By Rachel Mauro
“You have to leave because you are making people feel unsafe.” These women, with their vibrantly colored hair, their countercultural stud jewelry, and shirts emblazoned with LGBTQ+ slogans, are supposed to be my allies. These women, who talk online of “celebration,” of open arms. Outside our little community, people in pressed suits walk quickly on the sidewalk, eyes downcast. Inside, sisters chant in joyous, defiant unison: “Queer and proud! Queer and proud!”
I am wearing a t-shirt and jeans. In that way, I resemble most of the marchers here. Almost. I chose my Jewish youth group shirt deliberately but imagined myself as part of a patchwork sea with other ethnic groups doing the same. Now, the bold Hebrew lettering on my chest blazes like a siren. But that’s not why these organizers of the queer rights march are kicking me out, they say. They say it’s the Star of David rainbow patch knit onto my backpack.
“You are putting people in danger.” Yael made the patch for me, three years ago when we met at an LGBTQ+ Shabbaton retreat. We lit tea light Shabbat candles and stood in a swaying circle with everyone else, singing “Hinei Mah Tov” and “This Little Light of Mine.” The knit pendant in my hand, settling into the grooves of my palm like a second skin.
“This is a pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist event.” A woman walks by with a sign reading “Shatter Oppression and Lift Each Other Up!” My body is cold. I came here sparking, limbs on fire. I wanted to grasp the hands of women like this, to lift them high up into the air.
“We don’t care what you think the star means.” Sparse pendants dot the horizon—the crescent moon and star, the raised black fist, of course, the rainbow flag. Am I wrong to think of them as I do? To draw connect-the-dots to Yael’s star? “Lift each other up.” I shiver, hands grasping. The woman with the sign is gone.
Soon after we met, Yael told me, “You are not alone. We have a people, we have a place.” We joined with the queer Jews who sat by a bonfire at the Shabbaton. I shared the story about coming out to my mom after someone at school called me a dyke. The way Mom quaked in her midwestern hometown when people called her “Jew girl.” Of my grandfather who started a synagogue there, schlepping to the nearest city for kosher wine and challah.
“You can’t pedal your hate here.” Here at the march, I can hardly move at all. My feet drag like weights, but I shove my un-doctored nose into the womens’ faces. “I am a Jew. A queer Jew.” My chest heaves in equal parts fear and indignation. The women take a step back. “Get the fuck out of here!”
I turn and walk on watery legs. Does time move on or does it stop, like a dam built into a current? Have they already forgotten me, or tonight will they grumble on Twitter about Zionists?
“Purity tests,” Yael had sniped that morning.
I slung my backpack onto my back. “Not all marches are like that.”
“Yeah, but how can you tell the difference? Where’s our safe space?”
I cut through the marchers, who move by me unevenly but uniformly. Streams of rainbow flags and signs with similar slogans. Maybe the span of two arms only reaches so far. Maybe they’re straining for me with outstretched fingers. But when I step onto the sidewalk, outside the community, their bodies close behind me like the Red Sea.
It’s easy to see the flaws from the outside. But oh, how I want back in. The thrum of the crowd, the thrill of all those diverse faces. “Love, not hate, makes America great!” “Lift each other up!” Holding each other hand in hand, like Yael and I did at the Shabbaton. We fill each other’s crevices, our figures making space for various sexualities, differing beliefs. We sing folk songs in Hebrew, English, and other languages. The world, for just a little while, welcomes us in.