First Casualty of Disengagement: a Gay Pride Festival in Jerusalem
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First Casualty of Disengagement: a Gay Pride Festival in Jerusalem

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A controversial gay pride celebration, slated for Jerusalem this August, has been postponed for a year. WorldPride 2005 was to be a 10-day international festival culminating in a gala parade celebrating the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community. It attracted the ire of Jewish, Christian and Muslim conservatives in Israel and around the world, who argued that it would defile the holy city.

The festival was put on hold because organizers didn’t want it to coincide with Israel’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank, which was recently rescheduled to begin in August. Jerusalem instead is slated to host the festival the following year, from Aug. 6-12, 2006.

“We in no way want to undermine the larger efforts in Israel to make the pullouts be as smooth and as successful as possible,” said Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, senior rabbi at New York’s City’s gay and lesbian shul, Beth Simchat Torah, and a national co-chair of WorldPride.

“We were in no way pressured to make the decision to postpone,” Kleinbaum said, but it was important to the group that it not get in the way of the pullout. They also realized that most of Jerusalem’s police force would be in Gaza for the evacuation.

It was a difficult choice to make, though, and rescheduling will be a logistical nightmare. The program included an academic conference cosponsored by Yale University, an international film festival and an interfaith conference that had drawn commitments from clergy members from around the world.

This June, Jerusalem will host a smaller, local gay pride parade, as it has for the past few years.

“Gay pride will be in Jerusalem,” Kleinbaum said. “We are not caving into any kind of right-wing pressure. We are not capitulating.

“Jerusalem belongs to all of us,” she continued. “It belongs to the gay and lesbian world as much as to anyone else. We will not let right-wing religious bigots shut us down.”

There’s some irony in the need to reschedule, Kleinbaum said. At first, festival organizers had considered starting WorldPride in mid-August, but realized that would be just before Tisha B’Av, the day Jews mourn many disasters they have endured throughout history.

“Out of respect for Jewish religious sensitivities — including my own — we did not want to start it then,” Kleinbaum said. Instead, the lesbian and gay group decided to wait until late August, when the calendar begins a period of consolation that precedes the High Holy Days.

The Israeli government originally had scheduled the Gaza pullout to begin July 25. This year, though, that’s the 17th of Tammuz, a fast day that punctuates the 30-day mourning period leading to Tisha B’Av.

“Why the Israelis did not consult a Jewish calendar, I cannot even begin to speculate,” Kleinbaum said. Eventually, in a bow to religious sensibilities, the pullout was pushed back.

The United Jewish Communities’ Pride in Israel mission, also aimed at the gay and lesbian community, was set for early August. It has no formal ties to WorldPride, though it had been scheduled so participants could stay in Jerusalem for a few extra days to join the festival.

The mission will go on as planned.

“No doubt there will be a shift, as those who focus their attention on WorldPride may want to wait until next year to come, but what’s remarkable is that people keep on joining the mission,” said Rabbi Steve Greenberg, the gay, Orthodox rabbi-in-residence for the UJC tour.

“It’s growing. People are continuing to join,” Greenberg said, though he doesn’t yet have a firm number of participants.

“It was always both connected to and independent from WorldPride, and there’s always been a great willingness on the part of UJC to nourish and sponsor it,” he said. “Support hasn’t flagged, so we’re going ahead, and I’m very excited about it.”

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