Rainbow Report / Bringing Holiness to the Hedonism of Tel Aviv Pride

Drag queens and scantily clad men may steal the show, but a group of religious gays and lesbians prove the community has a modest - and pious - side, too.

Drag queens, the divas that they are, always steal the spotlight (must be the big hair). And if not them, then it’s the go-go boys in their gold booty shorts. Crowds love a spectacle and, when it comes to Gay Pride, a spectacle they get.

But that spectacle, fun and festive though it is, still trades in the stock characters and stereotypes that always represent the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Not to complain or anything – who doesn’t love a bronzed six-pack or a six-foot Adonis in heels – but Tel Aviv Pride is a bit more interesting and diverse than that.

Take, for example, the delegation of proud, God-fearing religious gays and lesbians appearing in the parade: They remind us that sexuality and spirituality are not mutually exclusive.

Pride parades, for better or for worse, have become something of a contest of who can wear less. But for Havruta and Bat Kol, modesty is a virtue.

Havruta, the organization for religious gay men, and Bat Kol, the organization for religious lesbian women, have been marching in Pride parades in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa for the past four years.

“In the past few years, we realized we bring a different and unique voice to the march, especially in Tel Aviv,” says one of Havruta’s chairmen, Daniel Jonas, explaining how their presence helps bridge Judaism and the LGBT community. “We represent something else, more moderate, more communal,” he says.

He admits that the parade's debauched atmosphere doesn’t totally jive with their taste – “It’s not exactly something you’d see in a synagogue” – but the visibility is important.

“Pride attracts many people and lots of media,” Jonas points out. “So many young religious people around the country are exposed to us. After Pride every year, I get tons of calls from people who realize they can contact someone.”

Lest they be accused of that time-honored fear tactic lobbed at the LGBT community from terrified conservatives – Recruitment! – Jonas tells the haters to settle down.

“We’re just showing what until recently couldn’t be imagined – that you can be religious in your own way and at the same time be gay,” he says.

The religious delegation will trade the thumping techno beats for some jumpy Hasidic music. And while Jonas says there’s definitely no dress code, the majority of participants tend to show up in jeans and T-shirts, usually the ones they made that list the religious gay organizations.

Each member will also hold a sign indicating where he or she went to high school “to show religious society that we are everywhere,” says Jonas. “No one can say it’s just in Tel Aviv or in the center or not in the settlements.”

While the message of Havruta and Bat Kol may be targeted to the religious community to open up space for dialogue and acceptance, there’s bound to be some collateral damage.

“We also realized we give an alternative for the non-religious [gays]," he says. "Suddenly, they see something else, more traditional. We show the community that we’re not a club but a community marching together. People are looking for that.”

More information about Havruta can be found here. And about Bat Kol here.

Tomer Neuberg
Moti Kimche