Gay, religious, and proud in Tel Aviv.

gay pride tel aviv“Pinkwashing”—the calculated exploitation by Israel’s government of the LGBTQ community’s hard-won  civil and social gains as a beard for the human rights abuses of the occupation—is a thing. It’s real, it’s documented, and the sheer cynicism becomes even clearer when we consider that the government that conducted a PR campaign around gay-friendly Tel Aviv is the same government that gives disproportionate power to religious parties that reject all that Gay Pride stands for.

But what is also a thing, what is also real, is Israel’s actual LGBTQ community, and the joyous celebration that is Tel Aviv’s Gay Pride Week—a multi-hued happening to which people travel from all over the world, because it’s a blast. Witness the fact that this year’s “Official Video of Tel Aviv Pride Week” (which, okay, I admit: I did not knowthat was a thing) is performed by the straight and wildly popular Mizrahi singer Omer Adam (video below). Gay or straight, Pride is one of the best weeks of the year to be in the city that I still consider my home.

The big event is, of course, the parade itself, which will take place on Friday. It’ll feature all the usual suspects—Adonises and Amazons in itty-bitty clothes; rainbow flags, clothes, and hair; the famous and the wanna-be. But participants will also find a quieter, ultimately more subversive presence, as well:

Havruta, the organization for religious gay men, and Bat Kol, the organization for religious lesbian women, have been marching in Pride parades in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa for the past four years.

“In the past few years, we realized we bring a different and unique voice to the march, especially in Tel Aviv,” says one of Havruta’s chairmen, Daniel Jonas, explaining how their presence helps bridge Judaism and the LGBT community. “We represent something else, more moderate, more communal,” he says.

He admits that the parade’s debauched atmosphere doesn’t totally jive with their taste – “It’s not exactly something you’d see in a synagogue” – but the visibility is important.

“Pride attracts many people and lots of media,” Jonas points out. “So many young religious people around the country are exposed to us. After Pride every year, I get tons of calls from people who realize they can contact someone.”

As wonderful as Pride Week is, it’s typically a week apart, much like the community doing all the dancing. Though there has been real movement, across the globe, toward the recognition of the civil and human rights of the LGBTQ community, we still have a mighty long way to go, not least in not insisting that the people line up neatly with the colorful stereotypes. As Haaretz reporter Brian Schaefer notes, “the delegation of proud, God-fearing religious gays and lesbians appearing in the parade… remind us that sexuality and spirituality are not mutually exclusive.”

Indeed, they are not. I would even suggest that they are, or can be, deeply and essentially linked, and that it is a mitzvah of the first order for straight Jews to welcome our LGBTQ brothers and sisters with open arms, and stand with them in their struggles.

The Jewish and LGBTQ narratives share a crucial parallel: The personal, in-the-flesh knowledge of being a stranger in a strange land. I’m grateful to Havruta and Bat Kol for their participation in Tel Aviv’s Pride events—they’re praying with their feet, and likely saving Jewish lives as they go.

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P.S. For my money, the single most “Tel Avivi” moment of the video comes at the very end, when the performers happen to run into a couple of women just doing their morning yoga.

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Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

People still suck/People can grow.

So. I’ve been rooting about in the bad news/good news department — you know, like you do — and have uncovered incontrovertible evidence that people still suck, alongside undeniable evidence that people can grow. I will leave you to determine, within the limitations of your own, personal opti/pessimeter, if we are best advised to draw hope or despair from the following. Perhaps a soupçon of both?

People still suck

It’s never a bad idea to be occasionally reminded that old-school antisemitism is still a thing. To wit:

Iran’s vice president used the lectern of an international antidrug conference [in Tehran] Tuesday to deliver a baldly anti-Semitic speech, blaming Judaism’s holy book, the Talmud, for teaching how to suck blood from people and for causing the spread of illegal drugs around the world.

Wheee!

According to Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, Judaism’s central text, the Talmud (in which the Torah’s laws are expounded, explained, and commented upon) teaches those who follow it to “destroy everyone who opposes the Jews.” Furthermore, Rahimi says, “Zionists” run the international drug trade, adding

The Islamic Republic of Iran will pay for anybody who can research and find one single Zionist who is an addict. They do not exist. This is the proof of their involvement in drugs trade.

(Does one even bother to mention Israeli/Jewish drug addicts in this context? Or does one just move on?)

And, just to wrap it all up in a brightly delusional bow, Rahimi also talked about

gynecologists killing black babies on the orders of the Zionists and claimed that the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 was started by the Jews, adding that mysteriously no Jews died in that uprising.

So, you know. That happened.

BUT ON THE OTHER HAND:

People can grow

The Pentagon for the first time celebrated gay pride in a modest but emotional ceremony Tuesday, less than a year after the US military lifted a ban on homosexuals serving openly in uniform.

In a packed hall, a top defense official said the repeal of the the prohibition has gone ahead without any major problems and a panel of gay service members spoke about how much had changed after years of having to hide their sexual orientation under the former “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.

A year ago, Marine Captain Matthew Phelps said he was “in the closet,” taking pains to conceal his homosexuality.

“I was at a point in my career that if anyone had found out that I was gay… I could have lost my job,” he told the audience.

This month, the Marine officer was invited to a reception at the White House honoring gay pride.

President Obama delivered taped remarks at the event — the very same President who on June 1 issued a Pride Month proclamation which he opened by citing the heroes of Stonewall, and ended thusly:

As long as the promise of equality for all remains unfulfilled, all Americans are affected. If we can work together to advance the principles upon which our Nation was founded, every American will benefit. During LGBT Pride Month, I call upon the LGBT community, the Congress, and the American people to work together to promote equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

So. That happened too.

And, I’m glad to report that the New York Times also reported that not everyone in Tehran was thrilled with the vice president’s remarks:

One Shiite Muslim cleric, a judge, said that he was appalled by the speech. The judge, who also requested anonymity because of his sensitive position, said the world must ignore Mr. Rahimi and he hoped that Mr. Rahimi and Mr. Ahmadinejad would disappear after the presidential elections in 2013. “We all need to be patient for some more months.”

I’mma let the needle on my opti/pessimeter lean a smidge to the “opti” side today.

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