Posted by Naomi Goldberg
Thoughts? I sometimes wonder why Rabbi Greenberg stays some place (in Orthodox Judaism), when it objects to so many things about him, especially when other movements of Judaism are much more understanding and welcoming of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and (sometimes) transgender Jews.
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July 8, 2010 | 3:04 am
Posted by Tera Greene
This past weekend, I spent 30 hours over three days celebrating my own personal Independence holiday, taking out my dreads that were five years in the making. It was freeing, it was necessary, and my hair is so beautiful. I feel like it was the coda in the symphony of precious years hence, wherein I have made so much progress, but have also felt as though my life was too effected by energies that, in hindsight, were probably not the best energies for my pure heart and soul. Taking out my dreads has truly been a blessing. As I am exactly four months away from turning 27 years old - G-D Willing - I also feel my blessing has to do with owning my Womanhood, which includes my visible Queerness, my unique Black experience, and my Judaism-by-Choiceness.
But shedding my dreads has also had me thinking about one poignant aspect of the latter:
I am NOT a “Wandering Jew”.
I used to think I am, and then the last couple of days since taking out my dreads Hashem directed me to really think - really think - about what the term “Wandering Jew” means, and how it relates to me. Or not.
So, I began researching…
From Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, wandering is defined as such:
Main Entry: wandering
Date: before 12th century
: characterized by aimless, slow, or pointless movement: as a : that winds or meanders b : not keeping a rational or sensible course : vagrant c : nomadic
d of a plant : having long runners or tendrils
v. wan·dered, wan·der·ing, wan·ders
1. To move about without a definite destination or purpose.
2. To go by an indirect route or at no set pace; amble: wander toward town.
3. To proceed in an irregular course; meander.
4. To go astray: wander from the path of righteousness.
5. To lose clarity or coherence of thought or expression.
To wander across or through: wander the forests and fields.
The act or an instance of wandering; a stroll.
Now, I don’t mind a leisure stroll, especially on Shabbas, and especially with someone you love; and being human, I lose my train of thought at times. By the same token, I am quite nomadic in nature. But, I am someone who knows what she wants, knows how to manifest what she wants because of clear mind and a direct-line to Hashem, and my direct course of action may change because life happens. Things change.
I kept researching…
There’s a Brazilian Wandering Spider, a Wandering Jew Plant [common name for several creeping plants of the genus Tradescantia (including Zebrina ) in the spiderwort family. T. pendula is most commonly cultivated in window boxes and hanging pots. Wandering jew is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Liliopsida, order Commelinales, family Commelinaceae; The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition | 2008], and “wandering” is a term for those with dementia/alzheimers [It is common for a person with dementia to wander and become lost; many do repeatedly. In fact, over 60 percent of those with dementia will wander at some point]. There’s even a blogger and website called Wandering Chopsticks, which is home to Vietnamese recipes.
In every aspect, wandering deals with creeping, irregularity, no purpose, confusion, and that’s quite unlike who I am.
I’m terrified of spiders, I love plants and chopsticks, but wandering? Nah…
In the most negative sense, the “Wandering Jew” has most grossly been depicted in the German Nazi propaganda film, The Eternal Jew (1940), an antisemitic “documentary” with the title in German, Der ewige Jude, which is the term for the character of the “Wandering Jew” in medieval, and Christian, folklore. (Wikipedia - Eternal Jew)
Why would anyone want to take on a term that was once depicted in such a slanted and skewed form? Why would anyone consider themselves a wanderer, in any sense? Spiders, plants and chopsticks wander, and the falsification of a group of Human Beings wander… What good does it do to brand ourselves with such terms that are not positive, not progressive in nature?
Which brings me to the ideals of “Wandering Jew” as it applies to folklore. I recall hearing once the story of where the term came from. The story was that of a local citizen of Jerusalem watching Jesus heading to be crucified who saw Jesus get tired on his home wall, and the local told Jesus to basically keep steppin’... and Jesus retorted back to the local to also keep steppin’... (and I paraphrase) “for all of eternity on Earth” until Jesus came back ‘round (people call it the 2nd coming).
