Gay pride is kosher in Ra’anana, as long as it stays ‘modest'?
Try as one might to freeze time, the winds of change will blow anyway and some circumstances force a politician to stand up and show us what they are made of.
Ra’anana mayor Nahum Hofree likes to cultivate the image of a lucky guy who just happened to stumble into politics. A former air force pilot, he served as a high school principal before he was tapped on the shoulder by the magic wand of wildly popular former mayor and current MK Ze’ev Bielski.
He was elected on the platform of “we like Ra’anana exactly the way it is, don’t change anything.” And that has been his mandate ever since - stewardship - when it comes to maintaining the delicate balance between religious and secular interests in the city. When there are tough decisions to be made, his strategy is to delay them as long as possible, and if there is a way not to actually decide, he’ll find it. No fighting ideologue or high-profile personality is he. You won’t catch him on “Dancing With the Stars” like Bat Yam mayor Shlomo Lachiani.
But try as one might to freeze time, the winds of change will blow anyway and some circumstances force a politician to stand up and show us what they are made of.
The manner in which he called off Ra’anana’s first Gay Pride parade, which was supposed to take place on the city’s main street next Friday was vintage Hofree. His supporters would call it a reasonable compromise and his detractors would call it being wishy-washy.
He clearly wants to have it all. Six months before he stands for re-election, he’s trying to have his cake and eat it too - or, to use the Hebrew expression - dance at all of the weddings.
The parade wasn’t officially cancelled - but, after talks with the negotiators, it was downgraded from a parade to a stationary ‘happening’ in the center of town which will be called “A Pride and Tolerance Event.” Normally the venue for such a happening is the Yad Le’Banim plaza at the center of the city, where most ceremonial events take place. With the excuse that a farmer’s market is taking place there on Friday morning, the Pride Event been moved across the street to the municipal parking lot. (I’m not sure that I buy that one. Somehow, Hebrew Book Week and the Farmer’s Market managed to co-exist in that large space, it’s hard to believe that it couldn’t handle a Gay Pride Event together with vegetable stands. In any case, the organizers’ Hebrew Facebook page still has it happening in Yad LeBanim plaza.)
As elections approach in six months, Hofree is clearly trying to be able to present himself to the well-organized and powerful religious bloc as being the guy who prevented the dastardly forces of extreme secularism from prancing down Ahuza Street dancing shirtless to rave music (this is apparently what he means by saying he was promised that the event will be “modest in nature.”)
And to the secular majority, he’ll be the guy who, unlike other cities, didn’t ban a gay pride event from happening, but kept it properly toned down, and suburban.
As with any suburban bedroom community, most of this is being met with a shrug, if people know about it at all.
Those secular residents who oppose the parade would oppose anything that would block the city’s main artery on a busy Friday morning - the traffic disturbances on the days of the Purim parade and the city marathon are bad enough.
What really people care about in Ra’anana is that their schools are good and get better, that the garbage is collected on time and that there be enough parking and no traffic jams. Gay pride? While the majority of Ra’ananaites support rights for homosexuals, the typical reaction to the parade issue is the questions “who in Ra’anana is gay, anyway?” It’s a legitimate query. I have to admit that after 15 years living here, I have yet to meet an openly gay person living in my town - though I’d be happy to do so. Nearly all of my gay Israeli friends and acquaintances are residents of the Republic of Tel Aviv and its immediate environs.
From my understanding, the driving forces behind the Pride event are proud parents of gay people - and I think it’s wonderful that they want to help make Ra’anana a more tolerant and open-minded, and become a place to which their children and their partners might someday want to move.
Hofree’s justification for the ‘downgrade’ - that a march would upset the religious community in Ra’anana is overblown and misstated The ‘community’ that he is primarily serving are the local religious politicians, who want to flex their muscles before election day and show their power and influence by showing how they can sway the mayor.
I dare to venture that many of the religious Ra’ananites, like their secular counterparts, could care less. Remember that many of the Orthodox rank-and-file in Ra’anana are western immigrants from North America and Europe (they live in the northeast corner of town, many of us joking call them ‘Upper East Siders’) who aren’t exactly shocked by gay pride events.
When I asked one Orthodox friend on the East Side how she feel about it, she responded:
“Personally I have no problem with a Gay Pride parade although I am not sure I would participate in any way -- Friday is a lousy day for such things as many religious people are getting ready for Shabbat... That said, if my kids chose to go see what was going on, I wouldn't be remotely concerned. If they are going to have a parade then they should do it properly or cancel it. This watered down event is a ridiculous solution. Speaking on behalf of my friends and neighbours, I think that the olim on the east side of Ra'anana are generally a tolerant group. And while the Torah opposes homosexuality, I doubt that many East Side olim really support that position. You're wired the way you're wired -- what can you do?”
Another friend from the same community, though, said that she was impressed the event was occurring at all, particularly in the center of the city, and not shunted to the fringes of town to Ra’anana Park. “There are definitely plenty of religious people who are, in fact, 100 percent opposed to it taking place at all. So I think this is a good compromise.”
We’ll see if it is. A week before the event, 500 people have confirmed on Facebook they are attending, it is confirmed that there will be DJ’s playing music, and several members of Knesset are coming to speak. Hofree’s public attempt to have a “modest” and stationary event could very well end up as a massive boomerang.
With his decision to cancel the parade making national headlines and angering some gay activists, there may be an extra effort being made to hold an event as loud, large and colorful as possible, if not provocative. Will the local folks who promised Mayor Hofree a “modest” event, be able to literally and figuratively force attendees to keep their shirts on? Or prevent them from public displays of single-sex affection that will be splashed across the media?
If they can’t do this, Mayor Hofree’s compromise solution will undoubtedly infuriate precisely the religious power brokers he was trying so hard to appease. Sometimes when you try to please everyone, it turns out you don't make anybody happy.