Gay Groups Were Great Addition to Celebrate Israel Parade
On June 2, the annual Celebrate Israel Parade brought together Jews from across New York to celebrate Israel’s 65th birthday. But this year, it wasn’t all rainbows and smiles as the parade faced a wave of controversy surrounding new participants—a delegation of openly gay Jewish schools and organizations.
This is the second year that openly gay Jewish organizations have marched in the parade, but it is the first year that Orthodox Jewish marchers have expressed their concerns over the fact. Before 2012, openly gay Jewish organizations were permitted to march in the parade with the stipulation that they would not include the term “gay” on their banners, which essentially meant they could not be openly gay. Although some gay groups marched openly last year, they were at the end of the parade and received little to no attention.
This year, Avi Goldstein (an Orthodox Jew), among others, called for a boycott of the parade and sent a letter to the larger Orthodox community urging them to do the same. Goldstein’s main allegation was that the LGBT delegations were using the parade as a ploy to force Orthodox participants to condone and accept their way of life.
Some Orthodox schools and organizations decided not to march upon the persistence of ultra-Orthodox leadership, but most refused to object to the gay organizations marching in the parade.
In the end, the openly gay groups (including Eshel, A Wider Bridge, JQY, and Congregation Beit Simchat Torah) marched in the parade. This was probably the best thing to happen to the parade, as this shift more accurately reflects the Israeli society being celebrated.
Israel is the most progressive country in the Middle East for gay individuals, and has a vibrant LGBT culture. Just a few weeks after the Celebrate Israel Parade, Tel Aviv celebrated its own Gay Pride Parade with over 100,000 participants. There were even openly gay Orthodox delegations that marched in the parade. So what better way to celebrate Israel here in New York, than to represent the different sectors of Israel’s diverse population?
The parade itself is organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, a nondenominational organization. Participation, however, is heavily Modern Orthodox, a trend that is in a sense very un-Israeli.
In Israel, secular Jews make up 41.4 percent of the population, while Orthodox Jews account for merely 20 percent. These demographics largely influence societal attitudes, allowing LGBT communities to flourish and grow in a predominantly secular setting.
These communities are an important part of Israeli society, not just in numbers but in pride. It would only make sense for an LGBT delegation to march in the New York parade in celebration of Israel. To have it any other way would be unauthentic.
The Orthodox groups that protested the gay delegations’ right to partake in the parade have miserably failed to grasp what Israel is all about. What they need to understand is that the country they are celebrating has a diverse, tolerant population with a wide array of religious practices and preferences. Despite different religious affiliations, Israel functions as a democratic country where everyone is allowed to practice freely. It’s about time the parade reflected that.
Rena Nasar served as a Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) CCAP liaison for her group, Baruch College Youth Organization for Israel from 2011-2013 and participated in the June 2013 CAMERA Israel Trip. A similar version of this op-ed was published in The Ticker on June 17th 2013.