Arriving at Jerusalem Pride, you know something is different. It’s not a Pride parade, but the March for Pride and Tolerance: not so much a display of LGBT+ life, but something heavier, more political.
There’s tight security to get into Gan HaPa’amon, where the march starts. Inside it’s packed — 22,000 have gathered. Jerusalem Pride has grown hugely since Shira Banki, a 16-year-old girl, was murdered on the march two years ago.
Many have come here less out of concern for LGBT+ issues as such, but because of their determination to keep Jerusalem open and diverse. They may have sensed the danger of handing over any city in Israel to those who would hate.
It’s definitely a Jewish event. Not just because of the talking all the way through the speeches. Near the stage, a group has gathered for impromptu afternoon prayers, minchah. Someone on stage recites the tefillat haderech prayer, to keep us safe on our journey. Rainbow flags incorporate Stars of David — no risk of these being banned here as they have been elsewhere. It’s powerful to see the LGBT+ inclusion slogans in Hebrew, the language of our heritage, especially when they include words of Torah — love your neighbour as yourself.
There’s a quietness to it all. The route is sealed from public view — barriers are up, streets are closed, armed guards are on roofs. There are no crowds to cheer (or jeer). All that most Jerusalem residents notice is the inconvenience of closed roads.
It’s emphatically not a party. Aside from a small marching brass band and some informal singing and dancing, there’s no music, certainly no floats pumping out cheesy pop music. There’s no dress code, but everyone has come wearing modest Jerusalem clothes — there’s not a torso to be seen. People are handing out white flowers to lay at the site of Ms Banki’s murder.
We end in a different park. There’s no beer tent, just a small merchandise stall. More speeches and slow religious songs: the performer who was meant to be here drowned weeks earlier, rescuing his daughter from the sea. Many of us are reduced to tears during a minute’s silence for Ms Banki, and a speech from her father. As I leave, I walk up Hillel Street, and I see restaurants and bars flying the rainbow flag. The march may be a cry for tolerance, but what I felt was accepted and welcomed — and proud.
Benjamin Ellis is Chair of KeshetUK, which works in Jewish communities to promote LGBT+ inclusion