I'm a Straight, Orthodox Jew. And I'm Marching in the Jerusalem Pride Parade

I am not part of the LGBT community. I have no closet to come out of. I have never been discriminated against. But now more than ever, I cannot stand aside and I must march in solidarity.

Aviad Friedman
Aviad Friedman
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Participants walk near the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, during a gay pride parade in Jerusalem.
Participants walk near the Knesset during a gay pride parade in Jerusalem. Credit: Reuters
Aviad Friedman
Aviad Friedman

When I was eight years old, I came home from school one day and proudly told my father that there had been an argument in class, and that the whole class backed me except for one kid who remained all alone in his view. Except for him, I won everyone over to my side.

My father was not thrilled when he heard my story. Pick up the phone and call that boy right now, he said. See how’s he’s doing. It’s not easy to stand alone against a whole class. Beware of being so right at someone else’s expense.

That was the day my father taught me the verse in Ecclesiastes that says, “And God seeks that which is pursued.”

And ever since then I have done my utmost to heed that lesson.

This will be the third year in which I, god willing (and with an El Al flight return flight the same day), will march in the Jerusalem gay pride parade.

I don’t march in the gay pride parade in Tel Aviv – I can’t bear the nature of that parade. But I marched in Jerusalem last year and the year before that.

I am not part of the LGBT community, and I have no closet to come out of. I have not been discriminated against anywhere and I am happily raising five children together with my wife Chana. So why do I march?

Every year, the parade is important, but this year it is more important than ever.

This year is the first anniversary of the killing of Shira Banki, who courageously marched in last year’s parade and was brutally murdered.

This year, it feels like anyone who has a microphone, pen or keyboard feels freer than ever to curse and insult the LGBT community. This year, the LGBT community – especially the religious LGBT community – has been attacked like never before.

And in a year like this, one cannot just stand aside.

I’ve come to think that one’s attitude toward the LGBT community is a personal test.

On one side of this test you have people like Rabbi Benny Lau, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the Beit Hillel rabbis and Education Minister Naftali Bennett (who showed admirable courage and leadership this week, despite knowing the price he would pay for it); and on the other side there is Rabbi Yigal Levinstein and Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, the Beit Shammai rabbis, Habayit Hayehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich and others. It’s very clear to me what side of the barricades I wish to stand on.

We mustn’t leave our side alone, we mustn’t stop defending it for a moment. Too often, we’ve given up, we’ve kept silent, we’ve held our tongues, we’ve let ourselves be crushed.

Moreover, as chairman of the Israel Community Center Association, a government association with tens of thousands of workers and volunteers; as someone who for the past decade has been engaged in the field of education and in the world of the pre-army academies; and as a member of a liberal Orthodox congregation in Tel Aviv, I feel I absolutely must make my voice heard loudly and clearly.

I have employees who are part of the LGBT community. I have students who are part of the LGBT community. Above all, I have good friends, both male and female, who are part of this community.

And when they are wildly and crudely attacked, when they are called perverts, when their legitimacy as religious people is questioned, then I return to the lesson my father taught me: “And God will seek the pursued.” And a decent person must say, “We are with you.”

The debate between conservatives and liberals over the character of the family is a legitimate debate that is happening throughout the world. It’s legitimate to be conservative. It is not legitimate to call someone who holds a differing view a pervert.

The debate between Orthodoxy and Reform over the character of Judaism has been going on for more than 150 years. It is legitimate to be opposed to a connection with the Reform. It is not legitimate to think that you can lay sole claim to God’s Torah and that anyone who thinks differently than you is not a Jew.

The debate over the character of the IDF began the day the IDF was founded and continues to this day. It is legitimate not to like this or that material that is taught in commander and officer training.

It is not legitimate to say that we compel the IDF to act in this or that way, and if it does not do so, we will stop being a part of the IDF.

It is legitimate to disagree and to argue. It is not legitimate to hurl curses and insults.

It is legitimate to think that you are right. It is not legitimate to think that only you are always right and that anyone who thinks otherwise is worthless.

It is legitimate to talk, even to shout. It is not legitimate to lift your hand, or worse, a knife, against someone else.

Therefore I will be at the gay pride parade again this year, and I am sure I will not be alone.

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