Ahead of Jerusalem’s 16th annual pride parade on Thursday, Jerusalem’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi Aryeh Stern made it clear that he didn’t think such an event belonged in the ancient, holy city.
Although Stern opposed any kind of violence at the parade, which has experienced tragedy in the past, the rabbi said that holding pride in Jerusalem is “causing more damage to its supporters than benefiting them.”
“The essence of this parade is contradicting the trend of Jerusalem as a holy city, and that is the city we want,” said Stern in an interview with Army Radio translated by The Jerusalem Post.
Thousands of residents seemed to disagree.
In fact, according to police estimates obtained by The Times of Israel, about 22,000 people attended the event ― waving rainbow colored flags, holding up signs, and singing together.
This year’s theme at Jerusalem’s pride was “LGBTQ and Religion.”
Dana International, a transgender Israeli pop star, wrote in a column that the parade was dedicated to religious queer Jews who “despite prohibitions, difficulties and boycotts, dare to be the first generation in our land to say in a loud voice that it is indeed possible to love and worship God and at the same time to realize who they really are.”
“How important it is for the world to see the march in Jerusalem today. They will see the great light, and not the evil and fanaticism and hatred of a handful of its citizens who want to tarnish its name and all of ours,” she wrote in the op-ed.
Rabbi Avi Novis Deutsch, a traditional Masorti rabbi, decided to march in the parade to show his support. In an op-ed published in Haaretz, he described the event as a “celebration of visibility.”
″[It’s] an opportunity to say yes, there are transgender, bisexual, queer, asexual, gay and lesbian members of Israeli society, and they should not be ashamed. On the contrary, they should be satisfied with their lot, and we should all give thanks to the Creator who made people different from one another,” Deutsch wrote.
Tensions between conservative and secular Jews in Israel have flared up at Jerusalem’s pride parade in the past.
In 2015, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man stabbed and wounded six people attending the parade, killing a 16-year-old named Shira Banki. The man, identified as Yishai Schlissel, is currently serving a life sentence in prison.
This year, pride participants left flowers near the spot on the route where Banki was stabbed, and kept moments of silence.
The participants were protected by heavy security measures, including video cameras, aerial surveillance, security checkpoints, and about 1,000 police and border patrol soldiers.
Conservative protesters held demonstrations near the parade route. More than 20 suspects were detained by police for intending to disrupt the parade ― including one person who reportedly had a knife.
Same-sex marriage is technically recognized in Israel, but queer Jewish couples have to go through a few hurdles in order to get married. All Jewish couples must get married through Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, which is opposed to marriage equality. As a result, lesbian and gay couples tend to get married overseas.
But support for same-sex marriage is on the rise. A recent survey found that 79 percent of Israelis support same-sex marriage or civil unions.
Scroll down for images from Jerusalem’s pride parade 2017.