U.S. vigils remember slain gay Israelis

WASHINGTON (JTA) — An Orthodox rabbi spoke out against anti-gay rhetoric in the Orthodox community at a Washington vigil mourning two Jews slain at a gay center in Tel Aviv.

"It’s time to do some internal accounting" as to whether such "rhetoric has created this climate" that allows for violence and "vilification" of gays and lesbians, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom — The National Synagogue said Monday night at the candlelight vigil.

More than 200 people attended the hourlong rally in which participants lit candles, held signs denouncing hatred of gays and lesbians, and sang songs. Six young Jewish adults organized the event, which was co-sponsored by a number of communal groups.

A similar community-sponsored candlelight vigil and march was held in San Francisco on Monday evening, with a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Jewish and LGBT leaders among the speakers.

In an attack Saturday night at the Tel Aviv community center, a masked gunman killed a 17-year-old and a 26-year-old. Ten others were 10 injured.

The motive remains unclear, but speculation has centered on it being a hate crime. The gunman is still at large.

At the Washington vigil, speakers included Rabbi Jack Moline of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly, Mark Pelavin of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, an Israeli Embassy official and other Washington Jewish community leaders and activists.

Herzfeld called for the Orthodox community to create a "communal pledge" that "we will not create a climate of gay bashing" and "enforce it."

In an interview after his speech, Herzfeld did note that homosexuality was "prohibited by the Torah," but said at the same time that crimes like the murders Saturday evening in Israel were "a desecration of God’s name."

Martin Peled-Flax, the Israeli Embassy minister-counselor for domestic political affairs, in his speech called the murders an attack not just on the LGBT community, "but on Israel’s civil society as a whole." He also noted that Israel is the "only state in the Middle East where it could occur" because it is the only place where gays and lesbians can "gather together without a fear of violence."

Meanwhile, the Progressive Jewish Alliance is sponsoring a "Virtual Summer Love-In" to repudiate the weekend violence and mark Tu B’Av, which starts Tuesday evening and is known as the "Jewish Valentine’s Day."

The e-card campaign is designed to allow particpants to "spread the message that they welcome and love their LGBT friends, family and colleagues."

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