Now, I don’t know about you, but a) why would a Jew call themselves a term that had to deal with the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ (though, yes, Jesus was a Jew) and b) even if you thought he was coming back - hypothetically - is not that a Christian view based on the New Testament? I don’t know everything, but being a Jew, to me, has nothing to do with the New Testament. More over, I personally don’t believe that G-D is a punishing G-D, and though oftentimes I have gotten fed up with people and their selfishness and wanted to become a hermit, I don’t honestly believe that me or any Jew, or any person, is condemned to being a hermit, left to wander aimlessly.
I do, however, believe that my role as a Jew is to go out and be of action. To be focused and to BE who I am and question things, lead and be of good example. To live! To be a light source. I found an article recently that was quite fascinating, found on Aish.com, which at the end stated:
As we embark on the various journeys that create the tapestry of our lives, it is important to remain focused on the exciting goals we are moving towards. In that way, with God’s help, we will find the strength and courage to stand up to the myriad of challenges life may present.
I’m not asking you to deal with G-D how I relate to G-D, nor do I believe that all who wander are lost. Oftentimes wandering is healthy while you hone what it is you want in, and out, of life, and sometimes questioning your relationship to and with G-D is also healthy. But just to wander aimlessly, or to adapt a life of going hither and thither with no direction at all, not knowing an inclination of what one wants in life, even slightly, is not only disruptive to those around you, but it can be dangerous to one’s self, especially in the case of dementia. To wander, and to be a “Wandering Jew”, are terms that I am finding are offensive and backwards, archaic even, like the usage of the word “Gyp” to define when one has been shortchanged; or “Lame”, a term used by many - especially teens - when something is not cool. Sure, we get thrown off course sometimes, and life happens totally not how we expect, but to cut ourselves short by labeling ourselves with terms that are not beneficial? Well, that’s just not cool.
So, as I am being more apt to my sincere expression of my Womanhood, and challenging terms that I have even considered myself at one time, I behoove us all to rethink how we define our Being. I mean, what’s in a name? Instead of wandering, how about living life with intention, purpose and the vulnerability and humbleness of knowing that life can change on a dime, and that we are not perfect. We owe it to ourselves as a Peoplehood to do our best and move forward with focus and faith. I owe it to myself as someone whose completeness, her Shalomness, is comprised of four major categories of minority groups to live without fear, but with a full grasp of clarity of vision, because wandering can only dilute my identity more than what history has tried to do already.
I repeat: I believe in the adage “not all who wander are lost”. But I also firmly believe that we people whom may consider ourselves as wandering may just have a lovely case of wanderlust, with spirits bursting with an energy and need to travel. And that, my friends, is fine by me and so much better.
July 7, 2010 | 3:18 pm
Posted by Janelle Eagle
Jewish LGBT Leaders Meet, But Can’t Yet Find a Vision Shared by All
By Jo Ellen Green Kaiser
Published June 30, 2010, issue of July 09, 2010.
Berkeley, Calif. — A social justice activist from Oakland, Calif. A party planner from New York. The leader of a small havurah in Detroit. These were some of the 93 people who were invited to Berkeley, Calif., to help build a more cohesive movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews.
This first-ever gathering, held in late June, had lofty goals. Funded primarily by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, with support from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, the aim was to “forge a strategic vision to inspire and guide our actions over the next three years.”
The four national Jewish LGBT organizations that created the gathering had already done some moving on their own, merging into two. In May, the National Union of Jewish LGBTQ Students merged with Nehirim, which offers retreats and Jewish spiritual programming. In June, Jewish Mosaic, with its focus on research and education, merged with Keshet, an advocacy organization for LGBT inclusion in Jewish life.
The incentive for all the groups to arrive at a shared vision was in the room: The primary funders of this work would prefer to be solicited from fewer organizations with a common agenda. That did not happen. After days of wide-ranging discussions, organizers Gregg Drinkwater and Idit Klein hoped participants would be able to articulate common goals in one final four-hour session. Instead, the conversation broke down, as many participants expressed a need for more time to build relationships. But time had run out.
The idea that four organizations that had never before met face to face would emerge from a three-day event with a common vision and full-fledged action plan proved optimistic, and spoke to the inexperience of the organizers in building a movement (as opposed to building an organization or campaign). That doesn’t mean, however, that the convening failed. In fact, in its most important work — relationship building — it succeeded.
