Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Gays, Jews, Israel

Thanks to Mark Berch, who collects and distributes eclectic Jewish URLs, for most of the material in this posting - more than you probably want to know about Gayness & Homophobia in Israel and the Jewish community.

It seems that, just as in the general population, attitudes towards gays have become a touchstone of the cultural wars in the Jewish community. In Israel, the Tel Aviv liberals are gay friendly, while the Jerusalem based Orthodox are fanatically homophobic. The recently planned Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade, had to be downgraded to a rally in an enclosed and isolated soccer stadium, after weeks of Haredi rioting. Police finally said they simply could not protect the parade participants, and organizers gave in to the pressure. Most viewed this as a defeat for gays and a victory for the Orthodox and other anti-gay forces. And that amounts to a defeat for tolerance and human rights in general.

In an ironic twist however, the Israel Foreign Ministry and Tourism Ministry are planning an international advertising campaign that will promote Israel as “Gay Friendly”, in an attempt to improve Israel’s image among leftists and liberals in the West.

At the same time a proposed motion to approve gay marriages is threatening to tear North American Conservative Judaism apart.

Read all about these, and other stories affecting gays and Jews at the links below:

Positive Attitudes to Gays in Israel

Israel’s Foreign Ministry is promoting “Gay Israel” as part of its campaigns to break apart the negative stereotypes many liberal Americans and Europeans have of Israel. Click here.

Guy Benyovits urges Ultra-Orthodox gays to come out of the closet. Click here.

Ivri Lider, Israel’s leading male recording artist and an openly gay Israeli superstar is being brought to American campuses as part of a Pro-Israel PR campaign by “Israel at Heart”. Click here.

Amotz Asa-El sets forth how Israel plays “simultaneously pioneer and laggard on the homosexuality front.” Click here.

A look at the degree of acceptance that Israeli gays have achieved, including gay clubs in Tel Aviv and even Jerusalem. Click here.

Jerusalem's Gay Pride Parade

Ellen W. Horowitz argues that Jerusalem’s Gay Pride parade is a “force-fed tolerance festival … a ruthless assault on traditional Jewish values and the sanctity of Jerusalem…This is about the deliberate and planned trampling of the religious and moral sensitivities of the people of Jerusalem, and of those who hold that physical intimacy and sexual expression should be sacred, holy and private. Click here.

Tom Segev interviews the Jerusalem city councellor who lead the opposition to the Gay Pride Parade. She's into book buring as well. Click here.

Meron Benvenisti argues that the Gay Pride Parade “is unnecessary provocation. … who needs the traffic jams and a city immobilized by demonstrators for and against?” Click here.

But Shahar Illan argues that the possibilities for dangerous strife have been greatly exaggerated. Click here.

Jay Michaelson argues that ...this debate is not really about homosexuality, or the specialness of Jerusalem, or the sensitivities of a religious community. Nor is it even about freedom of expression. Rather, it is about the fate of Israeli democracy, and how its fundamentalist right wing is slowly gaining power. Liberals — by which I mean not political liberals but anyone who believes in democracy, equality and freedom — should stand up and pay attention. So should any friend of Israel. Click here.

Gil Naveh argues that “Jerusalem's 2006 pride parade is a social test for the entire secular community in Israel and no longer represents only Jerusalem's homo-lesbian community.” Click here.

Gays argue that the March is part of “a larger struggle for the democratic rights." Click here.

Opposition to the Parade in the Haredi community is not a unified thing, it takes different forms, it has different rationales, and has varied levels of intensity (“The Gerer Hasidim maintained the traditional practice of not fighting gays in order not to recognize their existence.”) A lot of the problem has to do with what to tell “the children.” Click here.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish pop singer Benny Elbaz joined forces with a Muslim man he normally would consider an enemy, to sing a duet he composed denouncing the GayPride March entitled, “Jerusalem Will Burn!” Click here.

Security concerns force organizers of the parade to turn it into a stadium rally, but some were unhappy with this compromise. Click here and here and here.

And attendees react to the rally itself. Click here.

Around the world

Three same-sex couples share their conversion stories. Click here.

Reform rabbis working in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus agree that local Jews are not presently prepared to accept the Reform movement’s liberal approach to homosexuality. Click here.

Some ketubah artists are now preparing products for Jewish gay and lesbian couples. Click here.

Israeli religious lesbian Avigail Sperber formed Bat Kol, for religious lesbians, to change religious society’s attitude toward gays and lesbians, and also to provide a support group for lesbians in distress: “we provide hospitality for girls with no family to return to for the holidays.” And her mother Hannah, though initially very upset, started a support group for the religious parents (in practice, only mothers would attend) of homosexual/lesbian children. Click here.

A new outfit, “Shalom: Gay and Lesbian Jews of the Desert” serves a booming California population of largely senior citizens. Click here.

A look at the activities of Israeli gay-support organizations, including Jerusalem’s Open House, Aguda, The National Association of GLBT in Israel, and the Hebrew monthly The Pink Times—the only gay magazine in Israel. Click here.
Gays and the Conservative Movement

San Francisco’s Conservative Congregation Beth Sholom unanimously passed a resolution calling for the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis and sanctification of same-sex unions. Click here.

Kate O’Brien converted to Judaism, became a star JTS student and was the focus of a JTS publicity brochure, but gradually came to the realization that she was a lesbian, and she had to give JTS up. Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, says: “What happens is that we put them in this unconscionable situation in which they have to lie to us as rabbinical students. That’s one of the real tragedies of the current policy and one of the reasons I really hope things change as of December. It creates an atmosphere of deception and distrust.” Click here.

Arnold Eisen, chancellor-elect of the Jewish Theological Seminary, expresses concern that the gay issue will be divisive for the Conservative movement. Click here.

Berkeley’s Congregation Netivot Shalom (which has a gay executive director) has launched a petition aimed at ending a USCJ hiring practice: even teachers and administrators must adhere to a policy stating they fully follow Conservative Jewish law including the current statement on sexual behavior. Click here.


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