This past Tuesday, along with 100 North American delegates of the largest LGBT JFNA mission to Israel, I was honored to be welcomed at a lavish lunch on the lawn of the Israeli President’s Home in Jerusalem. After the salmon, President Rivlin delivered a short speech about his commitment to LGBT rights as parts of Israel’s civic equality agenda, took a photo with the group, and walked off to deal with other guests and matters. A long line of politicians waited on the lawn.
It was a brief but moving encounter, reminding all of us present of just how far and how fast we’ve come as a society – in both the US and in Israel, in all things LGB and now also T. When it comes to pride, marked this month worldwide, the sheer pace of progress in recent years is truly staggering. It can not be taken for granted. On a personal level – being on this mission also reminded me of how lucky I am to be where I am, how getting here has not been simple, and how much work I and all of us have yet ahead of us to further the progress of pride and justice for all – not just LGBT.
30 years ago, as a young, confused, closeted religious teen I walked by the president’s house, just a few streets away from my parents’ home, on many a lonely late night, never imagining that one day I’d be welcomed inside – an out and proud rabbi, in the company of leaders and activists who have helped shape the progress and pride agenda.
On those long nights, back in the mid 80’s, I’d walk the two miles to the local cruising park – the only option for any type of contact with other gay men – pre online, before the Jerusalem Open House or any sort of communal address for any form of gay life in Israel. I’d take my kippah off lest I desecrate religion, sneak into the dark park, terrified of being seen by anyone and even more scared of looking up and actually talking to one of the other men, who, like me, walked around the shadows on the dark paths. More often than not I’d walk back home a few hours later, likely having not spoken to anyone, and when I’d pass the president’s home, a well lit junction, I’d put the kippah back on my head, pretending to just be taking a late night stroll. It was my walk of shame.
Shame, fear, loneliness and lack of guidance, support and solidarity were what it was like to grow up gay and religious in Jerusalem back then. It was so in many other places in the world and is still the lot of many others these days, sometimes with dangerous, harsh and fatal implications. Homophobia, often in the name of bias, political gain and narrow expressions of religion is far from over.
And yet, with all of what’s yet to achieve, here we are today, welcomed to Israel’s #1 address, rainbow flags waving, with so many more options for LGBT folks of all ages than imagined even just a few years ago, offering new ways for people to seek and find intimacy, community, validation and love. It’s worthy of pride.
From the president’s home the delegation continued to meet with courageous grassroots activists and change agents from the LGBT religious and the Trans communities, including film makers and journalists, members of Knesset and leading musicians. Later on we had a beautiful reception at the American embassy, warmly welcomed by the ambassador and his wife. Conversations ranged from recall of scars to challenges ahead, sharing stories of Americans and Israelis struggling and celebrating our identities with all colors of the rainbow, and every other shade and shadow too. The LGBT agenda, only one issue among so many facing this country and its challenges, stands out as a way to showcase what is possible when enough of us are done with persecution and old biases and step up to stand for change. Similar gains can and should and hopefully will take place for others in Israel, oppressed, silenced, occupied or ignored. New narratives are needed to frame the change agenda in ways that will shift the conversation in ways that can not be ignored.
Progress takes patience, I was reminded here this week, as well as persistence, strategy and resolve. I hope to be able to rise to the challenge along with more people of this land, Arab and Jewish, gay and straight, with more reasons to celebrate human pride and equality, fixing the facts, reducing the hatred and shame.
So here’s to Pride 2016, and here’s to patience and the pace that will make progress blossom organically to let more of us live lives of dignity and love, unashamed and more happy to be just who we are: proud and loud and beautifully human and sacred, just the way we are.