June 29, 2007

On The Jerusalem March: You may not stand over the blood of your fellow man . . . לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶךָ

Carolyn Levant and her husband, Warren Lee, made aliya (ascension) October 2006. Periodically, they send emails to friends and family in "the old country," the USA. Last week, after the couple (shown below) marched in the Jerusalem Pride and Tolerance March (see my previous post), Carolyn sent her readers an email on what it was like to march as new Israelis in a new context. And she included graphic descriptions of the massive security to manage protestors' threats of violence toward the marchers.

When the media report on the Jerusalem march, they largely gloss over or overlook the marchers’ experiences, their courage and gentleness; instead, they focus on the protestors, their toxic messages and threatening behaviors. So when I read Carolyn’s email, I replied asking permission to share her report and photos with you. She consented immediately.

And then, I began to question the wisdom of doing so. By posting her report, would I feed hatred and intolerance by increasing its exposure? Or would posting have the opposite effect — increase awareness of the poison as a way of challenging it?

Ultimately, I chose to imagine the latter outcome, taking courage from the injunction (in the
Holiness Code), You may not stand over the blood of your fellow man... לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶךָ. (Leviticus 19:16) In The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary, Robert Alter writes, "Though there is some dispute among interpreters about the meaning of 'stand over the blood,' there is a degree of consensus among traditional commentators... that it means to stand by without intervening while your fellow man's blood — literally or figuratively — is spilled."

Date: Jun 24, 2007, at 2:32 PM
Subject: Pride…

June 22, 2007

Dear Family and Friends,

Yesterday, despite… warning of danger... we joined the Pride and Tolerance March. There had been threats of violence against the marchers, and it was not until just hours before the scheduled march that the decision was reached by the police, and upheld by the Supreme Court of Israel, that it could go on. The marchers… included lesbians, gay men and many straight friends, parents and supporters. Some carried signs with slogans, rainbow flags and of course, Israeli flags. The marchers, in normal warm weather attire, no costumes, walked the short permitted route in a steady, orderly fashion, stopping… and moving again when given the OK. At one point, there was much singing.

We missed the floats that had always been a part of the other parades in other places [and] we missed the corporate sponsors….

Jerusalem was an armed camp with 7,000 police and soldiers to protect the marchers, keep order and prevent violence. There is an absurdity in these numbers, and with good reason. Several blocks away, kept separate from the marchers… was a counter demonstration…. We were told that these [10,000 ultra-Orthodox] homophobes were only the ones who showed up after many of their rabbis had, only in the last few days, counseled them to stay away and instead, pray. When the parade ended there was no rally…. the fire department was on strike and therefore the permit for the rally was denied. The streets were still teeming with marchers, police and soldiers and the buses had not yet been permitted to resume their routes.

… [We] decided to stop... for a drink… [and] to reflect on the events…. First, the vision of 7,000 armed police and soldiers to protect Jews from other Jews was a devastating reality.

I had carried a sign, which said: "We love our gay children." … [So]-called and self-described "religious"[people] believe that "the gay life" is a transgression against G-d. There is no "gay life." There are just people trying to live in the way that is natural for them [italics mine]. Over the years, we have counted among our friends, people who are single, partnered, straight and gay. Some are raising families and we have had the privilege of sharing family occasions, being guests in their homes and… hosting them in our home. Together, we have seen the growth of a dynamic congregation, Congregation Bet Haverim, in Atlanta, Georgia [USA].

We and many others believe that love is healthier than hate, that love makes a family, that this is an issue of civil rights, that gay marriage in no way impinges upon or negatively affects straight marriages or… the sanctity of marriage. The sanctity of straight marriages has already been torpedoed by a 50% divorce rate. We do not accept the argument, which quotes [from the Holiness Code] Leviticus [17:22, 20:13] because we believe that the Torah has been interpreted many times and [in] many ways.

By the time… the buses were running… [o]ur skillful bus driver swerved to avoid the fires still burning in the streets of Jerusalem. Fires and overturned garbage dumpsters! This was the work of the "religious." Contrast this to our peaceful, lawful protest against inequity and hate.

With love, Shalom,

The above essay has been copyrighted and may be reprinted only with the inclusion of this statement.

