Posted by Chanel Dubofsky
I read a book during Yom Kippur services this year. Not a prayer book, or even anything on Judaism, just a novel, albeit a good one. I felt like a jerk, but it was either bring a book or not show up at all, and honestly, I wasn’t prepared to deal with that particular guilt.
It’s the liturgy that does me in, the persistent gendering of Gd, and the feeling that I can’t shake that everyone around me is faking the connection. Let’s be honest, I usually am, in some capacity, and this time of year. Of course, I’m supposed to be wrestling with text, I’m supposed to be uncomfortable, it’s supposed to be hard work, everyone is feeling these things. Fine. In spite of this, tr I was totally unable to even open the Silverman machzor, where Gd is a man, and the King (I know, I know, it’s the season.) I can’t even handle the concept of Gd as a woman, I just keep thinking about the sheer gall of humans being able to decide that Gd, an idea, a presence, an unknowable source of awe, can be defined, can be attributed power, via something as limited and insidious as the gender binary.
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September 24, 2010 | 3:54 pm
Posted by Tera Greene
Sukkot is a time to visit and be with friends and family in environmental settings to bring us closer to the natural world. It is a holiday that reminds us that we are all equal and that injustice is not imperative to joyful life. It is a time to remember again of the Exodus, and to connect with our past wandering in order to identify with the current state of suffering by so many “others” who are destitute in this world.
Lately, I have been well into the mindset of feeling complete and utter isolation. I’ve been feeling poor because of lack of knowing which way is up, of feeling a lack of knowing whom the real genuine people are in my life and feeling like G-d is always testing me but failing to show me more of the reflection of good that I have in my heart and imagination. Thusly, I have been doing an overhaul in order to regain the richness of my life, my trust in humankind and grow the best friendship I have ever had with any Entity (i.e. Hashem). I’m now on day 11 of an 8 week plan to rid myself of people, things and ideals, and so far, so gut. I think it’s now been over a month since I’ve deactivated my Facebook account, too, an act that has freed me in so many ways. I’ve been taking time to read more, learn more and grow more. I also stay inside more, only going out to daven or to be with people I feel serve my best interests, or to go to free events. With every inch of myself that I release and let go of, I become more focused and more apt to be creative, and I’m making some of the most awesome music that I’ve created in a long time. Though my smiles have been replaced with more thought-induced, closed-mouthed facial expressions, inside I feel a calm and a full readiness to meet myself halfway. Now don’t mistake this for a statement that I lack self-love, as people are always quick to judge and project; because to put it simply, learning to be humble and modest have been harder than anything for me to do for as long as I can recall. But I have finally mastered the art of being humble through putting into the forefront the part of my Self-puzzle that displays heightened modesty and exudes sincere gratitude habitually. I have gotten so good at this feat that my modesty often shadows over my greatness, and I often feel people don’t see Me because I’ve learned to stifle my aire. But, people are noticing me more, reaching out to me more, though I’ve been absent, which tells me that somehow, someway, my light shines brightly, even when I don’t expect nor want it to. I suppose the current shedding will bring a balance between the extremes as more energy pathways are opened for me. Yet, I shan’t forget that those that matter shouldn’t mind how I act because they see my true character and my actions, and if they mind, they definitely shouldn’t matter to me.
The more I shed, the more I go back to my True Self. The dilemma is that my True Self is the intellectually creative loner who doesn’t feel the need to be around others, because I operate on a different stratosphere of thought and Being (admittedly, yes, I am slightly cocky). I also don’t feel the impetus to be with others when the world has proven so cold, so shady, so untrusting. But then I remember that I have a good heart, and in my heart of hearts I don’t ever give up hope that there are good people in the world. Truthfully my happiness does shine more in the presence of others, because the loner that I am also sees the importance of human contact from time-to-time. Though is it any wonder why the professions I pursue - writing, music production and djing - are solo ventures of expression at their fundamental levels, and only when I feel like it do I seek out others, or want to perform in front of people? These are all activities I can most-assuredly do by myself and before I ever begin to share my gifts with anyone else, I do them for myself and G-d, with or without getting paid. I mean yes I want to make a living doing these things I love to do, but I constantly sing and create songs throughout the day, for example, and most of them just float into the air without a soul ever to hear them or without me having the time to record them. I do these actions because I innately need to, like breathing.
