Beyond Tel Aviv and Jerusalem: LGBTQ Pride Hits Israel’s Suburbs

Ra’anana joins 11 other Israeli cities and towns holding Pride events for the first time this year, despite protest from the city's ultra-Orthodox community

Ra'anana Gay Parade, June 18, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

There were no sequined drag queens dancing on floats in the style of the Tel Aviv Pride Parade, and none of the heavy security and politically charged atmosphere that characterizes the Jerusalem march.

Instead, the estimated 3,000 marchers cheerfully waving rainbow flags and chanting slogans for tolerance and equality showed a different phase in the fight for LGBTQ rights — its integration into suburban Israel.

Ra’anana’s first-ever Gay Pride Parade took place despite strong opposition voiced by leaders of the city’s significant Orthodox minority — nearly a quarter of the city’s 80,000 residents.

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The Ra’anana march was initiated and led by the city’s youth — and it showed: The majority of marchers were under the age of 21. Some were as young as 7 or 8, wearing scout uniforms and closely supervised by their counselors, waving crayoned signs calling for love and tolerance, and singing nursery rhymes adapted into equality slogans.

Addressing the rally at the end of the march, Ra’anana Mayor Chaim Broyde — the father of a gay son — gave an emotional speech in which he described an encounter with the parade’s opposition. “A woman stopped me on the street and said, ‘You are letting pigs enter our city.’ I told her I have a son who was born and raised in Ra’anana, who excelled at everything, who served in the 8200 intelligence unit. … I won’t allow anybody to even dare stand in the streets of Ra’anana and tell me that my son is worth less than anyone else in this city.”

The relatively young age of the marchers and the proliferation of khaki scout uniform reflected the fact it was an Israeli scout troop that initiated and organized the march, in partnership with the local branch of IGY (Israel’s LGBTQ youth movement).

Ra'anana Gay Parade, June 18, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

They worked in partnership to organize the event, intended to bring particular awareness to the struggle of LGBTQ couples to pursue surrogate parenthood legally in Israel. “The time has come for us, residents of Ra’anana, to show solidarity and identify with the LGBTQ community and show that tolerance isn’t just a slogan,” the group said in its announcement.

Together, the two groups applied for police permits to march down Ra’anana’s main street, and, permits in hand, even went to the city hall to ask for support from the town’s political leaders.

The reception was mixed, according to the organizers, with town council members hesitant to incur the wrath of religious residents.

“Honestly, I was very surprised by the amount of opposition,” confessed Naomi Rich, an IGY counselor. “I really thought Ra’anana was a liberal and open city, where everyone lives together and tolerates one other. I have a lot of ultra-Orthodox LGBTQ friends. From what I heard, we’ve had more opposition here than in any other city having Pride events. I guess that just shows how important it is to do this.

“The mayor met with us first, and said that he supported the LGBTQ community in the city, but at the same time wanted to keep the peace and was worried about unrest. But we were pleased and excited that he supported us and agreed to make an appearance,” Rich added.

But that meeting was followed by a less pleasant encounter with ultra-Orthodox members of the city council and other religious leaders in the city.

“They asked us not to call it a Pride march, because that’s what the Tel Aviv march was called — and that event offended them. They asked us to hold it in the park, or inside a community center, not on the street — basically, to hide somewhere so that people won’t see us. Of course we didn’t agree.”

On Friday, four days before the parade, several hundred protesters — nearly all religious men and boys — gathered in front of city hall with signs reading “In our city, two dads don’t make a family” and “A Jewish state doesn’t oppose the Torah.” There were also speeches opposing the parade and homosexuality, punctuated by singing and dancing.

On the eve of the parade, Ra’anana’s chief rabbi, former Shas Minister Yitzhak Peretz, announced that he and other ultra-Orthodox rabbis and leaders would be holding a second protest at the main synagogue during the march, in which speeches would be held along with reading of psalms and evening prayers.

Peretz and other local rabbis said that their protest was being held because “in light of the ugly and immoral events scheduled to take place on the streets of our town, we community rabbis have a holy obligation to declare that our holy Torah sees family values as a godly. The Torah forbids, in any manner, divergence from the accepted and normal Jewish family.”

The parade, they said, was causing them “deep pain” and moved them to “call on the public to refrain from participating in these events in any way.” But he also called on opponents of the parade to avoid “being drawn into a provocation” and made a call to refrain from violence.

The Ra’anana march also drew representation from centrist and left-wing parties gearing up for a new round of elections.

Until this year, Pride Month was marked by the Ra’anana Municipality, but a parade was never held — including last year, when, prior to Broyde’s election, the town was headed by Eitan Ginzburg, the first gay mayor in Israeli history.

This year doesn’t just mark a turning point for Ra’anana but for smaller communities as well. The number of parades and other Pride events in Israel has grown dramatically. In addition to Ra’anana, 11 cities and regional councils held events for the first time in 2019. According to the Agudah (Israel’s LGBTQ task force), events were scheduled this month in Tiberias, Beit Shemesh, Zichron Yaakov, Ramat Gan, Petah Tikva, the Jordan Valley, Pardes Hannah, Netanya, Yavne and Kiryat Bialik. In addition to the eight cities that have previously already had parades and other festivities, this brings the cross-country total to 20.

The change is significant, said Shelly Natan, 57, who stood at a booth representing the Agudah, where she is a social worker. Natan is a lesbian and lives in Kfar Sava, the city next to Ra’anana that held its first Pride Parade last year.

“It means a lot to me to have these events take place near my home and to have the turnout and level of enthusiasm be so high,” she said. “All these years, I would commute to Tel Aviv in the morning and could be myself during the day. Then in the afternoon and evening I would return to the suburbs and things were so different — it was as if I was in the closet again. This really gives me hope: it’s a beginning.”