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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6 Million Things We Should Learn From The Holocaust

Okay, fine, I cut it down to six. Six million, as far as I’m concerned, is a kind of countable infinity, because it would take more time and energy than I would ever have in order to make a list that long. But each one of the concepts listed below can be implemented in our lives in a million different ways, so in a way, the six million is present.

  1. All people are equal. (and none are “more equal” than others). One of the questions that is most often asked about the holocaust is “Why did this happen?” It happened because of hatred. It happened because of the failure of some people to recognize different people as equal. Untermensch means sub-human, and this was the Nazis’ term for the Jews, Blacks, Gays, and whoever else was victimized by them. It’s not okay to see people as less than human. It’s not okay to treat them as such. Because all people are equal.

  2. Never underestimate peer pressure. The second most popular question is “How did this happen?” There is an amazing book (which was made into a movie) called The Wave, which discusses an experiment performed in a high school to teach students how people were swept up by the Nazis. It makes a profound statement about the power of peer pressure, and how difficult it is to resist when everyone around you is doing something, even if you think it’s wrong. We need to recognize that peer pressure can affect us, even subconsciously. Only when we appreciate its strength do we have a chance of standing up to it.

  3. What goes around comes around is not always true. We have to realize that the idea that if you are good, then good things will happen to you, is a myth. Nobody deserved what happened in the holocaust. It didn’t happen because of something we did wrong, and that idea can only lead to frustration or fallacious conclusions.

  4. Antisemitism is still alive. We can not ignore when a Jewish market is burned to the ground. We can not ignore when Jewish Synagogues are violated and graffittied all around the world. It’s easy, especially in Israel and in the United States, to live in a bubble and believe that Antisemitism is not politically correct anymore, and that the Jews are accepted and successful. We were in Germany too, before World War II. We were in Spain before the expulsion. The story goes that we were in Egypt as well, before we were made slaves. It’s not gone from the world, and we can not pretend that it is.

  5. Murder is bad. In her fantastic series, Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling makes this point masterfully. Every human life is connected to an entire world. Each one of us has a history, a family, a group of friends, a plethora of times and places and people we have touched in our lives. Cutting the life of a human being short, no matter who they are, is a terrible thing. In the age of crime shows and murder mysteries there is sometimes a sense that murder is mainstream, happening all the time and all over the world. While that may be true, we can never forget that each and every murder victim is an entire world, an entire life.

  6. Never let it happen again. What does this really mean? In some way it’s easy to stand for the siren and promise you’ll never put someone in a gas chamber. But there are ways in which individuals can help to make this promise as well. Besides the gas chambers and the massacre, what were the things that went on in the holocaust? It started with basic, everyday human interactions, such as discrimination, vandalism, boycotting, using hurtful language, publicly humiliating someone because of their race or nationality. These are things we can all work to oppose in our society and in the circles we are a part of. By being kind to everyone, accepting of those who are different from us, by seeing all humans as human, by valuing every human life, we can promise to never let it happen again.

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

Totally Normal

For my summer job, I’m working at Camp Shutaf – a summer camp for kids with and without special needs. I double as a councilor and a personal guide for a teen with Down Syndrome.

Yesterday during lunch, I was handing out cups of water to the campers and as I observed the room out of the corner of my eye, I suddenly found myself thinking: wow, this is so normal. I was reminded of going to summer camp myself: color war, swimming, relay races, getting popsicles at pickup time. Had I been observing the camp from the outside I may never have guessed that “special needs” is even in the mission statement of the Organization.

First it made me think I must have special needs, if such a scene felt so normal to me. Then I remembered one of my favorite quotes from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon:

“Everyone has special needs, like Father, who has to carry a little packet of artificial sweetening tablets around with him to put in his coffee to stop him from getting fat, or Mrs. Peters, who wears a beige-colored hearing aid, or Siobhan, who has glasses so thick that they give you a headache if you borrow them, and none of these people are Special Needs, even if they have special needs.”

There were two incidents at camp which really made me think later that afternoon. The first was with a kid who is almost ten years old but not even three feet tall. Right before my eyes he burst into our homeroom and spilled every cup with liquid all over the floor before I could stop him. When asked why he did that, he replied simply, “I was upset.” I thought, hey, sometimes I feel like tossing a few cups of grape drink across the room when I’m upset. But I don’t, because I’m an adult and I learned not to. The important thing is to recognize that these instincts still exist inside of us, and just because we may have learned earlier to restrain them, does not mean we are different from this boy. He just has special needs, one of them being that sometimes he needs to be physically restrained when he is upset in order to calm down.

The second incident was with a camper with Down Syndrome. I was playing catch with her when a CIT approached us and requested she join the group activity. I had not had a lot of experience with this camper so I could not anticipate how she would react. She told us clearly that she did not want to join the group, and preferred to stay where we were and continue our game of catch. We talked her into it using bribes and ultimatums and whatever else we could possibly think of, and finally managed to convince her to join the group. Immediately my camper started hitting other campers. I didn’t see the first time and was not able to stop her the second, so I took her hand and kind of dragged/lead her upstairs to see the camp director and have a talk. After the fact it seemed obvious. She had told us clearly what she wanted, and we refused to pay any attention to her preference, so she got mad and started acting out. Wouldn’t it have been better to just stay where we were and keep playing catch? Kids with Down Syndrome don’t always communicate clearly, so when they do, I thought, maybe we should pay close attention to what they’re saying instead of holding the camp schedule as a higher priority. I recognize that there could potentially have been other technical challenges such as shortage of staff hands or not wanting to spoil her, but neither were relavent in this particular situation.

