The Blog of the Jerusalem Open House

A Letter from Yonatan Gher

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“A Personal Message to the Modern-Orthodox Reader” by Yonatan Gher, as published in the Jerusalem Post:

Dear brother, dear sister,

My aim in writing this letter is to take advantage of the hideous acts of violence Ya’acov Teitel is accused of to create dialogue, and to understand each other better.

I’d like to begin by introducing myself: I’m Yonatan. Thirty-one years old, I grew up in Jerusalem in a family that is part secular, part Conservative and part Orthodox.

Today I live in Jerusalem with my partner, and he and I are raising our son, who is now one year old. I began serving as executive director of the Jerusalem Open House a year and a half ago.

My predecessor, an amazing woman named Noa Sattath, led the Open House and our community during a time of unprecedented violence and incitement directed against us. She was forced at times to employ bodyguards, and was the target – so we’ve learned now – of what police believe were Teitel-made explosive devices. All this to assure her right, and mine and that of any LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) person to walk the streets of the city in which we grew up.

And what a wonderful story it was for the media: “the gays vs. the religious.” And how quickly we all hurried to play our roles: more posters, more riots and as many TV debates as we could fit into our day. This was a necessary phase for our community; it established our legal and moral right to march and protest and state that we are part of this city and are here to stay.

But this achievement came at a high price. We lost you, because we each became convinced that we are opposites, at two extremes of one continuum. Thank God so many members of our community are religious, to help remind us that this is not so.

IN THE past two years, the name of the Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance has been ahavat hinam, infinite love, to counter the sinat hinam, or causeless hatred that surrounded our marches in previous years. This is not merely a cosmetic change, but manifests a shift in our approach. We built a subtle relationship, which led to the disappearance of the haredi riots. We held numerous meetings with Modern Orthodox leaders, and every journalist knows today that we consistently refuse to take part in public debates of the “gay person vs. kippa-wearing person” style.

It is important to us to counter the assumption that our communities are opposites. We have far more in common than not. You and I both want to live in this city in peace. You and I both feel like a minority singled out by the surrounding society. You and I both oppose violence and are horrified by Teitel’s actions.

It’s important to me that you know – though your opinion may not be positive with regard to messianic Jews, leftists, Palestinians or gay people – that I do not suspect that you wanted, or even secretly hoped for acts of violence such as Teitel’s.

I believe you when you condemn these atrocities. But I also believe that Ya’acov Teitel thinks otherwise. That is what separates plain crime from hate crime: the (mistaken!) belief that the perpetrator’s social circle is pleased by the actions of the “anonymous hero.”

For this reason, the burden is on all of us to act responsibly when we converse.

In 2006, in the heat of the violence surrounding Jerusalem Pride, someone profaned the Chabad synagogue on Rehov Sheinkin in Tel Aviv. This was an act of violence which I condemn unequivocally, and remains in my mind as a constant reminder that individuals may act as a result of my words.

My request to you is that you remember this as well. I will happily engage in a discussion about the meaning of Leviticus 18:22 (“You shall not lie with a man as with a woman”), but I expect you to make it clear in that conversation that the value of human life, especially as sanctified in the commandment “thou shalt not murder,” remains the highest Jewish value.

On my part, I will continue to speak against collective finger-pointing against you, and will continue to fight side by side with you for your rights, with the same conviction as I fight for mine.

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