How I saved a gay guy from prostitution

Jerusalem-born theater screenwriter, actor and director Netanel Azulay explains why having a Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem is still very important, by revealing a personal story from his past.

About two years ago, I returned home from a visit to my parents’ house in Jerusalem, my hometown. It was late, I got off at the bus station, the station and surrounding streets were empty. I walked in fear and anxiety, holding the phone close to my mouth, pretending I was speaking with my dad in case a threatening situation popped out. While I hurried my pace, I noticed a skinny boy standing on the side of the road, next to a car that slowed down and stopped next to him. The car window opened, the boy went to it, and instantly I could see that this was a case of prostitution and exploitation.

A few seconds passed, and I found myself moving towards the car, shouting at the boy: “Itamar! Itamar”. The frightened boy looked at me blankly, and I continued with confidence: “Come on, dad is waiting for us back home.” The boy signaled the older guy sitting in the car to leave, and the car pulled away.

He hesitantly came towards me with big eyes, and I stood frozen in front of him. “I have no father, who are you?” he asked in a whisper. “Come with me, don’t be afraid, I won’t hurt you,” I told him while I tried to smother the pain that threatened to break in my throat and drown us both.

“Come on, give me your hand, I promise to take you to safety. No one will hurt you,” I said again. I wanted him to trust me and feel comfortable. When he came, I could see he was unusually skinny. He pulled out a black Yarmulke from his pocket and put it on his head.

“Where do your parents live?”, I asked, and he said he had no parents. We spent the next few hours of the night in a warm place, where he received assistance and a warm bed. The morning had already dawned, I wanted to go home, but as I was saying goodbye he asked me to stay with him until he fell asleep.

Before he fell asleep he whispered “Shema Israel”, while trying to close his eyes. “Are you religious?” I asked, as if to share a common past. “I was,” he whispered, and began to cry. I put my hand on his head until he calmed down. “I’ll stay here until you fall asleep.”

In the minutes we spent together before he fell asleep he told me he grew up in a religious family in Jerusalem. I assumed that his parents were alive, but not for him. It is probably the “natural family” that MK Shai Piron or other religious right-wing MKs talk about. Expel your child from home, the natural place. What is more painful than losing parents while they are still alive, only because of dark opinions, I asked myself.

The next time I saw the kid was at the Jerusalem Gay Pride last year. We met quite by accident. He seemed happy in the group of people who are asking for a little sanity in this country. Among all the people who walked with colorful flags and political signs, I could identify with his feeling, that one day we may feel like family. I looked at him, the same boy, not so skinny anymore, happy and sane, and in my heart I said “Shma Israel” almost a decade after he had said it to me.

But reality has never seemed so bleak. These are insane times. We have become very few, and too indifferent to those who day to day carry the terror of homophobia. We don’t have to be so proud that in Tel Aviv we can go hand in hand on the streets; we have to fight for being able to do so in other cities as well.

So you’re allowed to wonder “why do we need gay pride in Jerusalem?”, “What are you fighting for?” Or “Why is there a bunch of perverts on trucks in Tel Aviv?”, But remember that calls for freedom and equality have all kinds of shapes and forms. And those who called then to cancel the parade in Netanya because they say it’s an abomination, tomorrow will seek to ban wearing tank-tops. And now look: someone has already decided for us when we can do our shopping on the weekends.

The Jerusalem Pride Parade will be held on Thursday, September 18. Let’s demonstrate and unite, to bring out the joy of Jerusalem, in all its variety, its sanity, its love. Get out of the house to make the parade big, more powerful, and especially to give light to those who need it. Tel Aviv celebrated, now it’s time to wake up to our Jerusalem lives.

And if someone is not comfortable with the parade – they can remain alone at home, in the closet, in the dark. We don’t intend to. Not now.