* * *

Blessings to J. Smith (who blogs as j. brotherlove at thebrotherlove) for answering my call for help to resolve my dilemma on posting the report. So he read Carolyn' email and then replied to me,

I can understand your hesitation…. However, I think the overall 'lesson' from this account is positive in that it shows the tenacity and core belief of those who support gay issues. Thank you for sharing this powerful message! I can't imagine the terror most of the marchers felt as they walked through the streets.

When most think of Pride parades, images of festive and happy people come to mind. But [Carolyn’s] phrase ‘We missed the floats that had always been a part of the other parades in other places, we missed the corporate sponsors,’ reveals how very different in spirit was this event.

Most of the coverage has been from the outside looking in. Your associates provide a valid and valuable picture from inside the march. While it highlights the awful truth of why such a massive armed presence was needed, it also reinforces why people — all people — should turn from violence and advocate love for one another.

Last year, I was living in Tel Aviv during the Jerusalem march (a mere 45-minute bus ride away), and I agonized whether to participate. Normally, the decision is a no-brainer because I am an ally, a straight friend. Yet the buzz about possible dangers (fanatics carrying bombs and knives thrust into marchers in previous years, for instance) kept me away. While I still feel lousy about my decision (I would make it again), I gained insight into the character and sheer guts of my heroes and sheroes— famous ones like John Lewis, (my representative to the U.S. House of Representatives) and unsung ones like Hattie Pearl, my friend Sherry’s mother. They and all resisters, despite bigots’ and haters’ actions, policies, laws, and attitudes are living (or have lived) lives of costly grace.

I aim to give wide berth to all people, groups, and organizations, to respect and honor their ideas and beliefs. Yet when their actions or words threaten the lives of others who think and do differently my patience, tolerance, respect, and understanding end. And absent such nitty-gritty, a democratic and pluralistic society cannot flourish.

June 24, 2007

The Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance

From Jerusalem, my friend Uriel Adiv writes —

Subject: Jerusalem's Gay Pride
Date: Jun 23, 2007, at 11:19 AM

Dear All,

Jerusalem's city center was under curfew Thursday afternoon. On duty were 7,500 policeman and soldiers, a few helicopters, and one video surveillance balloon to protect some 4,000 people marching about 500 meters along King David (yes… exactly the one who loved Jonathan in the Bible) Street…

World media was present, too…

Attached please find a very small selection of about 450 pix I took.

Best greetings and Shabbat Shalom / happy weekend!


Update | For more details, photos, and musings on The Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance, see You may not stand over the blood of your fellow man... לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶך

June 18, 2007

Vivi soars in Atlanta production of Aristophanes' "The Birds"

Have you ever dreamed of escaping to where you could live in freedom, untroubled by selected fellow humans and some of their doings? Last Friday, I watched my pal Vivienne (Vivi), age nine, flap her Scarecrow wings and snap her Scarecrow beak attempting to do just that.

At Emory University's Michael C. Carlos Museum, Vivi joined fellow thespians (ages 7-12) in the Museum's 2007 Camp Carlos five-day utopian world gone awry, learning difficult lines and life lessons — that even a perfect world has its problems. Actor and storyteller Julia Prittie directed about 20 campers in a children’s adaptation of Aristophanes' (c. 448-380 B.C.E.) The Birds.

In this lively, bird feather- and toga-filled comedy, the minimalist costumed cast of assorted birds, deities, and three-voice Greek chorus declaimed loudly and enunciated clearly (at times prompting each other when a line or word went AWOL).

One bright child, whose dyslexia made it all but impossible to learn lines on such short notice, turned a challenge into a starring role as the gold-coins-turned-goat, hopping and neighing with handheld "shield" — a feathered goat-puppet!

How can anyone, even young children, perform brilliantly after only three days' preparation?
  • A gutsy seasoned director with an effective stage whisper
  • Cue cards the size of some of the actors
  • Well-rehearsed thespians who went to bed three nights with big lines on little lips
This last secret I learned after the show from Scarecrow/Vivi, a seasoned practitioner of preparation and rehearsal (as she proved when she played her flute marching with fellow "Marching Abominables in-training" in Atlanta's recent Inman Park Festival).

So I say, bring on more Greek classics! Most of the core issues shed light and humor on human follies as the dramatists hold up mirrors to audiences — mirrors more than 2500 years old and reflecting back to us brilliantly today.