A group of LGBTI Jews are marching in New York City’s annual Celebrate Israel parade today (2 June). The LGBTI contingent of the march was organized in part by , an organization dedicated to connecting the LGBTI Jewish communities in North America and Israel. Other groups involved in the organizing include Jewish Queer Youth, Keshet, and Eshel.
GSN spoke with two LGBTI Jewish activists, Peter Fox and Hannah Simpson, about why they are marching and what this event means to them.
‘I’m marching with the LGBTQ group at the Celebrate Israel parade because my New York Jewish experience has been so enriched by the Queer Jewish community,’ says 25-year-old Fox. ‘The organizations participating support vital causes, making this march have even greater meaning for me.’
‘I love how the parade brings together such a wide spectrum of the Jewish community to celebrate not just Israel, but also our existence and resilience as a people,’ Fox continues. ‘I marched for the first time in 2018 and the LGBTQ group always got enormous cheers. I don’t think most bystanders expect to see a group waving rainbow flags with Stars of David. Most of the groups are organized by synagogues or Jewish Day Schools, so everything starts to blend together. When a rainbow cluster comes marching down it changes everything!’
Simpson has been marching in the parade since 2013. In fact, she once about her experience at the event as a transgender Jewish woman. She describes how this annual event is big part of her own coming out story.
‘To me, being supportive of the LGBTQ community includes supporting the values of Israel, as well as dreaming of a bright future for the entire Middle East,’ Simpson wrote.
‘I am marching today because this is only the 7th year an LGBTQ community has been welcomed into the Israel Parade,’ Simpson tells GSN.
Indeed, 2012 queer Jews were allowed to proudly march in the Celebrate Israel parade.
‘It’s a change within my own lifetime that I’ve gotten to be a part of and I’m not going to let it change back,’ she continues. ‘We’re out and we’re proud, and it’s so beautiful we can say this is largely parallel with the progress made by our queer counterparts in Israel with whom we stand in solidarity along all of our beautiful and intersecting identities.’
In terms of facing anti-Israel protesters who, in the past, have , Fox is unphased.
‘I’m not intimidated by protesters, should that be something that happens,’ he tells us ahead of the event. ‘If you’re coming to protest a group of queer Jews for supporting Israel you’re exposing yourself as a fool. Families bring their young kids to this parade, and for some marching with the LGBTQ group, this is their first time publicly being out about their identity. The best thing to do is to ignore protesters.’
Simpson addressed the issue of anti-Israel protesters in her article for Bustle, writing:
‘I can best describe what I saw and experienced as a very threatening round of red rover, which thankfully did not last long.’
This year, however, Simpson says the protest group in attendance was smaller than ever, and even confined to a designated area.
‘A diverse group came out to support Israel, which is a beautiful thing,’ Simpson says. She compares this diversity to Israel itself, where there are almost as many as .
‘Something important to understand about this parade is that it’s not just a pro-Israel parade,’ Fox says. ‘It’s really an outlet for expressing Jewish pride! Perhaps that’s not the way everyone expresses their Jewish identity, and that’s ok. But seeing thousands of Jews of all ages take to the streets in an act of love is something to behold. I’m glad I can display my pride for being Jewish and gay and be commended for it. Growing up, I couldn’t imagine that would be possible. So I try to soak up that feeling as much as I can. It means everything and it never gets old.’
For Simpson, the parade is a ‘proclamation of our miraculous existence against all odds.’
‘We have nothing to be ashamed of,’ she says. ‘We built a safe space that will outlive us, which is a blueprint of progressive ideology. Israel is a strong country with a thriving economy. It’s making , like curing diseases and sending rockets to the moon.’
‘We have no intention of ever not marching again,’ Simpson says of future LGBTI contingents in the Celebrate Israel parade. ‘We are out and proud. We have to celebrate and rededicate ourselves to moving forward.’