This year, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah was invited to join 17 other organizations in the Resistance Coalition that led the LGBTQ Pride March on June 25 in New York City. Our goal was to bring a clear and consistent message of resistance to the Trump administration’s threats to American democracy, and tochechah — reproach — of Trump’s victimization of the most vulnerable members of our society: immigrants and refugees, Muslims, queer youth and trans people.
We were disappointed that the Forward opted to misrepresent our participation in the Pride March in a recent article, particularly in misstatements that were both false and inflammatory.
In joining the Resistance Coalition this year, CBST and its guests were asked to forgo music, floats and the usual celebratory tone of Pride to send an unwavering message opposing racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment.
To maintain our focus on the fight for democracy in America, CBST’s leadership also made the decision not to raise the issue of the Israel-Palestine conflict in our signs or chants. There was no “edict” issued, and congregants were never dissuaded from carrying signs of their choosing. No one carrying any flag — be it American, Israeli, Palestinian or Jewish Pride — was to be singled out or turned away from marching with our group.
Several Jewish LGBTQ organizations with whom we regularly collaborate asked to walk with us again this year, and we were glad to include them, provided that they accept the message of resistance focused on the U.S. domestic political crisis.
In our email communication to these outside groups, we encouraged marchers “to be proud, loud, bold, and brassy and to focus on the issues that unite us. However, note: None of our messaging — comprising words, symbols and signage — will be about Israel/Palestine: no debate with spectators or each other.”
We acknowledged that this request did “not represent CBST’s customary welcoming dialogue on important issues affecting Israel/Palestine,” and asked everyone to respect the group message and commit to nonviolence “whatever the provocation.”
Indeed, our concerns stemmed from incidents that took place at the Celebrate Israel parade in New York, and the Equality March in Washington, where competing views on Israel and Palestine became a flashpoint. In recognizing that issues regarding Israel-Palestine could distract from our message at this year’s march, we sought to minimize the potential for conflict.
We are proud, progressive Zionists who are pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian and pro-peace. As a synagogue, we strive to be a sacred community in which rigorous and open discussion on the range of ideas and positions related to the Middle East is welcome.
CBST is committed to Israel and is deeply engaged in supporting efforts for peace, justice and equality for all Israelis and Palestinians. As we recently stated in response to an unrelated incident in the queer/Jewish world, we are proud that “CBST is a model of a spiritual community capable of honest and respectful discussion among those who don’t share one particular point of view.” To inject these complex issues into the 2017 Pride March could only confuse and dilute the message of Resistance. Our priority for this event was to add our voices in protest of the injustices being carried out every day by this administration in our own country.
That’s why we are saddened that even our closest friends and most respected news outlets sometimes sensationalize and distort the truth. In the past, CBST has convened gatherings of Jewish LGBTQ groups wishing to engage in deep and respectful conversation about Israel-Palestine issues. We welcome differences of opinion on these and other challenging issues. Open debate makes us stronger and safer. The events of recent weeks suggest it may be time for us to gather and create that space once again.
Even when there are differences of opinion, we have reason to share our pride as our synagogue continues to lead the discourse in LGBTQ, Jewish and larger American political contexts. We remain committed to building a stronger spiritual community of resistance and love. Now more than ever, as the rules of discourse, fair play and honesty get rewritten from the White House on down, it is incumbent upon people of good faith — and people of all faiths — to see each other and our democracy safely through these trying times. Doing so ensures not only that we will come out stronger, but also that the world will be a better place for it.
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum is the senior rabbi, and Nathan Goldstein is the president of the board of directors, of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah.