Gay Marchers Spark Celebrate Israel Parade Boycott Threat

Yeshivas Agree To Allow Gays To Participate in Annual Event

Big Zionist Tent: There’s room for bikers along with the Modern Orthodox youth groups and day schools that dominate the annual Celebrate Israel parade in New York. One activist says the parade should draw the line at gay marchers.
esther rabinowitz
Big Zionist Tent: There’s room for bikers along with the Modern Orthodox youth groups and day schools that dominate the annual Celebrate Israel parade in New York. One activist says the parade should draw the line at gay marchers.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published April 30, 2013.
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An Orthodox activist has launched an effort to boycott New York’s Celebrate Israel parade for allowing gay and lesbian groups to participate, despite a reported agreement among Orthodox yeshivas not to object to the gay groups.

Avi Goldstein, a Orthodox Jew from Long Island, called for the boycott of the June 2 parade in a lengthy letter circulated in the Modern Orthodox community. In his letter, Goldstein writes that gay groups’ participation “compromised the moral integrity of the parade.”

Yet Goldstein’s effort appears doomed from the start. Goldstein reports in his own letter that a group of Jewish day schools principals agreed that they would not object to the gay organizations marching in the parade at a recent meeting attended by a representative of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York , which organizes the annual Celebrate Israel event.

A spokesperson for the JCRC would only confirm that the meeting took place. Rabbi Ellis Bloch, a staff member at the Jewish Education Project, which coordinated the meeting, would not comment on the meetings’ content.

This Celebrate Israel parade draws tens of thousands to Manhattan’s 5th Avenue each Spring. This year’s parade marks the second year in which gay Jewish organizations have marched openly. Before 2012, efforts by the gay and lesbian synagogue Congregation Beit Simchat Torah were met with a demand that the group not march with a banner that used the word “gay” or “lesbian.”

Mordechai Levovitz, co-director and founder of Jewish Queer Youth, which marched last year, said that he expects the 150 people to march with the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender contingent this year. Gay and lesbian groups participating in the 2013 parade include Levovitz’s group, CBST, A Wider Bridge, and Eshel.

Though the parade is organized by the nondenominational JCRC, participation is heavily Modern Orthodox. Three quarters of the Jewish day schools that marched in 2011 were Modern Orthodox, according to a 2012 Forward report.

Gay groups’ participation didn’t cause much trouble last year. The groups marched at the end of the parade, and their participation drew little media attention. This year, however, Goldstein hopes to marshal Orthodox support and ban the gay participants.

“I hope to reach school parents, most of whom likely are unaware that Jewish Queer Youth was permitted to march in last year’s parade,” Goldstein told the Forward in an email. “Schools serve their parents and their student bodies; if concerned parents and students protest to their schools, the schools are obligated to take these protests into account.”

In his lengthy letter, Goldstein argues against gay marriage and the acceptance of homosexuality. He warns that biblical punishments threaten those who tolerate homomsexuality.

“The Torah states that homosexual behavior can lead to the spitting out of Israel’s inhabitants,” Goldstein writes. “If we participate in a parade that endorses homosexuality, how are we contributing to Israel’s welfare?”

Levovitz, for his part, said that he hadn’t been approached about the letter. The JCRC confirmed that Jewish Queer Youth and the other gay organizations were scheduled to march in the June 2 parade.


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