You love us, so listen: Here’s why we need a parade.

I’ll answer the question again and again.

It’s exhausting, and I don’t even have to answer it that often.

But I’m going to answer it again.

Even – especially – the most well-meaning people, including loved ones, ‘allies’ and beyond, ask it around once a year.

For the moms and dads, siblings, relatives, friends – who want us all to be happy but don’t want to understand or accept what that entails.

Or don’t want to ‘see it displayed in public.’

The question –

We love you. We accept you. But why do you need a parade?

Because all lives don’t matter yet. Because it’s natural for us to pay attention to lives similar to ours and disregard the others.

Because sometimes, a lot of times, to teach our children the values we keep close, we have to do something. To take action. To speak louder than words.

Because it’s not just about extremists; it’s not just about hate. It’s about turning a blind eye or not trying hard enough to grasp the idea of acceptance and tolerance.

Because it’s about the mainstream happy citizen who may just not understand yet. May not have met someone different yet. May not have a loved one who has come out yet.

Because this is for people with flexible minds. The kind of person who might be open to trying a new food they always thought they hated, but is capable of even higher levels of understanding and deserves to have that chance. It’s for people ready to have a discussion even if they prefer to have their heads in the sand.

Because the parade is an invitation for people with similar values who just may not see the light yet to come and meet other people living other lives.

Meet them in person. Meet them as people.

Because there are people in our schools, offices, supermarkets, post offices who are not that different to us.

In our families. Maybe in your living room, right now.

Because ‘live and let live’ is important in modern democratic societies.

Because society doesn’t work if we’re not reaching out to others instead of creating Others.

Because discomfort doesn’t equal right to prevent.

Because free speech is critical to progressive society – the same one in which we can shop, travel, learn, love freely.

Because your sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, office mates, congregants need you to understand. To support. To love unconditionally.

Because we are only as good as we treat other people. Even if they don’t look or act like us.

Because there’s a difference between different and evil.

Because we don’t live in a theocracy.

Because we don’t get punished in society for not keeping kosher or not keeping shabbat or not tithing.

The parade is to help explain that. The parade is to help introduce you to the faces behind your fears and disgust, and to help you let down your guard a little if you dare to be open to it. It’s to show off what you claim are shared values. It’s to prove we all exist, differently, together, with the right to be heard and, if we’re good at what we do, to be better understood.

It’s the right not to remain silent. It’s the right to speak up in a society where a teenage girl is stabbed for existing. Where men and women are gunned down for existing as they are, where they are, where you have the right to choose not to be.

Now let’s go back to this for a second – those of you who ask – We love you. We accept you. But why do you need a parade? 

Can you glimpse the reason, just a little?

Can you understand why it hurts to hear the question, over and over?

What about this one: But why do you need to get married?

Maybe, just maybe, go to a parade – a parade in the spirit of the Jerusalem Parade for Pride and Tolerance – a parade featuring women, men, children and families who just want to live freely.

Women and men who want you to see that they have professions and hobbies and values and beliefs that you may share. Accountants. Tour guides. Programmers.

Children who don’t want to experience bullying for who their parents are. They want friends to come over. They want to stay innocent. They want to feel safe coming to you to talk when the time comes.

Moms and dads who want to believe their kids will have it easier some day.

People who just want a moment of peace, a moment not to hide.

Meet them. Remember their faces.

Then see if you can answer that question yourself.

pride rainbow sticker

Today's word: שנאת חינם

Here’s a backup to my last post in case it wasn’t enough to get my point across.

I proudly observe my own brand of Jewishness – and consider it great, holy and everything else – if my alternative for spiritual ‘climbing’ is this:

U.S. immigrant beaten up in ‘pogrom’ by ultra-Orthodox gang

“An American immigrant was attacked and beaten Sunday night in Beit Shemesh by a gang of ultra-Orthodox zealots, in what appears to be an escalation of tension between religious groups in the city.

