JERUSALEM, Israel — Jerusalem's gay pride parade, which celebrated its tenth anniversary Wednesday, is known as the as the more sober sibling of Tel Aviv's exuberant extravaganza.
This year, someone thought of brightening it up: In the middle of the night, they stealthily crept up to the WELCOME sign that greets all arrivals to the city entrance, a sculpture on the side of the highway leading into town, and painted it in rainbow colors.
Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, was not amused. The letters were repainted bright white by midday. As usual, Barkat did not partake of the festivities. But the cheerful die had been cast.
The parade, which was overseen by hundreds of police officers, was nominally held in memory of Nir Katz, 26, and Liz Trobishi, 16, who were killed in a shooting at the community center for young gays in Tel Aviv three years ago. Though their names were mentioned, the unsolved murders did not cast a pall over the revelry.
As a matter of policy, not a single politician was invited to address the crowd.
"It was incredibly moving," said Daniel Jackler, a 31-year-old from Haifa, who was attending his first pride parade. "Jerusalem is the place."
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Uri Shmilovich, 29, an insurance salesman and another of the Haifa group of friends, who was wearing an improvised rainbow kilt and rainbow rabbit ears, said, "The message of this march is that homos and lesbians are everywhere, in all shapes and colors."
Police estimate that 3,500 marchers participated while organizers claimed the figure was closer to 5,000.
Tslil Keren, a 26-year-old Jerusalemite getting who is working on her master’s degree in psychology, also was attending her first march.
"I have a lot of friends in the LGBT community," she said, "and the Occupy movement has made me aware of the importance of coming out to the street. It felt important to be here."
She added that as a straight woman, "it is totally liberating!"
As usual in the Jerusalem march, an unexpected assortment of people could be discerned in the crowd including local Arabs and the occasional skullcap-wearing observant Jew.
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A small group of counter-protesters organized a parade of donkeys, likening homosexuality to "bestiality." But rainbow flags adorned downtown streets and balloons fluttered peacefully above the city parks.
Gallina Port Des Bras, a beloved Jerusalem drag queen, attired in faux diamonds and a clingy black ball gown for the parade, ended the event by inviting her loyal admirers to a nightlong party at Mikveh, one of the city's most popular gay bars.
In the holy city of Jerusalem, it is difficult to avoid cringe-inducing Biblical puns. Mikveh, the dive, is named after the ritual bath into which pious Jews plunge for purification, or, in other cases, for conversion.
As she was flocked by fans, Gallina, also known as Gil Naveh, seemed, at least for now, to have won the conversion game.