But G-d made us all so that we could come together, and Sukkot is a great time for this. I remember in an earlier post I mentioned I would tell about how I brought Shabbat to London this year. In a nutshell, I was in Israel and bought wine at the Galil Mountain Winery, and some how, through trekking across the desert, sleeping in bedouin tents and on kibbutzim, unloading and packing up everyday, and having luggage thrown atop mine much to my dismay, I was able to make it from Israel to London after a week of this intense traveling with the wine bottle in tact, and two unbroken wine glasses as well. I also was gifted a Havdallah candle in Tz’fat that I re-gifted to my friends in London, and purchased a postcard in the shape of challah, which didn’t get bent. That’s the magic of peoplehood, of Shabbat, and of being a queer who knows how to pack. No pun intended. The delight of lighting the candles with my two gay friends whom I visited in London after my journey from Israel filled me with joy, because I brought Shabbas to London, where Synagogues, I found, were scarce near the area I stayed, and my friends had not many Jewish friends to celebrate Shabbat with. Especially not a loner as fierce as me! *finger snaps*
Which brings me to the power of Sukkot again. Tonight is Shabbas AND another fine day of Sukkot. May you find yourself in the midst of joy and happiness, and fulfilling the mitzvah of visiting over the course of this holiday, for no matter how lonely or how much of a loner you think you are, people usually enjoy seeing an old friend once in a while. And for all purposes of sanity, seeing more faces than yourn after being sequestered for self-prescribed preservation - heck, experiencing other energies other than yourn - is what life is about. We are all equal and no matter what, humans make the world go ‘round. Don’t be a stranger, and if you notice a friend acting as such, there’s no harm in reaching out and inviting them in.
Tera “Nova Jade* Greene is a loner, but she means well. See what she’s up to by going to her personal website.
September 22, 2010 | 3:26 pm
Posted by Naomi Goldberg
It seems like the Jewish New Year has brought with it lots of LGBT-related news. And while I’m generally quite the pessimist and despite a few recent challenges, I am still feeling pretty good about things.
So, let’s start with the bad news. Yesterday, in some complicated legislative maneuvering and pitting groups against one another, the US Senate voted against repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which forces LGBT military members into the closet and mandates that if service members are “outed” in any way, they are susceptible to discharge. The House had already voted to repeal the law, President Obama has come out against the law, and the US military has stated the law should go. So, for the estimated 66,000 LGB people currently serving in the military, this vote means they have to continue hiding in the closet. I’m here in DC this week, and I have to say, it is hard to walk around this town and not feel totally demoralized.
But, there are reasons to feel better about the state of LGBT America. While our elected officials in Washington, DC may not be getting it done, several recent studies find that Americans in general are warming to the idea of equality for LGBT people. The evidence:
1) A recent survey of 2,300 people across the US over seven years found that the number of people who consider LGBT couples with children to be “families” has risen from 54% to 68%. That’s right – more than two out of three people in the US think of LGBT people raising kids to be a family.
2) A study by the Pew Center for the People and the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that only 35% of Americans indicate that religion is the most important influence on how they feel about marriage equality for LGBT people. It is much higher for folks who identify as “conservative” –60%.
Judges around the country are also using the Constitution to conclude that discrimination against LGBT must go.
1) Just today a judge in Florida concluded that the law prohibiting adoption by “homosexuals” is unconstitutional.
2) A judge in California declared earlier this month that the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is unconstitutional because it doesn’t actually make the military stronger, which has been the justification used for more than a decade.
3) In California, Proposition 8, which amended the state’s constitution to define marriage between a man and a woman, was found to violate the US Constitution.
4) In Massachusetts, a judge found that the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognized same-sex couples who are legally married in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, or Washington, DC is also unconstitutional.
There are certainly many fights ahead – ensuring the LGBT aren’t fired from their jobs just for being LGBT, securing economic justice for low income LGBT people, putting an end to discrimination in health services, and the list continues – but these are important victories and signs that 5771 may be a good year for fulfilling the dream of equality under the law for all Americans.