For those not familiar with the Jewish LGBT community, two days may have seemed plenty of time to pull together a common vision. In many Jewish communities across the United States, these Jews are invisible. And where they are not, they often are, or feel, excluded. Calling for inclusion and visibility is a baseline that all activists share.
Mordechai Levovitz, who is now co-executive director of the Orthodox group Jewish Queer Youth — which he founded 10 years ago when he was 21 — explained: “The organizations that exist today would have saved me a lot of tears [as a gay Orthodox teen]. We need more resources for [visibility] funding for Orthodox kids.”
Judy Lewis came to the convening from Detroit, where she helps run a LGBT havurah. For her, as for many of the participants from the middle of the country, just being at the convening was “empowering.”
Janelle Eagle of Los Angeles’s transdenominational LGBT organization, JQ International, agreed that the convening offered “a unique collaborative moment.” She spoke for many who had been working in this area for some time and felt that, “finally we are not fighting to say this is important. We don’t have to defend what we do. We can just dream.”
To dream in unison, however, organizations and leaders must first share a collective framework and sense of identity.
Noach Dzmura, leader of the first national organization for Jewish transpeople, Jewish Transitions, felt his own difference. “We are not an alphabet soup. Our distinctive values need to be articulated and heard. The ways a gay man, a lesbian, a transman, a transwoman or a genderqueer approach Jewish life and living are different. We can work together, but we are distinct.”
The same feeling was expressed by some of the Orthodox participants, who face a different set of challenges from those in secular and progressive Jewish communities. Miryam Kabakov, a founder of New York OrthoDykes and editor of the recently published anthology “Keep Your Wives Away From Them,” said that talking about a global Jewish LGBT movement makes no more sense than talking about a “Jewish” movement. “What we do need,” she said, “is an umbrella, a place to talk, a network.”
One point of tension at the convening was between leaders of programs and leaders of institutions. From her pulpit at the world’s largest LGBT synagogue, New York’s Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum was not sure that the convening was asking the right sorts of questions. “I think it would be a mistake to look for a single collective LGBT Jewish identity. Collaborative work, coalition-building work, is great, but I don’t think there should be a one size fits all,” she said.
The groundwork was laid for that kind of collaborative work: In the last session, participants pledged to work with at least three other leaders to share information, ideas and resources.
Those who have done this before point out that the convening was a critical first step toward a Jewish LGBT movement. Jeremy Burton, an observer from Jewish Funds for Justice, pointed out that movement building begins when different parties “see the intersections” between themselves. Likewise, Rabbi Joshua Lesser of Atlanta’s Congregation Bet Haverim pointed out that the first task for any movement is “to develop a common language to understand what our common identity could be.”
The national organizations took more than a year to determine their strategic direction, including the decision to merge. For someone like Keshet’s Klein, whose lifework is to devise a strategy for the Jewish LGBT world, the vision is clear. She wants to see “a clear and understood and valued and validated place for all LGBT organizations… a day when we will have a Jewish community that will [recognize] all of us as having an equally valued place in the community.”
Other organizations and leaders have just begun down that path, however, and the voices of elders and activists who are not currently organizational leaders have yet to be heard.
Funders might want a common agenda, but that might not be what the LGBT organizations themselves need at this point. Organizational consultant Beth Zemsky was more direct. “Don’t do it,” she told the convening. “Funders want a consistent agenda, and they want to know which players are doing what. Don’t do that. Does the Jewish community in general have a unified agenda? No!”
July 7, 2010 | 7:52 am
Posted by Brandon Gellis
Well, my mother does anyhow. In this, my first effort as a Jewish, gay, 30-year-old blogger, does it really come as any surprise that I begin this exodus writing about my mother?
But, enough about my mom, we’ll get back to her soon enough, trust me. My name is Brandon and my hubby and I moved to Laramie, Wyoming in the summer of 2005. As few people know Laramie for the 1895 imprisonment of Butch Cassidy and more for the 1998 brutal slaying of Matthew Shepard, this move did not come without reservations. Going back, as a frosh in college I remember thinking, “Wow, I could never live in a place like that,” especially after growing up in L.A. Jump forward seven years, and low and behold Mark, said hubby, and I both embarked on an adventure to the Wild West that has served far more interesting than we ever could have anticipated.
