On Thursday, August 2, Hasidic comedian Yisrael Campbell left his home in Jerusalem and headed to the Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance. He’s been going since 2016, the year after ultra-Orthodox Jew Yishai Schlissel stabbed and murdered 16-year-old Shira Banki, and wounded six others at the parade. Campbell made his way to the memorial site for Banki, which was set up during the event, to say a prayer — and to say sorry.
“It’s not that I did anything wrong, but perhaps in a way I’m part of a religious community that would think that was an acceptable way of behaving,” he said, in a phone interview with the Forward. “I wanted to say sorry for the tremendous loss to her family and to her.”
Campbell, who is known for his comedic one-man show about his conversion to Judaism called “Circumcise Me,” had picked up a sign at the parade that said, “You will love your neighbor as yourself” in Hebrew. It had the gay pride rainbow in the background. He was holding the sign at the memorial when someone asked him to turn around. “I did, and there were 20 cameras and a couple of video cameras,” he said. “I thought, ‘Wow, ok,’ and suddenly it felt weird. I thought, ‘What am I going to do now?’”
He stood there with a solemn look on his face and let people take their pictures and video. Later, when he got a copy of the picture, he posted it to Facebook, and it went viral, with hundreds of shares, likes and comments.
Overall, the feedback has been positive, with posts from religious and secular Jews praising Campbell’s actions. He said, “I’ve received a lot of comments that say, ‘Kol hakavod, you’re honoring God’s name.’ It’s really sweet.”
When people started sharing it, someone wrote in Hebrew that the picture was obviously fake news, because they thought it looked as if Campbell’s beard was glued on. “It’s a little sad that we are in a place where people can’t believe anything because it is or it should be fake,” Campbell said. “That’s kind of sad, but kind of funny too. I wanted to invite them over to pull on my beard.”
One Facebook commenter called Campbell “sick,” and an Orthodox rabbi messaged the comedian privately. “The rabbi said that if I didn’t feel like answering him, he would understand,” said Campbell. “He said, ‘Do you feel like you’re actually endorsing this behavior?’ I wanted to answer him in a serious way and I haven’t yet because it’s been a crazy week. But I don’t consider that pushback or criticism.”
When Campbell was at the parade, he saw some people wearing kippot, but he was the only one in a long black coat and black hat. Though the authorities searched him multiple times throughout each pride parade he attended, he wasn’t discouraged from going back and voicing his support.
“What Jews should do should do is support one another,” said Campbell. “We Jews get locked into a feeling that everyone is attacking us and we are really small and powerless. Nothing can be further from the truth in Israel and America. We are strong and powerful.”
Campbell said he believes we should use our power to look out for each other. “It’s a Jewish value to protect the other and try and make life easier for people. I don’t pretend to know how to read that verse to love your neighbor as yourself, but I do feel that God wants for us to treat each other with empathy and respect and honor. Everything else can be worked out along the way.”
Kylie Ora Lobell is the Jewess in Chief at JewessMag.com, as well as a writer for Aish.com, Chabad.org, The Forward, The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and Time Out NY/LA.
Hasidic Comedian Shows LGBTQ Support At Jerusalem Pride March