Rainbow Flag over Jerusalem
One of my favorite Israel memories, beyond the classic touristy ones, is of a rainbow flag flying over Jerusalem.
I spent part of my first year of rabbinical school living in Jerusalem. Part of the Year in Israel program is spent volunteering with a local organization. While many of my classmates spent the year working with Ethiopian immigrants at an Absorption Center or teaching low income kids to play baseball, I volunteered at the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance (JOH), the only Jerusalem-based organization for LGBT people.
At the time, JOH was located on Ben Yehuda Street, a main pedestrian thoroughfare (it has since relocated a few blocks away to HaSoreg Street). As you would walk along the midrachov (pedestrian mall), you couldn't miss the giant rainbow Pride flag flying overhead, outside JOH's headquarters. As I would walk up to the JOH building to volunteer, I would see the flag and smile, thinking about all of the people who would see the flag and be uplifted by a quick glance at a rainbow flag proudly flying high above.
Jerusalem is a city in conflict. There are those who seek to fanaticize it and turn the Holy City into a fundamentalist one. They assert that there is only one way to be Jewish (or Muslim, or Christian). They riot in the street when a road is opened on Shabbat and harass people not wearing what they deem appropriately modest clothing. They claim that Jerusalem is "their" city and anyone who is different doesn't have a place there.
My time in Jerusalem revealed to me another Jerusalem. One in which people--regardless of their religion or religious expression--can come together across the lines that might divide. It is a place where people born and raised in Jerusalem assert that "Jerusalem is mine too," even if they don't fit someone else's mold. Jerusalem is a city where people rally together for Pride March each year professing "love for all." Mostly, the Jerusalem I know is a community of people working for tolerance and human rights.
The people I worked with at JOH were the people who were, and still are, changing Israel for the better, helping it live its highest ideals. We worked to bring World Pride to Jerusalem, inviting people from around the world to celebrate. The annual Pride March has been the largest human rights demonstration in Jerusalem, highlighting the cause of freedom of speech. They have opened a health clinic; organized chavurot for English speakers and youth groups; and provided regular programming for their membership.
Jerusalem Open House is just that, an open door, a place for community, support and inclusion. It is a place where you can come as you are and be welcomed and accepted. In a city where religion is used to divide, it is a place where they assert "not all paths to God are straight."
In our work to make our synagogues more welcoming, more tolerant and inclusive, perhaps we can all strive to be a little like Jerusalem Open House. May we, like the rainbow flag flying high in the Jerusalem sky, serve as symbols of hope to those who enter our doors as well as to those who cannot yet be a part of our communities, but are strengthened by the knowledge that we exist and affirm them and their identities.
To learn more about Jerusalem Open House, visit their English language website.
Rabbi Melissa Simon was ordained in 2010 and serves as the Director of Lifelong Learning at Shir Tikvah in Minneapolis, MN.