Shonna Levin’s bright red shoes offset her black suit, white shirt, and wide-brimmed black hat, an outfit often worn by young men in yeshiva. The sign she held explained the combination: “For the bochur (young religious man) who lives in silence, I march with you.”
“This is about pikuach nefesh (saving lives),” said Levin, citing how LGBT youth from unsupportive families are eight times more likely to commit suicide. “This isn’t about an act that the Torah declares is not okay. This is just about saving lives and affirming people’s identities and accepting people as they are regardless of their choices.”
Levin was one of many Jewish participants in NYC Pride’s annual March on Sunday. Part civil rights demonstration, part celebration of LGBT identities, exuberant onlookers waved and cheered as decorative floats, families, and rainbow flags paraded down 5th Avenue. Groups such as American Jewish World Service, Jewish Queer Youth, and Mosaic of Westchester each sported distinct banners, signs, and t-shirts and garnered shouts of “Shalom!” A horah circle formed midway through the route around Congregation Beit Simchat Torah’s float that featured a chuppah (wedding canopy) made of a rainbow flag and a spangled Star of David.
Even in the midst of the triumphant festivities, two days after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, marchers acknowledged that their work is far from over.
“There are 77 countries in the world where same-sex relationships are punishable by imprisonment, and 8 or 10 where they’re punishable by death,” said Ruth Messinger, President of American Jewish World Service. “They’re not fighting for same-sex marriage. They’re fighting not to be imprisoned, they’re fighting not to be killed. Our sign says ‘The Jewish Voice for LGBT Rights Worldwide,’ and we’re marching on that cause.”
Similar opposition lined the sides of the parade behind the crowd, where a few protesters held signs reading “Judaism prohibits homosexuality, that is why God sent AIDS to punish male gays” and other messages. But most paid little notice, instead emphasizing the role Judaism continues to play in advancing social justice causes.
“Judaism, especially progressive Judaism, has always been a very prominent voice for change in this country and for defending the rights of those who may have obstacles in the way of standing up for themselves,” said a member of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah’s contingency who asked not to be named since he is not a member of the synagogue. “We’re called upon to defend the rights of the poor and the downtrodden and the widow and the orphan and so on and so forth. Judaism always seems to me to be this iconoclast voice calling out complacency, calling out conformity for the sake of conformity.”