September 15, 2010 | 11:02 am
Posted by Lia Mandelbaum
As Yom Kippur approaches, I reflect upon the past year and where I have fallen short of being reasonable, mindful, honest and respectful. Each year, I do this in hopes of becoming more spiritual, feeling more connected to G-d, to myself and to those around me. I work very hard to face my character defects, even the ones that are immensely difficult to look at. I recently found myself engaged in a situation where I was angered by the behavior of others. It what was ultimately revealed to me that in the past, I too had been guilty of perpetuating the same behaviors. This was a lesson that came full circle, and was very humbling for me. I felt that this situation was important to reflect upon for Yom Kippur.
Last weekend, I took a trip to San Diego with my girlfriend to visit her family. One night, we decided to go out for dinner and were then going to meet up with some friends to go bowling. As we were eating dinner, we heard yelling and thought that people were protesting across the street. After we finished eating, we headed towards my girlfriend’s car. It quickly became clear where the source of the yelling was. There was an intense man walking back and forth yelling quotes from the bible, preaching his own interpretations of Jesus’ teachings. He screamed about addiction, he screamed about homosexuality, and yelled at us about our sins. It was painfully clear that he believed that gays, Jews, and alcoholics were all going straight to hell. He demanded that we embrace Jesus if we wanted to be saved. Surrounding this outraged man were about 15 teenagers, all carrying signs stating that Jesus was our savior, and unless we embraced him now we would be spending an eternity paying for our choices. My partner and I could not avoid walking through the crowd because they were standing right by our car. At first, my partner asked me if I wanted to let go of her hand because she was concerned that the situation was growing too uncomfortable for me. I was not ashamed, and held her hand tightly as we walked through the group. A young woman stopped us and asked us if we believed that Jesus was our savior. My partner proudly stated that we are Jewish, and the young woman responded “but don’t you want to know who G-d is?” My partner smiled at the woman, and politely told her, that she did know who her G-d is. As we pulled out of our parking space, we approached a stop sign directly next to the group of activists. As I looked out the window towards the crowd, three young people holding signs approached the car door. I looked into the eyes of a young man as he asked me, “Where are you going when you die? How will your actions measure up?” His eyes seemed angry and judgmental and his body language was confrontative. I looked over at my girlfriend who smiled back at me, and took her hand as we pulled away.
The next morning, I kept thinking about that young man’s face, and felt angered and baffled by his judgement. I knew that I wanted to write about this experience in my blog, but I found that I had lost the clarity, intention, direction and purpose that were needed to write about this experience. I sat down several times, trying to write and express how I felt, but the words would not come. As I replayed the situation over and over again in my head, I lost my train of thought distracted by the anger and judgment. I found myself obsessing on them for having forced their ideals upon us, and got wrapped up in my overwhelming emotions . I finally stopped myself, in order to figure out where my writers block was coming from and realized that my anger had blinded me and I was unable to see the situation with clarity. Realizing this, I was shocked by the vicious cycle of anger that I too was guilty of perpetuating, and was alarmed by my own self-righteousness.
While I strongly disagree with the approach used by this particular group of people, it is essential that I see their humanity. I discussed the situation with a friend the day after it happened and she told me she believed that the look I had seen in the young man’s face was more likely fear than anger. She helped me to see the humanity in those religious believers by exploring where the root of their behavior may have come from. These religious followers believed so strongly in what they were preaching that were driven to shout it from the street corners. It takes a tremendous amount of faith to do what those people do. In that moment I no longer viewed that group of people as being full of hate, judgmental or dangerously closed minded as I had before. When exploring their humanity, I felt like I understood them.
