Five years ago, I boarded a bus from my middle school in Brooklyn en route to march in my first Celebrate Israel Parade, a practice that I've continued through middle school and, now, high school. The once daunting task of walking some 20 blocks down Fifth Avenue on a hot Sunday in the beginning of June has become somewhat of a routine, something that I expected -- and, once I started high school, a welcome break from studying for the endless stream of tests and quizzes and papers. My fellow students and I were taught that marching in the parade was a privilege, that waving Israeli flags and singing Israeli songs was our way of showing that we supported Israel. We were also taught that it is imperative that we show our support for the Jewish State -- that we not only support her, but are vocal in our support. It was during the parades that, I believe, we learned how to do both effectively.
In those five years since I first marched, my views of Israel have changed, as have my perspectives on advocating for Israel and marching in the parade. As a participant in Write On For Israel, a program that teaches Jewish high school students how to advocate for Israel through journalism, I saw the need to advocate for Israel first-hand and learned how I can do my part to advocate for Israel. In the process of hearing how others relate to Israel, I learned how to relate to Israel from across the Atlantic Ocean and to use that connection to advocate for what I believe in. One of those ways, I believe, is through marching in the Celebrate Israel Parade.
And so, for me, the Celebrate Israel Parade isn't particularly celebratory. I don't march because I need to celebrate Israel -- I march out of my own need and desire to advocate for something that I believe in. For me, the Celebrate Israel Parade is not only to celebrate Israel's accomplishments, but to show my own support for the Jewish State. Although I might personally disagree with some of the Israeli government's decisions, it is my job to advocate on behalf of Israel nevertheless, as it should be for all Jews, Zionists or believers in a homeland of our own. The parade used to be something mundane, an excuse for me to either complain about marching or march as a welcome distraction from studying. Since then, however, it has become something more than that -- when I take an Israeli flag from the bucket that my school brings, or when I help hold a banner while marching in the parade, I feel like I am doing my part to advocate for Israel, however small that may be.
This June, I had the privilege of marching in a second parade: the New York Pride Parade. Going to the parade, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. The first thing that I noticed is that, overall, people were wearing less clothing than they were at a Celebrate Israel Parade. And the pop music blaring out of the speakers on the floats was in English, as opposed to in Hebrew. More than that, though, I think that Pride was just that: an opportunity to celebrate and show my pride in what sets me apart from other people.
Do I feel the need to advocate for the LGBT community? Yes. However, I don't necessarily think that Pride parades are effective forms of advocacy. Effective advocacy, for me, is showing the world that the LGBT community is, essentially, no different from the heterosexual community. By accentuating our differences from the heterosexual community, we aren't advocating -- we're showing, fittingly, our pride in ourselves at the Pride Parade. We are showing the world how proud we are of what makes us unique. By going to Pride, I don't see myself as advocating for the LGBT community in the traditional sense. I see myself as identifying with part of a larger community of people who are different -- and, in many ways, marginalized -- in much the same ways I am. At the parade, I lost that feeling of marginalization by placing myself within the greater LGBT community. By flying an oversized rainbow flag with a Jewish Star in the middle down Fifth Avenue at Pride, I affirmed my connection to the LGBT community, and the commitment I have made to making the world a better place for the LGBT community, and particularly the Jews therein.
For me, the Celebrate Israel Parade was showing that you don't have to be what seems to be a stereotyped fanatic to support the State of Israel. At the Celebrate Israel Parade, you are just a regular person who is showing your support for Israel. To me, that is effective advocacy. Celebrate Israel isn't a matter of pride -- it's matter of advocacy, born out of the necessity to show my support of Israel. Unlike my feeling marginalized for being gay, I do not feel that same marginalization for my supporting Israel. Do I sometimes feel like mine might be a minority stance? Yes, but that doesn't make me feel marginalized. That just makes me realize the work I need to do.
On the other hand, Pride took a part of me that I had spent a considerable portion of my life so far hiding and being ashamed of and made it something that, now, I am proud of. At Pride, I was unabashedly flaunting the fact that I am gay for the entire world to see. Was I strutting around in Hello Kitty underwear, and nothing else? No. Did I march in the Pride Parade, around other people who had gone through much of what I have, and enabled me to be proud of who I am? Yes.
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