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This article originally appeared in and is reprinted with permission of the Jerusalem Post. Visit www.jpost.com.
A throng of teens and young adults gathered beneath the gigantic rainbow flag at the Jerusalem Open House LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer and Questioning) Community Center on Saturday night to kick off the second annual Love without Borders Jerusalem Pride week.
With a line-up that includes a literary presentation by Blue 18 author and former Ha'aretz journalist David Ehrlich tonight, a solidarity meeting with professional activists from the Italian Queer Organization on Thursday, and the grand finale parade on Friday afternoon, Jerusalem's Open House--the organization behind the event--is putting the holy city on the map of Western capitals that pay tribute to gay pride.
But the event in Jerusalem is distinct from any of its partner festivals, both here and abroad. "Pride in Jerusalem is very different than pride anywhere else on the planet," said Hagai El-Ad, executive director of the Jerusalem Open House. "It's the only pride event in the world that starts with the Traveler's Prayer and ends with Shabbat (Sabbath) services."
Love without Borders is tailored to Jerusalem's unique population. The six-day event--which includes the sponsorship of both the Al-Fatiha Foundation for gay and lesbian Muslims and the Keshet Ga'avah World Congress of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Jews--takes its name not just from sexual orientation, but also from the political boundaries between Israelis and Palestinians. "We're a social change organization, and the agenda is to make Jerusalem more open, more pluralistic, and more tolerant," explained El-Ad.
Some of the more than 4,000 participants at last June's precedent-setting parade used the festival as a pro-Palestinian political platform. Marchers held signs declaring "Free Condoms, Free Palestine," "Transgender, not Transfer" and "Dykes and Fags Against the Occupation."
The event also proved controversial to the haredi (ultra Orthodox) community, which threatened to stop the march by "all means," but opted merely to boycott.
But, the Jerusalem Open House would not be deterred. "It's a gradual process of the community growing, maturing, and understanding what its obligation is toward members of our community who don't yet feel safe enough to come to the center," said El-Ad. "I think that this mixture between disbelief and fear is beyond us.
This opens the door to the possibility of a much bigger audience--even bigger than last year. This is what we're hoping for."