By MARILYN LAZAR
He had just turned three the first time he placed his feet on Israeli soil. That summer of 1991, those little feet waded into the waters of the Mediterranean, walked the sands of Gordon Beach, and stood in lineups at hotel breakfast buffets. Let’s face it, at that young age, my son might as well have been in Miami or Muskoka. Except for one pivotal moment, forever memorialized in a snapshot.
In the photograph, he’s sitting on a boulder, wearing colourful cotton shorts, squinting into the sun, sandaled feet dangling. Not monumental, except that the stone is on the grounds of Yad Vashem, and my late parents, Holocaust survivors, had taken us on this trip. His toddler smile beams, oblivious to the heaviness of where we are. “Is it disrespectful?” I asked my father before capturing the image. “Bringing him to this museum in this country is my victory over the Nazis,” he answered.
Twenty-eight summers later, my son made aliyah. He’d made multiple trips to Israel since that first one, including Birthright and March of the Living. More recently, several visits had spanned Pride in Tel Aviv, which last year attracted over 250,000 participants.
On Sunday June 21, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai made an announcement to coincide with Pride: The city would recognize same-sex unions and non-traditional partnerships. This will grant them the same benefits that matrimonial couples enjoy, such as daycare and reductions in housing taxes.
When one of my other kids posted the news on our family Whatsapp chat, my son quipped: “Long live the State of Israel!” But actually, this initiative is not state-wide. On the contrary. While gay marriage isn’t illegal in the country, the Chief Rabbinate, which has national jurisdiction over marriage, still refuses to perform or even recognize these unions.
Huldai declared: “We hope the government will also enter the 21st century and uphold the rights of the LGBT community in law… the right to marry, have equal parental responsibilities, be protected from hate crimes along with workplace bullying, and more.”
The Chief Rabbinate’s position affects not only same-sex unions but also interfaith couples and those seeking civil rather than a religious ceremonies. These couples are forced to travel abroad to marry (commonly to Cyprus). The state recognizes the marriage after it’s registered with the Ministry of Interior.
Yet my son’s celebratory comment, “long live the State of Israel” is so fitting. “Am Yisrael chai.” Chai. Life. To be alive is to grow and change, and so must the state of Israel in order to reflect and accommodate the values of the majority of its citizens.
Tel Aviv is an extremely liberal, gay-friendly city with a young population that embraces the pulsing vibrancy. But it’s not just about Tel Aviv. Opinion polls show that the majority of Israelis support the legalization of same-sex marriage as well as related issues such as adoption and surrogacy rights for same-sex couples.
Recognizing same-sex unions isn’t just for the young and hip, today and tomorrow. It’s also to honour yesterday. I refer back to that day at Yad Vashem my parents had viewed as a victory over the depths of discrimination and loss which they had endured. Jews were not alone in the concentration camps. Between 1933 and 1945, gay men and women were persecuted under Nazi rule in Germany. Thousands of gay men were imprisoned in concentration camps. A monument dedicated to the gay victims of the Holocaust was erected in Tel Aviv in 2014 (and in Berlin in 2008).
As a biblically “chosen people” with the Holocaust in our recent history, tolerance and equality should not just be a goal or a mitzvah, but a moral imperative.
A familiar Bible passage reads, “Don’t oppress a foreigner, for you well know how it feels to be a foreigner, since you were foreigners yourselves in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9) Do we want fellow Jews to feel like foreigners in their own land? The Talmud says: “One who acts from love is greater than one who acts from fear.” (Sotah 31a) Can we choose love over fear?
I hope my son meets a nice Jewish boy in Israel. Love is love.
Marilyn Lazar is a freelance writer with a background in culture, event and travel writing. Her personal essays focus on family, relationships, people and places.