The other day I was mentioning to someone that I’m marching in Toronto’s Pride Parade on July 1, under a City Shul banner. We’ll be next to Kulanu, Toronto’s Jewish lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered social, cultural and educational group. We’ll be wearing rainbow kippot knitted by Mayan women in Guatemala.
“But you aren’t gay!” the person exclaimed. Right. And I guess if I’m not homeless, I shouldn’t march for better conditions for homeless folk. And if I’m not Darfurian I shouldn’t march for Darfur. And if I don’t eat meat, I shouldn’t care about the kosher slaughtering scandal in Postville, Iowa. And if I don’t keep kosher, I shouldn’t worry when they start talking about outlawing kosher slaughter in Denmark. And if I’m a man, I don’t see sexism all around me. And if I’m a Christian, I don’t care what they say about Jews – you get the picture.
No, I’m not going to the parade to outshout Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. They may or may not be there, but their presence won’t determine whether or why I go. And I’m not going to be politically correct. There are many things about the parade I don’t like – the sexual and immodest nature of some of the clothing, the excess, the plastic beads lying around the city for days afterward, the proof of your being “properly PC” if you go. I actually don’t even like parades – they’re often long, hot, dusty, loud and filled with over-the-top revelry, and I’m not really into crowds. But I’m going, and I’m marching.
I’m marching because as a Jew I support pride in being who you are. So many Jews have no pride in being Jewish. So many Jews are ashamed of their Jewishness, and they let the world’s caricatures and ignorance define them. Shame, self-loathing and self-doubt are in the Jew’s spiritual vocabulary and lived experience. So “pride” is a Jewish concept I really “get.” We champion it for every minority, every oppressed group, every human who feels stripped of his or her selfhood in the light of the vast and strong “other.” Yet when it comes to Jews who aren’t heterosexual, we suddenly become squeamish.
If pride is an awareness of our own dignity and worth, a deep pleasure from our own and others’ achievements, and a delight in who we are and what we do, then I can’t help but feel aligned as a Jew.
As Gabrielle Orcha wrote in the Jewish Women’s Archive, “At its best, it’s inherently part of the Jewish make-up, the feminist fabric, minority’s manuscript… for thousands of years systematic attempts have been made to strip us of our pride, and yet, we are here, all of us standing, many of us wearing the mantel of our Jewish identity with: pride.”
We Jews have had to reclaim our self-worth time and time again. We too have been closeted, shut out, trying to “pass,” expected to assimilate and “fit in,” advised to tone it down, change our style, be like everyone else. Our very existence has been a thorn in many sides.
I’m marching because I know what it’s like to feel like a thorn.
I’m marching because I remember as a woman what it meant to be told I cannot, should not and must not. I remember breaking glass ceilings so that others would not have to cut their heads. I remember the fear, the surprise, the shock, the anger, the verbal and public dismissals of my personhood and my place in the Jewish community time and time again, and not so very long ago.
I’m marching to say that Jewish life doesn’t look just one way or like just one type of person. It’s not all mom, dad, 2.2 kids and a dog. We don’t all wear shtreimls, and we don’t all eat gefilte fish. We aren’t all white. We aren’t all married. We aren’t all successful, middle class businesspeople. We aren’t all heterosexual. The Jewish community is as complex as we human beings all are. I’m marching because the Jewish community should – and could – be as vibrant and diverse as this wonderfully diverse city.
I’m marching because it stretches my own envelope, my own comfort zone. And I’m marching because it reminds me that God’s image is mysterious and diverse, and doesn’t look only like me.