S.F. Pride: Theyre here, theyre queer, theyre Jewish

"Yeah Jews!" a passerby called out as he walked past the Jewish Family and Children's Services and Congregation Sha'ar Zahav booth at the 31st annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Celebration on Sunday.

"People seem very happy to see a Jewish presence here," said Sarah Verke, who was working the booth. A contingent from JFCS was one of several Jewish groups and synagogues that marched to show their pride or solidarity with the LGBT community.

Participating for the first time this year was the Pacific Northwest region of the Anti-Defamation League.

"This is a perfect fit for us," said Jessica Ravitz, ADL associate director. "If we're going to be a true agency looking for fair treatment for all citizens, then looking out for the gay community and showing our solidarity falls within our mission."

About 25 people marched behind the ADL banner, including board members, involved students and friends and family members.

Taking part in the rainbow-saturated parade in San Francisco was something the watchdog agency had thought about in the past, she said, but this was the first time someone in the office took the initiative and made it happen. "It was a tremendous experience," Ravitz said.

About 30 people marched with the JFCS contingent, including its board president, Norman Olson. They gave away buttons along the parade route, and quickly ran out.

"We all felt it was a really great success," said LGBT Outreach Project Coordinator Margaret Rothman, who represented JFCS in the booth after the parade and had marched earlier in the day with her mother.

If there were truly one million people there as reported, she said, "this was great exposure and what we're going for. We want people to know that the Jewish community and that JFCS in particular is really welcoming."

Beth Sousa, who worked the shared booth for San Francisco Congregation Sha'ar Zahav, said that many people signed up to receive information packets from the progressive, queer-friendly synagogue.

"One guy had just moved here, and asked, 'Are you the gay synagogue I've heard about?'" she said.

One curious passersby was David Steinberg of Oakland, clad in a hot pink tie-dyed T-shirt.

Steinberg moved to the Bay Area four years ago from Boston, where LGBT Jews rented out a church once a month for Shabbat.

Having a LGBT synagogue is "really neat," he said.

A few booths away was a group made up mostly of Jewish women wearing "Queers for a Free Palestine" buttons, and one of them wore a kaffiyeh. The women marched as "Lesbian and Gay Insurrection" together with activists of all ethnicities and religions.

Their banner called for divestment from Israel and the right of return for Palestinians.

When asked why they felt the need to call attention to the Palestinian cause at the pride parade, Kate Raphael of Berkeley said that "every issue is a gay issue. We can't have queer liberation without all liberation. Gay rights equals human rights."

But in terms of a Middle Eastern presence, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was overshadowed by Dana International's afternoon performance on the main stage. After Donny Inbar, the cultural attaché at the Consul General of Israel introduced the transgender pop star as the "sexiest, prettiest ambassador," the singer jumped around and gyrated in a tight, white, backless jumpsuit with a plunging neckline.

Wearing blue and silver-beaded necklaces with circular medallions reading "Peace and Shalom" on one side and "Dana International" on the other, Bruce Henry of San Francisco said he had been following the Israeli diva's career for three years.

"She's a symbol that Israel is a very accepting society. I'm proud to have a transsexual representing them to the rest of the world," he said.

And Eran Amit, an Israeli who lives in San Francisco, said he was surprised that the Israeli foreign ministry was behind the singer's visit.

"She definitely brings another side of Israel; not what you usually see in the news," Amit said. "But I'm not sure she represents most of the people in Israel."

Indeed, after performing her hit song "Diva" that won the 1998 Eurovision song contest, Dana International finished her set by asking the audience to visit Israel — with a pitch that the Israeli Ministry of Tourism should consider using on those reluctant to travel during the current conflict.

"Israeli boys and girls are gorgeous, they're friendly," said the self-styled ambassador, before taking it a step further by describing her compatriots with a particularly flirtatious attribute — a word chosen especially for this crowd. The audience cheered raucously.

And with a devilish grin, Dana declared: "You're all invited!"

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."