Heartbroken, but Unconquerable
A trending hashtag used on Instagram and Facebook by LGBTQ Jerusalemites and their supporters broke the social media last week, referring to the brutal attack on the Holy City’s Pride event this July. #WeCannotBeBroken An Israeli teenager has died when an ultra-Orthodox man with a knife attacked the peaceful protesters of the Gay Pride parade.
16 years old high school student Shira Banki was one of the six yougsters wounded in the assault. By investigating who’s responsible for the unspeakable crime there’s a new Israel to discover – torn, yet never defeated. A summary of my recently published article in Germany’s leading LGBTQ magazine, Maenner.
Black is The New Orange
The suspect, Yishai Shlissel was arrested right on the spot– little did the police know that a quick investigation will find out: he has been released from prison only weeks earlier, after being jailed for stabbing three at the very same event back in 2005. Then Schlissel was convicted of attempted murder and aggravated assault – his sentence was 12 years behind bars. In 2007 this was reduced to 10 years by the Supreme Court. What happened since he left his orange outfit behind, and put back on his black cape and gigantic black hat?
He returned to his hometown, rapidly giving out flyers and posters calling on ‘all Jews faithful to God’ to risk ‘beatings and imprisonment’ in order to stop the upcoming march. Too many questions to raise, and no one to answer them: why was this man left unsupervised after his release, and how come no one who he tried to convince to take his side against “the evil gay agenda” warned the local authorities?
One nation, three religions, endless point of views
There are no societies on the face of this Earth which can be labeled or generalized – not Palestinians as terrorists, Israelis as aggressors, Germans as Nazis or French as nationalists (or great lovers, as a matter of fact). The only thing what’s similar in each and every country, is that the citizens will always be divided – by religion, cultural background, financial and carrier differences, or simply by being vegans or meat eaters, Madonna or Gaga fans, and so on. And thank God for that – as diversity is the most important trigger for a society to become more accepting, to think outside the box, and to learn to give a chance to new morals and norms instead of the ones which are deeply rooted in our brains. Yet there will always be extremists who’s goal is to set fire and provoke peaceful people.
Discussing this tragic murder with different people in Israel everyone will have an interpretation: some Orthodox Jews would protest, saying “not in my name”, many secular Jews would go desperate over “the country being ruined by it’s own insane people”, liberal Israelis would take it to the political level saying “the Jewish terrorist’s house should be demolished as that’s the protocol with Palestinian terrorists”, and of course there will be people taking this as an opportunity to once again shade “IsraHell, the terrorist nation”. But the real question is now – will there be enough people who see the ever-growing personal responsibility we all have?
Jerusalem prays, Tel Aviv plays – or is it the other way around?
Jerusalem is a strange city. Magical yet heavy energies. No surprise that so many “wants a piece of it”. The “Jerusalem Syndrome” is real as Angelina Jolie’s lips. People – Jews, Christians, Muslims – would die for this city, and the same way as learning how to write your favorite poem backwards would challenge a grown up person’s mind, learning about our neighbor’s chosen spiritual path is just out of the question for some religious people. There are of course a handful of gay events and venues – like the city’s one and only official gay bar, Video Club, with a sassy drag show and Britney marathons. The presence of young and creative minds is in the air – as Israel’s most prestigious art school, Bezalel is also housed in Jerusalem. Yet for most gay people who born to Jerusalem, the “Tel Aviv bubble” is the destination – the “gay capital of the Middle East”, where most people understand: religious Puritanism and anti-gay views do not go hand in hand.
From this point of view, Tel Aviv is actually more spiritual than Jerusalem, where so many dares to play God, judging and revenging each other. And although the Parlament is housed in Jerusalem, the lawmakers made it clear: they are “in the Tel Aviv state of mind” on tis one. “We won’t permit the terrible murderer to challenge the basic values on which Israeli society is built.” – stated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We reject with disgust any attempt to impose hatred and violence among us and will bring the murderer to justice.” – he said, adding Shira, the murdered teenager died because she bravely supported the principle that everyone has the right to live their lives respectfully and with security.”
