Sunday, August 09, 2009

Remembrance and Hope for the Future

Last week, a gunman entered a LGBT Center in Tel Aviv and killed two people, and wounded a dozen more. Unfortunately, violence in Israel isn't exactly unusual, and while I frequently get choked up about it, this one was different.

Because of Aubrey, I know a lot about the LGBT community in Austin (and have spent plenty of time in gay bars!), including the existence of Out Youth, which is an outreach center for young people, exactly like the one that was attacked in Tel Aviv. I went to their prom! -->

Tonight, Out Youth, together with other LGBT community organizations and the Jewish Community Association of Austin, co-sponsored a vigil at City Hall to honor the victims in Tel Aviv. I had to go.

When I started thinking about the whole situation earlier in the day, I started to cry. There is certainly no question that what happened in Tel Aviv was horrible. Any shooting, and particularly the shooting of children, is tragic. But even moreso because, of all of the places in the world where this could happen, Israel is different. The Jewish people have been persecuted, just for being who we are, since the beginning of time. [On Bill Maher's show last week, it was pointed out that Judaism was around *before* Christianity - even people who quote the Bible (the New Testament) don't seem to grasp that there's an Old Testament for a reason! But I digress...] Israelis are used to the threat of violence. They go on living their lives in the face of a constant ... nervousness... that the next person who gets on the bus, or walks into the store, could be a suicide bomber. West Wing addressed this nicely after 9/11 in "Isaac and Ishmael" -- one of the students asks Sam, "...what do you call a society that has to just live every day with the idea that the pizza place you are eating in could just blow up without any warning?" "Israel," Sam answers. That's it. They're used to it, for lack of a better term -- as much as you can be.

But here was an assailant who chose to attack an even more specialized group. Teenagers who didn't feel comfortable being themselves anywhere else -- many of them weren't out to their parents yet -- could be assured that at this center, in this support group, whoever they were was fine. And this guy violated that trust. (They haven't found him yet.) How are these kids ever going to feel safe again?

As Jews, we are taught the values of respect for human life, for *all* people, and that persecution of any kind is wrong. If we do not stand up for the rights of others, who will stand up for us?

All this is to say, we understand.

Tonight, the quick rainshower that passed over Austin gave way to a gorgeous rainbow, which hung directly over City Hall as I drove downtown. I thought it was a good sign. :)

The vigil was very well attended (over 100 ppl) and well-run. The Out Youth kids were basically in charge of the whole thing. Three local rabbis, including Rabbi Freedman from my temple, offered prayers and song. I cried through the Mourner's Kaddish... but then I always do. The teenagers read statements, sang songs (Leonard Cohen's Halleluyah, which was beautiful), and gave their heartfelt speeches about love, acceptance and hope for the future. The most unexpected speech came at the end of the evening, from a woman whose daughter is transgender. She talked about the pain of being a parent, knowing what your child will go through and how the rest of the world will react to her "differences." It is only with love and acceptance from parents like this - and the rest of us, LGBT allies - that awful events like what happened in Tel Aviv will be stopped.

So say a prayer for the families of the teenagers and their support system in Tel Aviv, who were killed and injured last week. But don't stop there. Stand up to bullying and injustice when you see it. Support OutYouth, or a similar organization in your area. And above all, share the love! :)

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