Why I Marched, as a Rabbi, at the World Pride Parade

July 7, 2014Rabbi Elyse Goldstein

I mentioned to someone a few weeks ago that I would be marching at the World Pride Parade taking place at the end of June in my hometown of Toronto. We’d be marching under a City Shul banner with Kulanu, Toronto’s Jewish LGBTQ social, cultural, and educational group. We’d be wearing rainbow kippot (head coverings), and I'd have on a rainbow tallit (prayer shawl).

“But you aren’t gay!” the person exclaimed, "and City Shul isn't a 'gay synagogue!'" Right. And I guess if I’m not homeless, I shouldn’t march for better conditions for those who are homeless. And if I’m not Darfurian, I shouldn’t march for Darfur. And if I don’t keep kosher, I shouldn’t care when they start talking about outlawing kosher slaughtering in Denmark. And if I’m a man, I shouldn't worry about sexism. And if I’m a Christian, I shouldn't protest what they say about Jews. And... well, you get the picture.

I didn't go to be politically correct. I'll be honest, there are things about the parade I really don’t like: the sexual nature of some of the clothing and floats, the excess, the plastic beads lying around the city for days afterwards, the proof of your being “properly PC” if you do go. I actually don’t like parades; they are long, hot, dusty, loud, filled with over-the-top revelry, and I’m not really into crowd scenes.

But I went, and I marched.

I marched because as a Jew, I support pride in being who you are. So many Jews have no pride in being Jewish. So many Jews are ashamed of their Jewishness, and they let the world’s caricatures and ignorance define them. Shame, self-loathing, and self-doubt are in the Jew’s spiritual vocabulary and lived experience, as they are in the gay world. So pride is a Jewish concept I really “get.” We champion it for every minority, every oppressed group, every human who feels stripped of his or her selfhood in the light of the vast and strong other. Yet when it comes to Jews who aren’t heterosexual, we suddenly become squeamish.

I cannot help but feel aligned as a Jew. As Gabrielle Orcha wrote in the Jewish Women’s Archive,

“At its best, it’s inherently part of the Jewish make-up, the feminist fabric, minority’s manuscript... for thousands of years systematic attempts have been made to strip us of our pride , and yet, we are here, all of us standing, many of us wearing the mantle of our Jewish identity with: pride.”

We Jews have had to reclaim our self-worth time and time again. We too have been closeted, shut out, trying to “pass,” expected to assimilate and “fit in,” advised to tone it down, change our style, be like everyone else. Our very existence has been a thorn in many sides. I marched because I know what it’s like to feel like a thorn.

I marched because I remember as a woman what it meant to be told I cannot, I should not, I must not. I remember breaking glass ceilings so others would not have to cut their heads. I remember the fear, the surprise, the shock, the anger, the verbal and public dismissals of my personhood and my place in the Jewish community time and time again, not so very long ago.

I marched for the Jewish kids who grew up hearing in shul that homosexuality was an "abomination" and then dutifully squashed it out of themselves until they were twisted inside and considered their lives not worth living.

I marched for the Jewish men and women who must still hide their true selves behind the mask of traditional marriage and then seek satisfaction outside that marriage, betraying and even physically endangering their partners.

I marched for the desire of a Jewish couple to have a chuppah (wedding canopy), sign a ketubah (marriage contract), and break a glass to declare publicly the building of yet another stable and loving Jewish home.

As it happened, we marched right near PFLAG, those wonderful parents and friends of gays and lesbians, and I realized I was also marching just in case someone's mom or dad is right now sitting shivah for their very alive gay child.

I marched to say that Jewish life doesn’t look just one way or like just one type of person. It’s not all mom, dad, 2.2 kids and a dog. We don’t all wear black hats, and we don’t all eat gefilte fish. We aren’t all white. We aren’t all married. We aren’t all successful, middle-class businesspeople. We aren’t all heterosexual. The Jewish community is as complex as we human beings all are. I marched because the Jewish community should – and could – be as vibrant and diverse as the wonderfully diverse city that hosted World Pride.

And I marched because it reminds me that God’s image is mysterious and manifold and does not look only like me.

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