BY DANIEL ESTRIN, ASSOCIATED PRESS
JERUSALEM -- Just shy of midnight, Shahar Hadar trades his knitted white yarmulke for a wavy blond wig and a pink velvet dress.
Cheers greet him in a packed gay bar as he starts to swivel to a Hebrew pop song, his shiny red lips mouthing lyrics that mean more to him than the audience knows: "With God's help you'll have the strength / To overcome and give your all."
It has been a long and agonizing metamorphosis for Hadar, 34, from being a conflicted Orthodox Jew to a proud religious gay man — and drag queen. Most Orthodox Jewish gay men, like those in other conservative religious communities around the world, are compelled to make a devil's bargain: marry a woman to remain in their tight-knit religious community, or abandon their family, community and religion to live openly gay lives.
But while Orthodox Judaism generally condemns homosexuality, there is a growing group of devout gay Jews in Israel unwilling to abandon their faith and demanding a place in the religious community.
"As much as I fled it, the heavens made it clear to me that that's who I am," Hadar said. He is marching Thursday — out of costume — in Jerusalem's annual gay pride parade.