T., who is himself ultra-Orthodox, was kicked, beaten and threatened with further violence in an attack that landed him in the hospital. T.’s car windows were also smashed. T., who asked to go unnamed, has been active in trying to stem the recent tide of Haredi violence in the city.”

Ah! Of course! Extreme modesty, extreme Shabbat-keeping, extreme Judaism are waaay more important than keeping a shrinking nation bound together by love for fellow Jew! I must not have studied that gemora in high school. It’s a wonder they’d skip such an important part.

This is completely sickening. Perhaps this is what it feels like to an ultra-Orthodox charedi who sees a gay couple.

But is a person’s sexuality – hidden under layers of skin and human organs – really worse than a Jew with payot beating up another Jew with payot in the middle of the street for not being religious enough?

Is homosexual sex really worse than שנאת חינם? Is it as damaging to the Jewish people than hatred of your neighbors? Did homosexuality single-handedly bring down the Temples?

I didn’t think so.

On high school reunions, halacha, nostalgia and everything in between.

Between running into my high school principle, the recent Flatbush fiasco and my friend attending her ten-year reunion couple nights ago, I’ve had high school on the brain in the last few weeks.

High school is something I have successfully managed to block from the forefront of my mind. Part of it was my own religious conflict, part of it was being a chemically-frustrated teenager and part of it, of course, was just high school. It’s been a while since I have even been associated with that part of my life.

Then a friend of mine wrote this post for Jewschool: Homophobia and Hypocrisy: Yeshivah High School Reunion Politics. It’s a response, along with the Facebook petitioning that’s been going on, to a recent Flatbush alumni reunion where a former student, who happens to be gay, was asked by the school board’s president, not to bring his guest, who happens to be his partner. The president’s argument?

“There are standards of halacha that guide the Orthodox community. All of our graduates are welcome to attend our reunion but only those involved in recognized halachic relationships may register to attend as a couple…”

One of the strongest points made by the article’s writer regarding the reunion debate was this question in response to the above statement:

“Is gay male anal sex prohibited by the Torah? Sure, but so is a man having sex with his menstruating wife, and no one has ever gotten kicked out of a reunion for that.”

I have come to realize that all the religious labels I grew up with in my Flatbush years can no longer apply to anyone. This is where Flatbush is going wrong with the current reunion debate.

The fact is, I have gay friends who are better at observing Orthodox Judaism than I am, and I’d consider myself traditionally-observant. It kind of goes with the way that there are gay people I trust to be better parents or life partners than many straight people: being gay is usually not the point.

I think that living in Israel has given me a very different perspective on what it is to be a Torah-observing Jew. I look around and see Mizrachi teenagers waking up at 6 am for shacharit, going to shul donned in jeans next to their fathers and grandfathers. These kids won’t eat pork in their lifetime. They are going to marry Jews. They are excellent examples of tradition guided by halacha.

When I see Ethiopians and their brand of Torah observance, tradition and respect for the religion, I realize that my life has not been enriched to the fullest potential, despite the Western-brand of ‘classic’ Judaism I was raised to worship. There are elements missing; indeed, it is possible that there is a significant lacking in the kind of Judaism we were taught, even in the most formidable of American yeshivas.

So, I no longer can wholeheartedly identify with the brand of classic Orthodox Judaism I was taught at my alma mater. I’ve become very comfortable with that in the last three years. I am, however, grateful for what Flatbush has done well, which is promoting the philosophy of deeper education in halacha so that I can make educational decisions and have a strong Torah awareness. These two elements together – the Israeli brand of traditional observance mixed with the study Jewish history and practice – are what keep my Jewish soul surviving.

Oddly enough, all this debate and action has made me a little homesick for high school; or at least, nostalgic for what attending the Yeshivah of Flatbush was supposed to be: a haven for modern Orthodox tradition fused with secular knowledge and deep, practical and open thinking.

We were taught philosophy along with practice; with the study of social issues came social action. I think I did get plenty of doses of that. We all did; after all, who better to stage a revolt against closed reunions than former Flatbush students, taught to stand up and act when faced with a troubling policy?