The incredible and historic 25,000 people who took part in Jerusalem’s March for Pride and Tolerance came for many reasons. Some came out to stand in opposition to homophobia, which led to the devastating murder of 16-year-old Shira Banki at last year’s parade. Some came as a call for equality. For still others it was a stance against extremism and a statement about free speech.
While Israel has certainly come a long way on LGBTQ rights in recent years, there is still a long climb to complete equality. Earlier this month, Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, the head of a state-supported religious pre-army preparatory academy, called gay people “perverts” and condemned the army for promoting tolerance toward them.
When he heard Levinstein’s speech, Nathanel Gozlan—graduate of a different preparatory academy—knew he had to act. He soon discovered that many other graduates were looking for ways to make it clear that Levinstein does not represent them. “We started this because of the values we learned at the academy, to take action when necessary,” Gozlan explained. “We needed to vote with our feet against what Rabbi Levinstein said.”
The academies, which include religious, secular, and mixed religious-secular programs, instill values of leadership and activism and prepare high-school graduates for military service.
Gozlan and other graduates organized quickly. With the guidance of Shatil’s new Religious Freedom Program Coordinator, Yael Yechieli, the group decided on a course of action and recruited other participants. Ultimately, some 500 graduates of various academies marched, many of them behind a banner reading “Beloved is man, for he was created in the image of God.”
“That was our main message,” Gozlan said. “With all the differences of opinions, at the end of the day, what unites us as human beings is much bigger than any divisions we create.”
With Shatil’s support and guidance, the graduates are now exploring their next steps, including forming a national alumni association and leveraging the energy generated by the parade to advance other issues.