Laramie is a really nice place to live. Its very family oriented, educated, you wouldn’t believe the year-round outdoor sports, and while I believe it is very libertarian, the town, the University, and the community have made great strides to overcome the atrocities of 1998 and in Matthew’s memory, are constantly working more towards acceptance and expanding civil liberties. More to come on Laramie later.
Getting back to my nickname “One Jew.” Upon announcing our move to Laramie, or the Wild West as I may refer to it from time-to-time, my mother in her Jewish motherly wisdom announced, “But you’ll be the only Jew there…” To which my brother graciously added, “…and gay. Oy!” And, so began my mother’s attempts to not so passively convince Mark it was about time to convert.
To be honest, I am not the only Jew in Laramie, or the only gay Jew. Living in Laramie has opening up my eyes to the realization, that as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, one shouldn’t judge a whole community but the acts of a few select individuals. And, believe it or not, my mom really likes Laramie, so it must have some things going for it.
More to come from One Jew and Laramie soon. If there is anything you’d like to know, just let it out.
July 4, 2010 | 5:28 pm
Posted by Maital Guttman
Op-Ed: Embrace LGBT Jews as vital members of the community
By Lynn Schusterman · June 18, 2010
TULSA, Okla. (JTA)—Next week, as millions of people around the world celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month, we in the Jewish community will mark the occasion with a pivotal milestone: the first-ever Jewish LGBT Movement Building Convening, to be held June 27-29 in California.
Organized by the leading Jewish LGBT organizations, Keshet, Jewish Mosaic: The National Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity and Nehirim, the gathering will bring together 100 leaders of LGBT synagogues, organizations, foundations and other representatives to create a unified Jewish LGBT agenda for change.
As a proud funder of the convening and longtime supporter of Jewish LGBT work, I believe now is the ideal time for the Jewish community to foster a welcoming, inclusive environment for LGBT Jews and to stand up for LGBT equality.
Religion and faith have long been isolating topics in the LGBT world. In 2007, Angelica Berrie and I hosted the Conference For Change, which was designed to put issues of equality, diversity and inclusivity on the Jewish communal agenda. As a participant in the track focused on LGBT Jews, I heard far too many stories from talented, committed Jewish professionals who still felt excluded or invisible within our community because of their sexuality. Many even feared losing their jobs if they came out publicly.
The fact is, despite some signs of progress—the Jewish Theological Seminary deciding to admit LGBT individuals and the ordination of the first transgender rabbi, to name two—the overall pace of change within our community in this area has been far too slow. The continued marginalization of LGBT Jews is especially disheartening for those of us who believe in the power of a fully inclusive Jewish community that embraces every Jew as “b’tzelem elokim,” made in God’s image.
Our people represent a tapestry of interwoven identities embodying the rich diversity of what it means to be Jewish. When we neglect or deny the needs of any population within our community, we not only weaken the strands of this tapestry, we also drop the mantle of leadership we have assumed when it comes to protecting and advocating for the civil rights of minority populations.
This is why now, more than ever, we need to uphold LGBT inclusion and equality as fundamental tenets of our community.
The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation (CLSFF) has made a serious commitment to fostering a welcoming Jewish community for LGBT Jews and embracing all who look to Judaism as their path to personal meaning and fulfillment.
As an important step, we are asking all Jewish organizations to join our foundation in adopting non-discrimination hiring policies that specifically mention sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. We are also challenging donors to join us in holding organizations accountable for doing so. We at CLSFF stand ready to share sample policies that can be adapted easily to fit any organization.
I am proud to state that every national Jewish organization we support enforces non-discrimination practices around sexual orientation and that more than 70 percent have written policies in place covering gender identity and expression. Moving forward, we will only consider funding organizations that have non-discrimination policies covering both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
Adopting formal non-discrimination policies—and ensuring their implementation—will help us achieve two goals: 1, they will indicate to LGBT individuals that the Jewish community is committed to full LGBT inclusion; and 2, they will guarantee that our institutions are walking the talk when it comes to being welcoming and diverse.
