Jerusalem Pride: Bringing people together

Photo by Malka Packer

By Benji Lovitt, SDM

Last Thursday was the 10th annual March for Pride and Tolerance in Jerusalem and if you happened to be there in person, you’d be excused if you found yourself wondering what you were watching. As you may have picked up from this blog, Jerusalem is not like any other city so why should the gay pride parade be any different?

If you may have missed out on recent headlines, the winds of revolution spreading through the Middle East finally hit Israel late last month. Although instead of fighting for basic democratic rights, the protestors here have been primarily middle-class citizens dissatisfied with lack of affordable housing and the widening gaps between the rich and the poor.

In a nation as tiny as Israel, perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising for various groups to join together in hopes of effecting change, which is exactly what happened at the march on July 29th. Doctors, young people camped out in “tent cities” to protest against housing prices, and as expected, members of the GLBT community and their supporters came together to march as one.

Sponsored as always by the Jerusalem Open House, the march began at Independence Park attracting over three thousand people to walk through Jerusalem to the Knesset, the national parliament building. Upon their arrival, the marchers listened to speeches by various community leaders. If those events sound like par for the course for a pride parade, well, they are. But it’s the way they were done that made this event Yerushalmi (“Jerusalem-like”).

According to one attendee, British-born immigrant Nadia Levene, “The event was very tzanua (modest) and not flamboyant which says something about Jerusalem.” Whereas Tel Aviv’s annual parade more closely resembles something you might find in Montreal or San Francisco, complete with floats, music, and lots of skin, Jerusalem’s parade was by all accounts tame.

Malka Packer, an American currently living in Israel, explains: “It was so dramatically different from Tel Aviv. Whereas there, you feel like you’re in a celebration, this was more a political march. In Tel Aviv, people who aren’t gay go because it’s a big party. Here, people came from many protest groups because they genuinely care about the message of equal rights for all.” (To be fair, many in Tel Aviv care about the cause as well but the point is clear: if you showed up to the Knesset looking to dance, you should have quickly turned around and headed straight for the beach.)

Both Levene and Malka witnessed quite a few marchers wearing kippot (Jewish head covering traditionally worn by the more religiously observant Jews), a sign that in the holy city, stereotypes and assumptions about what it means to be gay or religious won’t get you too far. Rainbow kippah anyone?