One afternoon a year ago, as we all too often do in this terror-blighted city, we heard the sounds of ambulances near our offices in central Jerusalem. Unusually, though, the sirens grew louder and closer. Whatever had happened, had happened very close by.
We knew the 14th annual Jerusalem gay pride parade was under way, and the route passed along Keren Hayesod — the main road at the end of our side street, Washington Street. But we didn’t put two and two together. When we hear ambulances, we tend to worry about Palestinian bombers and stabbers and car-rammers. We don’t expect the terrorist to be a hate-spouting “ultra-Orthodox” man who has plunged his knife mortally deep into the body of an Israeli teenager.
We had sent a young reporter-photographer to cover the parade; he came back to pen a story very different from the mundane one he had expected to be writing. He came back with photos of the blood that had been spilled right alongside him. The blood of Shira Banki, 16.
Eulogizing her four days later, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin said Banki “loved to enjoy life, she loved life, and she believed in life.” She was, he went on, “also a girl of principles. She joined the parade in the name of the values in which she believed — tolerance, equality, hope, and love.” Her parents, Uri and Mika, mourned the terrible loss of “an intelligent, beautiful, gentle, curious, musical girl… Even adolescence had passed over her with grace, and she blossomed like a beautiful flower.”
On Thursday, everybody in this city, and many more elsewhere, knew that the 15th annual Jerusalem gay pride parade was taking place. For many of the 25,000 who participated — a number vastly greater than in previous years — it had plainly taken the heartbreaking killing of Shira Banki to bring home that the holy city’s gay pride parade was a march with resonance and relevance and importance far beyond the community that organizes it. Believe in loving-kindness toward your fellow Jerusalemite, your fellow man, woman and child? Then this march is for you, too.
Criminally, farcically incompetent in failing to prevent Shira Banki’s murder — the killer had stabbed three people at the march in 2005, and had made it crystal clear he intended to repeat the feat when he was released from jail three weeks before last year’s parade — the police on Thursday were deployed in very large numbers. Anyone found looking ultra-Orthodox in the area where the marchers gathered was subjected to stringent questioning. (I heard a cop ask a young man with black kippa and bushy beard, “Are you for or against?”) All participants were searched. The route through town was taped off. There were armed cops on the rooftops.
At the spot where Shira’s life was taken from her, participants laid flowers on the sidewalk and in planters. There was a picture of the 16-year-old, with the plea: “It is better to teach good than to condemn evil.” The crowds were solemn here, and reluctant to move on.
But much of the rest of the march was celebratory. Out on the streets were men holding hands with men, women with women, families, and plenty who walked alone. There were the young and the old, Orthodox and secular, dressed outrageously (shout-out to that man in the explicit pink outfit) and unremarkably. Why, you couldn’t tell what the sexual proclivities of all these happy people were at all.
Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, couldn’t bring himself to participate, but other politicians were there, from most of the way across the spectrum, certainly Meretz to Likud. The municipality had festooned the route with rainbow flags — though not very large ones and not, heaven forbid, on the poles immediately adjacent to the Great Synagogue. The US Embassy had put up a rainbow ad outside its American Center.
A young male couple — Yohai and Yotam — celebrated a civil wedding in the park where the parade got under way. A group of Orthodox youngsters danced the entire length of the march. People carried all manner of pleading placards. They urged an “End to racism and intolerance.” They urged Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, who brands homosexuals “deviants,” to repent. One banner declared, “Standing Together Against Hate Crimes.” Another, “Love Always Wins.” There were Israeli flags, and rainbow flags, and rainbow flags with white Stars of David sewed at their center.
And one lady held a small, simple placard on which was written, “Thou Shalt Not Murder.”
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