This work is vital to the health and vibrancy of the American Jewish future. LGBT individuals make up an estimated 10 percent of the general population, and it is thought that the same holds true in the Jewish community. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that few LGBT Jews and their families choose to connect to Jewish life. I believe this is in no small part because so many Jewish organizations are ill-equipped, or unwilling, to meet their needs and those of other marginalized constituencies.
While many of these organizations are well intentioned, most simply do not realize they are falling short. Case in point: A 2009 survey found that while most synagogues consider themselves welcoming of gay and lesbian congregants, few have any LGBT-inclusive programs or policies. These findings are applicable to institutions well beyond synagogues.
To change this paradigm, we must put a stake in the ground. Non-discrimination policies are an effective way of doing so, but they are not an end in themselves. We can and must also:
* Build knowledge. With education comes understanding. Keshet and Nehirim are excellent sources of information about the needs, contributions, interests and sensitivities of LGBT Jews.
* Become an ally. We should show support and speak out on behalf of LGBT inclusion. Last year, 300 clergy members ventured to Washington to lobby Congress about LGBT equality with the Human Rights Campaign. Last October, thousands of Jewish allies and LGBT Jews marked the ancient holiday of Simchat Torah by marching together on our nation’s capital to demand full equality.
* Implement additional policies and practices. Organizations should take a comprehensive look at their policies, procedures and practices to ensure that they reflect a culture of inclusiveness. For example, are health benefits open to domestic partners? Do all forms, documents, images and literature reflect gender-neutral language, such as Parent 1 and 2 instead of mother and father?
* Train lay and professional leaders. It is vitally important that we train and support Jewish educators, clergy, program staff, youth and lay leaders to ensure that LGBT youth, families and staff are safe and affirmed in all Jewish educational and community settings.
In an era when all Jews are Jews by choice, our community and, in turn, our nation benefits from every source of Jewish vitality and strength, including the creativity and vibrancy of LGBT Jews. Starting with the groundbreaking convening in California, let us begin to forge a culture in which inclusivity, diversity and equality are paramount, and in which LGBT Jews are embraced as full and vital members of the Jewish family at home, at work and in every aspect of communal life.
Now that would be something in which we could all take pride.
(Lynn Schusterman is the chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.)
see the JTA article
July 4, 2010 | 12:52 am
Posted by Lia Mandelbaum
I am blessed to have parents who are supportive of me regardless of my sexuality. My father has made it clear that he loves me unconditionally, but in the back of his head, still wishes that I would find a nice Jewish guy to settle down with. I know that the main reason he thinks this way is because he believes that for me, choosing to spend the rest of my life with a woman, will be a difficult path. Throughout my struggles over the last few years, I have come to believe that life is tough no matter what obstacles you face. There is not a person in this world that does not struggle with something. Some people’s lives appear completely put together on the outside, even if emotionally, they are falling apart. I spent a lot of time comparing the way that people looked on the outside to the way I felt on the inside. I was constantly projecting how I felt onto other people. Everyone else seemed to be comfortable in their own skin, and the reality is that it’s possible that they were struggling too. My experience has been that when I go through life pretending to be someone I’m not, that is extremely harder than the life I will live as a gay woman.
Many times, I have been engaged in debates as to whether or not being gay is a choice, or if it is something that you’re, “born with.” I felt frustrated by these conversations, because I interpreted their opinions as underlying judgments. Granted there is some truth in the idea that we are born with a specific sexuality, and there is also some truth in the fact that we reach a place in our lives when we must make a choice. The point is that we must choose to live with conviction in every single thing we do, and embrace ourselves for exactly who we are. Ideally, I would rather hear the debate shift towards whether or not someone accepts who they are, no matter what adversity that might bring. The question becomes whether or not the person facing adversity surrounding their sexuality, will buy into the fear of judgment created by society, and whether that will prevent them from experiencing true intimacy both with them self and with others. The sad truth for most people is that no matter what their sexuality may be, people choose to wear masks and hide who they are, out of fear of not being accepted. Although I have made huge progress in accepting who I am, both sexually and spiritually, I still struggle with the idea that if they truly knew me, they would not accept me.
