Thursday, July 30, 2015

There needs to be more color.

I'm in Liberty Park, Jerusalem. I'm feeling embarrassed to be a religious Jew. It's an uneasy feeling to exist in the most spiritual city in the world, the most Jewish place in the world, and feel so pained, so heartbroken by the identity I hold. The full moon reminds me that tomorrow is Tu’ B Av, the holiday of love and rebirth. A few hours ago, six marchers in the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade were stabbed by a fellow brother, an ultra-religious Jew protesting the celebration of gay love. No more than four days after we mourn the destruction of our Temple, the destruction of our unity, we prove that we are stubbornly opposed to learning our lesson. We go out of our way to hate instead of love as we are commanded to do. And then we take this hatred and pierce in violence. And then we displace the blame and continue the cycle. And then we sit at a family reunion and refuse to speak to each other. And our children won't even look each other in the eyes, let alone attend the reunion. 

The Hebrew word "Ravgoni" perfectly means colorful as well as varied. The rainbow flags frame the streets of Keren Hayesod. The painting itself is of young individuals in relatively modest attire. Colorful stickers of "Love others as yourself" and "ahavah" strut around while rainbow flags wave back and forth. Very, very colorful indeed. I look around in search of the varied and dumbfounded, I can only count four kippot and three skirts. I scan the political signs only finding Meretz and Joint Arab List. I watch the teens of Lehava, the extreme anti-Jewish connections with non-Jews group, protesting the march and whimper, discouraged by the lessons we are teaching our children. Who decided that homosexual sex is the main sin in the Torah and merits a death-match? 

I browse through the narrow range of ages and even slimmer variation of nationalities. The beat of the drums carry me along as I pray that it's not just the classic flamboyant person cheering on friends. Where's the variation to this rainbow? Where's the Likud and Beyit Hayehudi kippot srugot next to the elderly same-sex couple? Where's the random observer on the street corner joining in? Where are the Christians and Muslims and Druzim? Where are the Sfardim and Ethopians and Yeminites? Where's the diversity of our family celebrating the idea that we are all created in His image?

The parade feeds into a rally of spoken word poetry and demands to be accepted.... The only problem is that the audience already agrees. The leaders of the secular youth group share their coming out stories and receive applause from others who have done the same. But wouldn't it be interesting to share those stories to others who haven’t experienced it? Wouldn't it be nice for Bnei Akiva leaders to wave rainbow Israeli flags and hear these siblings that never were introduced at the family reunion? I imagine the dream of variation in the colorful assembly. 

I sigh in relief when Rav Benny Lau is called to the microphone. Whispers beside me mention that this is the first time that they have even seen a Rabbi at a Pride Parade. His speech is one of apology. He apologizes on behalf of the people of the Torah for the hideous attack. He expresses his regret for the repulsive actions. He shares his appreciation of the togetherness and ceaseless strength of the Pride community and cheers on their unrelenting love for one another. Next on the stage is Yesh Atid member, Zehorit Sorek, a religious lesbian who tells everyone how proud she is to be here. Only later after googling her, do I learn of her amazing strides in advancement of the Orthodox-gay community. Why isn’t the secular crowd told of Havruta, an organization for Orthodox gay men and Bar Kol, for religious lesbians? Why don’t I see JGY signs, and international organization for supporting LGBT Jews? How beautiful would it be for The Pride Minyan to share a Teffiah or the Orthodox LGBT youth groups to share their existence? 

I check the news to see is there is any news about the victim’s status post surgery. My heart drops reading that the 17-year-old girl is in critical condition and I see photos of the suspected perpetrator, matching the looks of the man who stabbed three marchers in 2005.  He was just released from jail three weeks ago and after declaring his obligation to stop this march just days ago, I can’t believe the police didn’t stop him from running into the parade. He was able to stab six people, one at a time before being tackled to the ground. Why couldn’t we stop him sooner? Why is everyone now condemning this action like that’s enough?

