Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Last night while taking a bus across the city, the last bus of the night, I was a witness to a scene that is truly found only in Israel.

Fairly soon after sitting down, a group of three boys got on the bus, and I pegged them for Americans the second I saw the first one. Some of us tend to stick out like sore thumbs, some more than others, and these teens were among the most easily noticed. First of all, they all had on baseball hats with MLB logos, and the hats were cocked on their heads in the true "prep" fashion. Baseball is not an Israeli sport, and wearing a baseball hat in this manner screams 'American.'

The point is that these young men were probably of the 'conservative Jewish' movement, spending some amount of months here on some type of high school exchange or yeshiva program. That being said, one could presume that they know some Jewish law and principles.

Soon after these guys, two twenty-some year old gentlemen get on the bus. At first I thought one of them was a girl, actually. This feminine one had a wild 'Jew-fro,' the type of afro that a stereotypically curly-haired Jewish guy gets. Otherwise he looked normal, wearing a sweatshirt and jeans. His friend stuck out to me as a band-geek, or some type of artistic person, as he had the characteristic stereotypes of that group. He had long hair pulled back in a ponytail, wearing black rimmed, fancy glasses, a corduroy jacket, a nice sweater underneath, and dark, acid-washed jeans. They both were Israeli, speaking Hebrew, and were pretty hard to miss.

These two were homosexual. The effeminate one was quite physical with his other-half, and it seemed like the artsy one was not quite into the public display of affection. I'm not saying he shunned the fro-man, I'm just saying he wasn't nearly as physical. They were quite undoubtedly gay, however, and I could tell that the entire bus was watching them. The young Americans, being the prime age of needing to prove their masculinity, actually surprised me a bit.

This is the 'only in Israel' observation. Like anywhere in the world, Israel has homosexuals. Tel Aviv, the most hip, posh, and liberal area in Israel, is well known for its tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality, and occasionally you will hear boasts that that city is more accepting than most places in the "Western world," San Francisco excluded, of course. You can only imagine what the religious people of Jerusalem think of all this. For whatever reason, the homosexual alliance of Israel chooses Jerusalem every year to be the site of the gay pride parade, an event that I have witnessed twice. There is always violence, a mass protest by the religious, and inevitably some type of rioting throughout religious neighborhoods (ie- burning of dumpsters, smashing cars, etc). It's all really quite ridiculous.

Expecting these young men to sneer, or mumble vicious slurs to each other, I was a little blown away to hear their conversation on the matter turn to Torah. I was sitting by the window, with one of the guys sitting on the seat next to me, and the other two sitting in the seats directly in front of me. You see, I was just another member of their group, in the middle of the lion's den. They, however, must have mistaken me for an Israeli. In no way did I stick out as an American, in my dress, demeanor, or, as I said, I was privy to their unbridled opinions. I kept my mouth shut in order to hear what 15 year old New Yorkers thought of the scene.

The young men quickly quoted the Torah, which says something along the lines of "two men laying together is an abomination to the Lord." There's really no way around this Biblical proscription, so the teens were quickly quoting sources in agreeance, but their personal opinions also came out. All three of them were obviously 'against' homosexuality, but one of them stood out among the group. I didn't hear exactly what he said, but from what I did hear, it sounded like it was along the lines of something a little more militant than most would find tasteful. The two other boys quickly rebutted, admonishing him for saying something "assur," or forbidden. In Jewish law, you basically have "assur" and "motair," or forbidden and permitted. To say something like, "we should kill all gays," as I think the boy said, is certainly assur, and his Torah-conscious friend was right to chastise him.

Where else would you find 15 year old preppy guys, getting their first taste of adolescent testosterone, ready to prove their virility, discussing the philosophical and theological dimensions of such an issue? Sure, all across the world people talk about homosexuality along the lines of the Bible, but where, really, do 15 year old boys know to quote ancillary sources and the social implications of this topic? I was a little bit proud of these three Americans, considering that it would have been quite easy for them to turn their words to slurs and jokes, mockingly throwing off the humanity of those two partners. Instead, they treated the issue quite academically, and besides the one outburst, they could have had the same conversation in front of adults in any academic or theological environment. They were mature, in a word.

There are so many of these exchange programs, and Jerusalem is well known as being the hub, the center for Americans in Israel. Additionally, these teens are known for being rowdy, getting drunk under the relaxed liquor laws in Israel, and just generally bringing shame and a bad reputation to Americans. If you are an American here, in Jerusalem, many Israelis will look at you as immature and obnoxious, in many ways due to these unleashed teenagers.

The boys I saw were still young boys, of course. After a while, two of them started picking on the less tolerant one, by rubbing his shoulders, putting their arms around him, and sensually touching his face. It was quite humourous to see him get upset, and then hear the inevitable "you seem a bit defensive...everything ok?" Eh, at least they were mature at first!

One last word. Being that this ride was near to midnight, the bus was not so full. I was wondering what would have happened if the two homosexuals were being affectionate while the bus was full, with religious men and women watching. I know that there would have been a confrontation, with the religious literally yelling at them. There would have been much screaming, quoting religious sources, shaming them and showing quite the lack of tolerance. If you read what I wrote about Israelis not holding back with their opinions, vocally letting their presence be known, multiply that by two for religious Israelis speaking about religious law.

Now, that would have been something to write about!

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