Because I’m a nerd, I’m going to borrow a metaphor from the world of mathematics. In Vector Algebra, a vector is called “normal” if it is at a right angle to another vector. The consequence of this idea is that normal vectors show us new dimensions. Any time a new “normal” vector is added, we have another direction to explore. The world grows. Lots of new combinations can be formed. On the other hand, staying on the same line or the same plane isn’t necessarily normal; in fact, in most cases it’s not.

Following this idea, here’s a list of what I think would be considered normal and not normal:

Normal:

  • allowing for lots of alternatives
  • recognizing that each child is unique
  • striving for individuality and celebrating differences

Not Normal:

  • trying to stick with one plan
  • assuming that all children move in the same direction or fit into the same space
  • striving for homogeneity and discouraging creativity

I believe there are endless valuable lessons to be learned from kids with special needs, because when you deal with special needs kids, you have to get creative. Usual methods we use in public schools just don’t work, because the kids are not necessarily even rational thinkers. Some kids will just sit down in the middle of the street and refuse to budge no matter how many times you explain to them that they could get run over by a car. You can’t just pick them up and physically force them to move, because they could be 19 years old and six feet tall. You have to find ways to appeal to them, you have to treat them with utmost respect and give them unconditional love, because they don’t respond to anything else. With non special needs kids it’s easy to forget that they need these things too, but if we look at the success of schools around the world, it is clear that love and respect are just as crucial to a child’s growth whether or not they have special needs.

And anyway, as we know, everyone has special needs.

 

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.

There Exists vs. For All – Math and Racism

I make generalizations by accident sometimes. I think everyone does. It’s just a habit we have of not being accurate when talking about other people.

One of the most basic principles of mathematics – logic, specifically – is the difference between “there exists” and “for all/every.” For example,

1. There exists a solution to the equation x+2=5

2. Every natural number is either even or odd.

The first statement tells us that something exists – but we only know of one number with that property. It would be silly to say that every number solves the equation. The second statement tells us something about all the natural numbers in the world – that even if we go on to infinity, we will never find a number which is neither even nor odd, or both at the same time.

I understand that logic theory is not a perfect analogy for our world since there is little room for grey areas. However, it still has a lot to teach us about our environment and society. The idea of political correctness is all about defining our statements in a more exact way. Often in everyday life we confuse “there exists” with “every,” and I want to argue that this miscalculation leads us to racism.

Here are some examples:

1. All Israelis are racist
2. All Arabs are terrorists
3. All Americans are rich (we have a big problem with that one here)
4. All Ethiopians are illiterate

All of These statements are wrong.

The four statements above are sentences which people have said to me. As sad as it is, I’m not making these up out of my own head. Let’s take a moment and look at some other ways to write the above statements

1. “There exist Israelis which are not racist.” (logical inverse) This is already a much more accurate statement, because we know there are Israelis which are not racist. Instead of saying “all” we should have said “there exist.” On the other hand, saying “There exist Israelis which are racist” gives the most accurate, much more intelligent sounding and much less judgmental statement, and it says the same thing as the original one: There’s racism in Israel, and I think it’s not cool.

2. “There exist Arabs which are not terrorists.” This one should be modified even further to the statement “There exist terrorists which are Arabs.” It’s deeper than “Not all Arabs are terrorists” – being a terrorist has nothing to do with being Arab! There are also terrorists which are Japanese and American. It’s terrible but it doesn’t mean that if you are American you have an increased chance of becoming a terrorist.

3. “There exist Americans that are not rich.” Sadly, most of the way Israelis are exposed to American culture is through television (similar to how Americans mostly see Israeli society through CNN). They watch shows like How I Met Your Mother, Glee and (God forbid) the Disney channel, and let’s face it – there’s not a lot of poverty on TV. It’s easy to look around and see that some people walked here from Ethiopia with the shirt on their back while Americans mostly take a 12 hour flight with two suitcases each. Regardless, the statement should still be “There exist Americans that are rich.” Because we know nothing about how many will be rich once we get infinity of them.

4.

“There exist Ethiopians that can read.” I sincerely thought we were done discriminating based on skin color, but it turns out the problem is still deep within us. Lots of people immigrate to Israel from Ethiopia, and just as with any group of new immigrants, the people who already live here find them strange, different, and “uneducated,” which just means they are culturally different. The statement is false because there are enough Ethiopians who are literate that if you meet one, it is wrong to assume they aren’t. Some have grown up here, served in the IDF and attended universities. Frankly, making a generalization based on skin color makes you look like the one who’s illiterate.

Everywhere we go there are people who are afraid of someone who’s different. But even that statement only implies the existence of two of these people. It is crucial to be exact when we speak of others, not to confuse “alls” with “exists” because we don’t have the ability to know what goes on when there is an infinite amount of people. Only then will it be perfectly okay to say “All.”