Originally published in PRIDE Mag on www.pittsburghpride.org.
I first participated in Pride in 2017. I had been working in the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Relations Council (CRC) for less than a year, and organizing the Jewish community’s participation in the Equality March was one of my first large-scale independent projects. While we have always had a presence at Pride, this was the first year we made a unified effort to march as a group. We created the Love is Kosher brand with t-shirts and merchandize to generate some buzz; we organized poster-making sessions at a local congregation; we started a social media marketing campaign to increase awareness. I was expecting a decent turnout considering all of our efforts, but the response from the Jewish community far surpassed what I had anticipated. We had over 140 members of our community march with us that year in the Equality March. Regardless of age, religious observance, background, or sexual orientation, all Jews came together to celebrate love and equality. To this day, I see members of the community proudly wearing their Love is Kosher t-shirts, decorating Jewish and non-Jewish spaces with the declaration that pride is all around us.
As we marched that first year, I saw an older man holding hands with his partner, looking on at the parade with something that can only be described as awe. I found myself feeling incredibly moved by the thought of how far we’ve come without forgetting how far we need to go. A few steps later, extremist groups were protesting this display of positivity with hate-fueled vitriol. Groups like these, which only know what they’re against and not what they’re for, only serve to deepen divisions between us.
In 2016, the LGBTQ+ community was attacked in a similar act of hate-induced violence, when a gunman opened fire at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, killing 49. In the days following, hundreds of people attended a vigil organized by the Federation’s CRC as sign of solidarity.
The Jewish community knows only too well the pain of being targeted for one’s identity. October 27 of this past year was one of the darkest days in our community’s history. An anti-Semitic terrorist killed 11 worshipers of the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, Dor Hadash, and New Light congregations, simply because they were Jewish. In our close-knit community in Pittsburgh, this was a fear that we never thought would be realized.
Here it is, just over two years later from the Pulse tragedy, and we were organizing a vigil for the victims of violence that took place our own backyard. Both communities were attacked in places where the Jewish and LGBTQ+ community respectively were authentically themselves. These attacks were desecrations of those safe spaces and what emerged from the horror was an inexplicable bond between our two communities.
One of the most incredible things we experienced in the aftermath of the shooting at the Tree of Life building was a complete and total sense of unity not only across the entire Jewish community, but the entire city of Pittsburgh. We were comforted by the assurance from the broader community that this was not just an attack on the Jewish community; this was an attack on all of us. It should not take a tragedy for us to realize how important it is to come together. In a way, the unity that the city of Pittsburgh experienced after October 27 is mirrored every year at Pride. It is a time for the LGBTQ+ community and allies across the spectrum to come together to affirm the values of love, acceptance, and equality.
While the Equality March is truly a highlight for many members of the Jewish community, we will be supporting from the sidelines this year, as June 9 is also the major Jewish holiday of Shavuot. Though this precludes our community from marching, the values on which we will be reflecting seem to fit perfectly with the values we share during Pride. One of the main tenets of Shavuot is that it is celebrated as the anniversary of the day that the Jewish people were given the Torah and commandments at Mount Sinai. Our tradition teaches us that all Jewish souls—past and future—were present at the receiving of the Torah and heard the voice of God. No matter their denomination, opinions, or lifestyle, Jews all stood together on the same day as one people. This sense of togetherness and peoplehood is a central aspect of Shavuot, just as standing together with other communities is a Jewish value. Similarly, Pride is a time for the LGBTQ+ community and allies across the spectrum to come together to affirm the values of love and equality. To march in support with Pride means to stand together as one. On Shavuot, we are reminded of a time when all were equal and all were standing as one harmonious community, focused on what unites, not what divides. As we celebrate Pride not just this month, but every day, let us remember that we are stronger together.
Laura Cherner is the Assistant Director of the Community Relations for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.