This week is Gay Pride week in Amsterdam. The city is hosting a whole range of events, culminating in the exuberant Canal Parade boat procession on Saturday. This is the 15th time that the parade has been held.
Alongside the 80 or more boats laden with scantily-clad partygoers and fun seekers, the parade through the city’s canals includes vessels from political and government organisations demonstrating their support for gay rights. Amsterdam’s newly-elected mayor Eberhard van der Laan is also taking part and has recorded a special filmed message to welcome everyone to the event. And this year, for the first time, a ‘Jewish boat’ will join in the festivities. It follows last year's first ever 'Muslim boat'.
The ‘Jewish boat’ is an initiative by Amsterdam’s Beit Ha'Chidush congregation. Representative Jelle Zijlstra said the congregation “is active in Gay Pride every year. The evening before the Canal Parade, we always hold a special Sabbath service on the theme of Gay Pride: the Pink Sabbath. We’ve wanted to sail [in the boat parade] for a long time but never managed to until now.”
The boat is white and decorated with slogans such as ‘Shalom’, its theme. “We are all dressed in white,” Jelle Zijlstra adds, “and wearing a pink yarmulke. ‘Shalom’ means ‘peace’ and that is the message we want to spread.”
Jelle Zijlstra says the discussion about homosexuality in the Jewish community follows the same lines as in its Christian and Muslim counterparts. “In orthodox circles, homosexuality is a taboo. Forbidden. But it also depends on how orthodox a community is. Within liberal communities there are positive noises to be heard, for example, about accepting gay marriage and consecrating it.”
In the Torah
Within the Torah, the first of three parts of the Hebrew Bible (and also the first five books of the Christian Old Testament) there are several texts that speak out clearly against homosexuality. Jelle Zijlstra doesn’t find that discouraging. “For orthodox Jews the Torah is the word of God and everything in it is true. No argument. For liberal Jews the Torah is also the word of God, but they emphasize that those words were written down by people within the framework of their time."
“But now,” he continues, “we live in another time with other demands. The Torah was written during a time when, for example, the need for reproduction was extremely important. Such a need is now less important. Now we find human dignity important. That people want to share their lives with each other in love and solidarity. What could be wrong with that?”