Not Even War Can Stop SF Attendees of WorldPride in Jerusalem

The Hezbollah rockets raining down on Israel have also indirectly rained on the parade – the WorldPride gay rights parade, originally set for Aug. 10 in Jerusalem. Because local police officials could not guarantee the safety of marchers, WorldPride organizers delayed the parade indefinitely, along with a planned Tel Aviv beach party (although other WorldPride events will go on as scheduled).

“It’s important for us to hold the march under safe and peaceful circumstances, and obviously, at this time, due to the political circumstances in the region, that is not the case,” said Hagai El-Ad, executive director of Jerusalem Open House, is a community center for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people that is organizing the weeklong WorldPride 2006 event.

While the parade and party are on hold, about 40 other gay pride events, including a gay film festival, health day and interfaith conference, will still be held starting Aug. 6. The march will be rescheduled once the fighting stops. And local Jewish trips to WorldPride are still on, though with events shifting so rapidly, anything could change.

At Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, a long-planned trip to Israel and WorldPride departs Sunday, July 30, though with fewer on the plane than initially signed up. About a dozen people have dropped out so far. “I cannot get what I want out of the trip any longer,” says congregant Michael Bettinger. “I wanted to be able to study Torah, in the broadest sense of the word, in the land of our spiritual and biological ancestors. To do this, I would need a certain internal state of peace and calm.”

“There are still quite a few people hanging in,” says Sha’ar Zahav Rabbi Camille Angel. “They feel it’s important that we stand with Israel and show our solidarity.” One of those is Mark Lipschutz. “The existence of Israel is a miracle in itself,” he says, “and I wish to support Israel during this time of difficulty. There’s always a risk being in Israel, but after much thought and prayer I feel the risk is somewhat minimal.”

Angel says that three other synagogues from other parts of the country that were to travel with Sha’ar Zahav have canceled their trips. The Jewish Community Relations Council’s trip was still on as of press time on Wednesday, though 11 of the original 28 participants have dropped out. Says JCRC executive director Rabbi Doug Kahn, “We’ve been operating continually on the premise we would be going, but we’re still assessing whether the goals of the trip can be realized.”

As for delaying the parade, most people headed for WorldPride understand the organizers’ rationale. “There’s a sense of relief in terms of the timing,” says Kahn. “I’m glad to see the event will be scheduled at another time, but before the current security concerns arose, there was concern about counterprotests during WorldPride.”

Adds Angel, “I appreciate that they are cautious about the need to have security. The police recognize that they don’t have enough forces to adequately protect us. But canceling everything would absolutely send the wrong message. No matter how many people postpone the trip, there will still be a conference.”

Brenda Gazzar of JTA contributed to this report.