Orthodox Rabbis for LGBTQ rights
What’s important to understand is that this was not an Israeli-crime, a Jewish-crime, a Zionist-crime, or an Orthodox-crime. This was a hate-crime. Many of the chief rabbis nationwide were particularly shocked, declaring that Judaism and bloodshed do not go together. “Those who committed this heinous act are criminal in every respect.” – said Aryeh Stern, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, who gave a friendly visit to the stabbed victims in the hospital a day after the terror attack.
And he is not alone encouraging the community to keep their faith, and accept who they are. Just a few leading examples: Bat-Kol is an Israeli social group allowing women to practice their religion and be openly lesbian, making it possible for them to bring up their kids without judgment from others, yet committed to their religion. Another surprising story: Ron Yosef, a (very handsome), thirty-something Orthodox rabbi believes it’s everyone’s right to be both Orthodox and gay – so he opened up HOD, an organization educating religious Jews about LGBTQ issues and helping gay and religious Israelis to release the fear of having “double identity”.
Playing the press
It’s unarguable that hate, crime, and violence cannot be tolerated, and it goes without saying that taking the precious life of this teenage freedom fighter goes beyond evil. But using these stories to shake Israel’s pro-LGBTQ status is simply uncalled for. In June 2012, Steven Simpson, an autistic, openly gay 18-year-old, had homophobic slurs written on his body and was set on fire at his birthday party in London. Mark Carson, a 32-year old black gay man was shot to death by another man who trailed and taunted him and a friend as they walked down the street in Greenwich Village, New York. When the two friends ignored the assailant’s questions, the man began yelling anti-gay slurs and asked one of them, „You want to die tonight?”
Non of these tragic stories were interpreted as stigmatic act. What happens in Israel will always sell the papers. But it never makes it to International headlines when a West Bank Rabbi offers an unusual path for Orthodox Jewish gay men who want to raise a family: he fixes them up with Orthodox lesbians. “The main aspiration here is parenthood. It allows them to become parents in a way that is permitted by religious Jewish law and prevents a conflict between their religious world and their sexual world.” – says the Orthodox rabbi who’s probably the only one in the world running a gay dating site. Too boring story to make it in the global press…
The real enemy is within
It’s impossible to predict how a society will change in the upcoming decades: some fear of civil war between secular and Ultra Orthodox Jews, others worry for an inevitable world war, saying the domino-effect already started with the US-Iran deal. And of course there are the anti-Israelis who advertise the hope of Israel becoming “the next South Africa”, where oligarchs will socialize in protected shopping malls as the natives grab more and more sense of power. But as for me, an author and social observer living in this country since 2009 the example is set by a certain Yiscah Sara Smith – once a man, running a Jewish educational institute, now a woman, transgender activist and teacher, still leading a life based on Orthodox Jewish values.
She keeps kosher, and prays by the Western Wall – on the ladies side, of course. Her interpretation of Orthodox Judaism? „God wants all of us to be honest. That’s the message – to give inspiration and strength to help people to move past their own inner demons.” And that’s really our personal battlefield to fight on every single day of our lives – in Jerusalem, and all around the world. Facing our very own, narrow-minded thinking, and setting ourselves free from it, bit by bit. Up until the point, when the question “how to reach compromise” is more important for the majority, than the individual believe system. Unity – over separation.
Revenge can never be the answer
How do we get there? Sadly, not by putting the responsibility on political leaders – that would be too easy. Also, never by revenge. But by giving the benefit of the doubt for those who we fail to understand – regardless being Jews, gays, foot fetishists, or Justin Bieber fans. By understanding that the common commandment of every single religion, tribe, and community should be: “We tolerate everything, except for intolerance.”
Photo credits: 1,2,3: Maenner Magazine, 4: Kristof Steiner, 5: Wikipedia, 6: Google Image Search, 7: The Official Site of Yiscah Sarah Smith