There’s so much blame to place and faults to recognize. Jerusalem Municipality should have granted a larger budget for the mostly privately-funded parade. The police should have prevented or at least halted this incursion. Lehava, the extreme anti-Jewish connections with non-Jews group needs to focus on loving all Jews. The Religious should have showed more support. The secular should have been more inclusive. The Right-wing parties should have made an appearance. The list of condemnations on this pre-Tu B’ Av parade beckons me to reassess my goals in blaming. “Ravgoni” is kind of like a kaleidoscope. Twisting around the polychromatic cylinder, I watch the light come through. Every movement of my touch changes the arrangement completely. Same colors, different depiction. Same colors, new outlook. Swiveling the kaleidoscope, I can see the need for improvements while still appreciating steps it will take to arrive. I turn my perspective from embarrassment to involvement. I rotate my view from pain to planning, pledging that next year’s Pride Parade will look a little more varied, a little more Jewishly diverse, and a lot more honorable of representing the beautifully strong community of Pride.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tents are mounted.

I can complain a lot about Israeli teens. Annoying. Self centered. Materialistic. Obnoxious. They thread a yarn of frustrating moments and exhaustion into every hike, forcing my voice to rise above my cheerful volume. They pull the yarn tighter, making fun of my accent and complaining about the heat. They talk back most of the time, believing fully that they always know what's right. They are the youth of Israel. 

They do all this but also string on some golden beads of character. They kiss the mezuzah, talk about Shabbat plans, and ask me when I'm going to get married already. They always help unpacking the bus and offer their hand to one another on challenging uphills. They sing and dance and make up cheers. They ask deep questions and might even get goosebumps singing Hatikvah. They take kosher bites of food and discuss after-school clubs and minimum-wage jobs. They are the future of Israel. 

Then there are the M'shatzim (Madrich Shelach Tzaer), the high school leaders connecting schools to trails, connecting adolescence to responsibility. Tour guiding, leading courses and teaching outdoors skills, these 9th-12th graders bring tears to my eyes with their love for one another and the world. They give and give and give until their voice sounds hoarse and their hands are covered in bandages. They plan and execute activities, focusing on the path of improvement. They are the leaders of Israel.

Within these clusters of teens, there are always the voices of individuals who speak up. A 10th grader organizing a fundraiser for at-risk teens, entering an international start-up competition, organizing a group of friends to hike a section of the Israel Trail...these are the regular sparks beaming off from the tradition of initiative. I walk away from leading the two-week outdoors course for M'shatzim exhausted but deeply inspired. I call upon these teens to climb up even higher, demand them to arrive at specific times, to trust me when I do this all for their benefit... all while they sleep in their fragile, handmade tents. Being responsible for kids five years younger than me, I make a strong stance that I am representing the authority of the head of the course and everything I say is with his agreement. It's all from the breathtaking teachers, mostly secular, giving thanks to Hashem and honoring the chain of our nation. It's with love and belief that the teens are capable. That's what fires the growth in this journey. 

I am standing with the 750 M'shatzim of the Haifa Region at the Kotel, in rows of three with hands behind our back. The yarn is now glistening. The 16-year-old leader screams "2,3" and the voices around me answer back "Hakshev" (aka attention). Shivers rise on everyone's arms. "2,3", "Hakshev," and the Kotel echoes back to us. More shivers. The Kotel begins this dialogue with us. We answer back a pledge of commitment to all that Shelach stands for. We sing Hatikvah and the tourists surrounding us join in. Someone taps me on the shoulder and in his heavy American accent asks me if I speak English. I smile and ask how he could tell. He introduces himself and his wife, visiting from Washington DC and asks me what's going on here. I tell them that this is a course for Israeli teens to become tour guides in their schools. He shakes his head in amazement, "I was just saying, I hope we see Israeli ruach when we go to the Kotel. Like this wouldn't happen in America. This is just so Israeli, so much ruach." 

Being part of something bigger inspires the individual to keep expanding past original limitations. Being part of something bigger taps me on the should and whispers into my ear that I am making my hours count. Being part of something bigger allows my dreams to become plans and my wishes to become the future. Being part of this means I care about it more. It's part of me more. It's building me just as I'm building it. A few students tell me how much I have changed them. I think about the big speeches and the small moments, the frustrating lacks of judgment and the hilarious jokes... All this now part of me. I hug each one of them tightly and say, "No, you've changed me."