It is scary to think about how detached our society has become. We are living in a world surrounded by constant distractions. We have created a society that is tremendously uncomfortable in stillness. I find that we often go to great lengths to find ways to distract ourselves from the voids that we feel and are often afraid to face. If we have a desire for healing and wholeness in the world, we should make an obligation to ourselves to be brave and genuine. We must each find our own divine spark, that voice we find within stillness, in a society that we are often so removed from.
I believe that coming out of the closet is so much deeper than just admitting your sexuality. It is about being open and vulnerable. It is letting go of the myth that perfection exists and bringing forth all the different parts of yourself, even the ones that are broken. It is when I experience other people’s vulnerabilities that I find G-d’s tremendous presence in my life. G-d speaks to me through other people, and allows me to see myself mirrored within those around me. When I embrace the unique and divine spark that everyone has inside of themselves, I am not standing in the way of allowing other people to experience G-d in the way that I have. I think that the bravest thing that you can possibly be is yourself.
July 3, 2010 | 5:53 pm
Posted by Maital Guttman
Tel Aviv is known as the “gay city” of Israel. Some estimates say that 15% of Tel Avivians are LGBT, probably because most Israelis who are gay escape the smaller towns for the big city of night life, beaches, and fabulouness. But Be’er Sheva, a smaller city in the South of Israel (the Neveg), is making its own steps towards inclusivity. This year, the municipality, which included an ultra-Orthodox Jew, approved the first Gay Pride Parade. Hear from Shai as he described the triumphs and challenges of the day.
June 29, 2010 | 10:13 am
Posted by Sasha Perry
A few weeks ago I attended Los Angeles’ Pride Parade. It was my first in the States as an adult. Growing up, Las Vegas wasn’t organized enough or maybe not queer friendly enough to have a Pride parade that I can recall. My first several Pride events took place in Jerusalem. I was very happy to be part of the marches, and more than thrilled to attend the late night, semi-secret drag shows that happened during the festivities. While it didn’t occur to me that Pride looked different from city to city, there was a definite sense of uniqueness that surrounded the Jerusalem Pride. I thought the crowds were large and boisterous, which I immediately found to not be true when I came to LA Pride. To me, it seems that LA and Jerusalem are making very distinct statements in their Pride events. In LA I was surprised to find that not everyone marches in the Parade. There are organizations and churches, clubs, and even radio stations, all with their very large and creative floats and music. The streets are lined with supporters, folks from the LGBTQ community, friends, and allies. It seemed to me that the LGBTQ community was marching for each other. It was less a political statement as much as it was a celebration of all things queer.
Here in Jerusalem, Pride takes on a much different meaning. Everyone in the LGBTQ community, their friends, family members, and allies marches in Pride here. There is no one set apart, all are participants, and all are making a statement. Obviously the numbers here are smaller, but Pride here is still making a political statement of queer identity within a religious city, and we need all the voices and bodies we can get. Walking through the streets of LA there was a small number of people from the Westboro Baptist Church, holding their signs of hate and bigotry. Walking through the streets of Jerusalem the hate was more pervasive. Orthodox Jews held up ropes tied into a noose screaming that queers needed to die. Young girls held signs dooming all queers to a level of hell that I was pretty sure Jews don’t even believe in. To my surprise, the majority of the people in the Pride march, just walked by, not giving more than a second glance at the protesters. With all the diversity of the parade I was inspired by the solidarity of everyone involved. There was an unspoken consensus that the little fights didn’t matter, but that the large battle of being seen in Jerusalem was of utmost importance. In LA, queers are seen. That’s not to say that we don’t have discrimination and hatred and our own battles to wage. But in Jerusalem, folks of the LGTBQ community are still fighting for the awareness that they even exist, while in San Fransisco queer culture is so visible that there’s even a queer anti-Pride, calling on the SF community to take back Pride from corporatism and media.
I hope that one day the Pride in Jerusalem can look as outlandish and beautifully loud as that of Los Angeles or SF. That one day LGBTQ folks in Jerusalem will be as visible as Haredim. And I hope that we can support the community on this side of the world until it happens, and when it does, Pride in Jerusalem is going to explode.