When Police Sanction Prayer at a Gay Pride Parade

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It’s hard to believe, but the Hebrew month of Elul has arrived, and with it, all of the personal and societal soul-searching in anticipation of the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. While some issues seem to repeat year after year, such as the renewed incidents of violence against women refusing to move to the back of a bus in Beit Shemesh, one incident last week gave me a lot of hope.

The scene was at once so normal and so extraordinary.

Every individual component was pretty standard for me. It was around my tenth time marching in a gay pride parade, and my third time participating in Jerusalem. In addition, the spontaneous egalitarian minyan (prayer quorum) that gathered during the parade was nice, but not out of the ordinary. I pray in egalitarian minyanim regularly, and that afternoon was no different.

Of course, the combination of the two events did cause me to smile. Every year in Tel Aviv, I have felt slightly out of place with my kippah at the parade. While the religious LGBT community seems to have grown, there always seemed to be a dearth of religious allies and supporters. At the Jerusalem parade, though, that did not seem to be the case. While I did not inquire into the sexuality of anyone who prayed with me, I knew a good number to be involved in opposite-sex partnerships. The fact that it was so easy to find religious LGBT-allies, immediately ready to help form a minyan alongside their religious LGBT-peers, was not something I took for granted. Society has come a long way since I was patted down by security just for entering with a kippah at the Jerusalem Pride Parade in 2007.

My initial smile at participating in an egalitarian prayer service at the parade was overshadowed by a much bigger smile moments later, during that same service. About a minute after we had gathered at the pedestrian island in the middle of the intersection (the roads were all blocked off because of the parade), the police began asking everyone to leave the road and enter the park for the parade's concluding speeches. While one police officer was about to ask us to move, another turned to him and politely said, "Not now, they are in the middle of their service."

I have no idea what those police officers' personal opinions were about the gay pride parade, and I don't know what they think about men and women praying together - let alone a service led by a woman. But what I do know is that at least one of them knew that Jewish law forbids moving during the Amidah prayer, and that same officer had every intention to respect our desire to follow that law. And the officer next to him, who initially wanted us to move, immediately understood the request and let us complete our service.

That one moment, so brief and so simple, was a testament to the tolerant, pluralistic society in which I hope to live. There was no judgment, no condescension, no questioning of how religious people could support LGBT rights or vice versa, and no delegitimizing of a non-traditional service. All the officers did was simply understand the situation and allow it to happen peacefully.

Let's hope that as 5773 comes to a close, 5774 will be filled with this level of tolerance and understanding throughout society.

Arie Hasit, a student at the rabbinical seminary of Machon Schechter, serves as the spiritual leader for NOAM- the youth wing of the Masorti Movement in Israel. He lives in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem gay pride parade.Credit: Michal Fattal

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