy.”
 
Galgalatz, the IDF redio station is playing songs selected by individuals in the south. Wedding halls in central cities are clearing their schedules so that couples who were planning to get married in the south don’t have to postpone the celebration. That’s what we do here in Israel, when there’s an outside threat. We stick together and prove how awesome we are. I think the Iron Dome has already proven that by minimizing the victims of 500 rocket firings to 4 people. But we’ve tolerated these rockets for seven years, and at some point we just get tired of it. 
 
What I don’t understand is, why are we on our own out here? Didn’t we send huge aids to Haiti and Hurricane Sandy victims? Listen, world, Israel is there for you when you need us, and you know it. When the Carmel forest was on fire we had some help, so it’s obviously not anti-semitism that’s going on here. So come on, if you’re not going to help us fight, at least be on our side. Chances are you owe us one.

Time Travel in Everyday Life

What would you do if you had a time machine? Comedian Louis CK says, “Go back in time and make you not ask me that question.”

I like to believe that actions make a difference. Sometimes it gets a little hard to keep believing that, especially when proof to the contrary springs up right before my eyes. Last year there was a tent city protest in Jerusalem, and yet housing is still as expensive as Paris. I’d like to believe that writing letters to politicians makes them change their mind about something. I’d like to believe that the “Slut Walks” make people change the way they think about rape.

Still, in the year 2012, where women drive and work and vote, and blacks and whites marry each other, self-respecting people can be found blaming the victims of sexual assault. This Judge overrode the Jury’s punishment decision and told the victim publicly that “If you wouldn’t have been there that night, none of this would have happened to you.” What is the judge saying? She’s saying women, don’t go out to bars. Women, don’t walk around alone. Are we not one step away from “Women, get back in the kitchen and stay home and take care of your babies?” Why are we moving backwards? Oh – yes! I’ve always wanted proof that time travel is possible!

It’s possible to go back even further than Toronto in 2011. Some people attempt to travel all the way back to the writing of the American constitution. This is what Chris Kluwe said in his letter to Maryland state delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. when the latter tried to silence the voice of a football player who supports gay marriage. After you read the letter, read the comments. While the words of the state delegate are ridiculous, this letter is problematic as well. Even if you support gay marriage, doesn’t this letter make you want to apologize to Burns? From the first line of the letter, I thought to myself, if this was addressed to me I would stop reading right here. From my experience, if you want someone to read your letter, you shouldn’t open it with a string of vulgar insults. This sort of approach brings us back in time just as much as opposing gay rights.

I’ll ask you again; if you had a time machine, what would you do with it?