30.7.2015 – The parade, the stabbing, the pride

Last night the stakes of LGBTQ activism in Jerusalem became clearer than ever for me. If the attacker had waited only a few minutes more to begin stabbing people, it would have been me who might have wound up in the hospital last night, or worse. At the time, I was holding my friend's new born baby in my arms. At first we didn't know what was happening. As we backed away from the center of the commotion, there were people running everywhere, masses of police, on motorcycles and horses, loud ambulances, media crews, all flocking in the direction we were moving away from. I held onto the baby and put my hand over her head and covered her ears. She didn't cry. Perhaps she was in shock too… It didn't take long for the news to travel to us, from mouth to ear, that there had been a stabbing. Details we got later from the news. 6 people were stabbed, and as of now, as far as I know, one is still fighting for her life. After a short time, after the perpetrator had been caught and the wounded rushed off to the hospital, still in shock, we continued to march down the path. The Pride March went on.

After arriving at Gan HaPaamon, and as details started to be heard through the crowd, I thought about the big event we had been planning post March. I thought about my responsibility as a community organizer in this particular situation. What do I do? The thought of cancelling it, while tempting, was unacceptable. Cancelling the event would mean allowing the attacker and his hate filled act to win. On the other hand, 6 people were injured, much of our community was traumatized, some of us were scared. Is it really time for music and dancing? Without too much thought, I went with my gut. And my gut told me that now was not the time for us all to go our own way home, but that it was more important than ever for the community to come together, in a safe space, out and open, to celebrate being who we are, despite all that had happened. I called the owner of the Burla בורלא, Yenon Cohen, to tell him we needed a security guard. I spoke to the DJ, DJ Hilla Vardi Shulman, who knew that this was no longer going to be an ordinary party, but that her music would be raising an entire community from the darkness of the violent day and making a bold statement that we will not go quietly into the night. When we couldn't find a security guard at the last minute, a dear friend, Elyassaf Ish Shalom, out of the pure kindness of his heart and love for his community, volunteered to stand at the door the entire night (from 8:30-2:30am!) to protect us. Another friend, Bat-Ami Neumeier-Potashnik, graciously donated her massive pride flag to be raised outside the Burla Bar, so that all who passed by would notice.

With my gut instinct in motion, I left Gan HaPaamon on foot to the Burla, massive flag waving in hand. It was already dark outside. The 15 minute walk alone was the first time ever in all the years that I have lived in Jerusalem that I felt afraid for being recognizably queer. As I carried the flag with me, with honks and shouts and comments from the street, I realized more deeply than ever before that I not only 'can' march, but I MUST march. My activism in the LGBTQ community in Jerusalem is a matter of life and death. I do what I do because I can't not do it, because I truly want to LIVE! I want to live as a free human being with integrity and dignity. I want to give all of me to those I love and to my community and my people. I want to serve G\d with every fiber of my being, not amputate my truth with shame, to protect another's small mindedness. If standing, openly, for freedom, love and justice puts me in danger, than so be it!

When I arrived at the bar, DJ Hilla was already playing, and we raised the Pride Flag together.

The protest continued on from the isolated Gan HaPaamon to Kikar Zion and through the streets of the City Center. I was there marching with them in spirit, but also knew that it was just as important for us to get the Women's Gathering started. It took time for people to come, but as they did I began to feel a great sense of belonging, one I haven't felt in quite awhile. So many women came, and at a certain point during the amazing dancing, a friend turned to me and shared that she felt that she was at home. That one seemingly small comment filled me with joy, and gave me a great sense of purpose and conviction that what we are doing here in Jerusalem is invaluable and absolutely essential.

I am humbled by the activism of so many, at the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance and all our other organizations and communities, who dedicate their lives to creating a better place for LGBTQ peoples, and for us all. I am proud to be counted among them.

***On Sunday afternoon Shira Banki, 16 years old, died of her wounds. May those who were injured in this heinous attack have a full and speedy recovery.***

1.8.2015 – Love always wins

*** This post written while Shira Banki was still fighting for her life***

Wow…I just got home, at 3:30am, from Zion Square. I went to the ‪#‎LoveAlwaysWins‬‬ rally at 9, it ended at 11, and then I stayed, holding my LGBT flag, until now. Heated discussions ensued, as Ultra Orthodox women and men confronted me, and others, sometimes aggressively, about the LGBT Pride March, and the Flag I was holding. Circles of discussion formed, usually with one person leading the attack, while others chimed in here and there. Aside from a few name callings and generally violent speech, most of the people I spoke with were intently curious, both to express the utter opposition to the March and to LGBT people in general, and to hear my response. Some expressed that they weren't against gays, but against the Parade, which they think desecrates the Holy City of Jerusalem. There were young and old, and despite their outrage and opposition, the most important thing is that they were engaged…in open conversation with a Lesbian holding a Big Gay Flag!

The March was important, and the rally tonight was important too. But I felt as I was speaking with all of these mostly ignorant people that this is the real work. While parades or rallies are important for raising issues, what changes minds and hearts is meeting face to face. I stood there, on my feet, holding the flag, and in a perpetual state of confrontation, for 4 hours straight. And I felt every moment that what I was doing was "praying with my feet". Each conversation was an opportunity to connect, to speak about our relationship with Hashem and Torah, to open empathy through our common struggle to serve Hashem. There were those who deliberately tried to get me to respond with anger, and when I would return their violence with empathy, were left defenseless. There were a few who tried to pull down the flag, and I was bumped a few times, but I refused to respond to these provocations. Instead I did the best I could to stay in prayer posture. I felt protected, not just because there was a group of police keeping close monitor on the crowd, and not only because Joel Haber, and others were there too, but because I felt that with each exchange, light was being brought into the world…

The LGBT flag has never been as meaningful to me as it was tonight, as I stood in Zion Square surrounded by many, some hostile, who hid their curiosity behind their confrontational approach. I felt proud to be Jewish and Gay, in the Jewish State, and to be speaking with people so different (and so similar) from me, trying to break through to common ground. Despite our differences, our basic humanity and desire to serve G\d both allowed us to engage intensely and at the same time (most of the time) respect each other. One of the greatest problems facing us as a society is hatred of the other, of the stranger, the different. It infects all of us, in all areas, between all groups. This night put me into intimate contact with the problem, but also showed me a way to solving it: Speaking to each other, as uncomfortable and threatening as it might be, face to face.

I felt a little uneasy as I walked home, afraid that someone might throw something at me, verbal or otherwise. But as I walked, I was strengthened in the conviction that my work as an LGBT activist here in Jerusalem is important for me personally and for our society as a whole. I feel grateful beyond words to live in this most amazing city, the city of all my hopes and dreams, and to be able to work to make it better.

Blessings for better days ahead

Kol tuv

Sara Weil and Yiscah Smith | Jerusalem 2015

Sara Weil and Yiscah Smith | Jerusalem 2015