I recently heard a story about a Rabbi who had a special place in his heart for people who were criminals, alcoholics, and prostitutes. The Rabbi embraced these outcasts of society, believing that he could help them to return to righteousness. Some of his loyal followers questioned why such a holy and religious man would have such compassion upon these people, and were confused as to how their beloved Rabbi could relate to these people. He responded, “When I look at them, I see myself and I know that if I cannot see myself in them, I have not looked deep enough.” The situation that I encountered last week revealed to me that through my own judgment, I too am guilty of judging others. This Yom Kippur, I will reflect upon my own thoughts and beliefs and strive to live in acceptance in this coming year. “I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes.” May this next year be filled with humility, love, compassion, and kindness. Shana Tova.
September 14, 2010 | 11:12 pm
Posted by Kalil Cohen
At last month’s TG Film Fest in Hollywood, there was a fascinating film about genderqueer Jewish artists Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, made by award-winning filmmaker Barbara Hammer. The lives of these incredible artists is fascinating as they were trailblazers living way ahead of their times. It’s hard to believe that the pictures at right were taken from the 1920s through the 1940s.
Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore were Surrealist artists, lovers, and step-sisters who had a prolific output of fascinating, magnetic photos. The gender-bending artists lived and worked together all their adult lives, leaving Paris for Jersey Isle in the 1930s. During the 1940s they were living on Jersey Isle in England when the Nazis occupied the island during WWII. Not only did Cahun and Moore refuse to register when all the Jews on the island were mandated to do so, but they began agitating German soldiers to resist the war. They communicated with soldiers by placing small papers in their pockets, or under their tea cups at the soldier’s barracks across the street from their house. These papers would have hand-written messages in German, urging the soldiers to overthrow their leaders. Cahun and Moore organized their anti-war efforts in five languages while also continuing their artistic pursuits.
Eventually they were imprisoned by the Nazis, accused of subversive activities, and of owning a radio and camera. It is amazing that so many of their photos survived the Nazi arrest and trial. This trail resulted in a death sentence. To the Germans they were “the worst kind of Jews” – artists, lesbians, gender variant. They had also found erotic photos, which were destroyed. Cahun and Moore’s lives were saved, however, by a high-ranking Jersey Isle official who pleaded the Germans to spare them. This rare favor was granted, and Cahun and Moore lived the rest of their lives on Jersey Isle.
Along with being inspirational as artists, their organizing and war-resistance is something that I admire greatly about these genderqueer Jews. During the war, Claude Cahun said: “If there is horror, it is for those who speak indifferently of the next war. If there is hate, it is for hateful qualities, not nations. If there is love, it is because this alone kept me alive.” This film reminded me of the importance of preserving and teaching our queer history, because we are so often erased from the Official History. In addition, they make me proud of my identities, which I think is a healthy feeling we all have a right to. This feeling can only come as a result of knowing about those who came before you, and feeling inspired by the amazing leaders who have changed the world around them for the better. Knowing of their legacy inspires me to continue making art that matters to me, living my life honestly and with passion, and facing the challenges around me with creativity and zeal.
September 14, 2010 | 9:05 am
Posted by Maital Guttman
Jerusalem is home to some of the most religious Jews in the world. But, it’s also home to the Jerusalem Open House, an LGBT center in the heart of downtown. Today, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the Jerusalem Municipality cannot discriminate against LGBT institutions and must pay $120,000 to the center. Can you imagine the US Supreme Court ruling anything close to this?
September 12, 2010 | 5:48 am
Posted by Maital Guttman
Rabbi Fred Guttman is the Senior Rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, NC. The synagogue is at the forefront of LGBT inclusion, especially in the South, with its annual LGBT Shabbat and Seder. He is guest blogging in response to the most recent ruling to overturn Prop 8.
The struggle for LGBT equality is at the forefront of the civil rights movement. We see discrimination that is either condoned or approved by local and federal government on a range of topics from employment to marriage and immigration to adoption. Thankfully, we are beginning to see progress made, but there is still much work to be done.
This week Federal Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Proposition 8, California’s ban on same sex marriage is unconstitutional.
The American Foundation for Equal Rights recruited Ted Olson, a conservative, and David Boies, a liberal, to serve as the lead lawyers in a federal court challenge to the amendment. Prop 8 campaign leaders and extreme right-wing organizations like the National Organization for Marriage and Focus on the Family succeeded in denying Americans the opportunity to watch this historic trial on television.
Ted Olson, the legendary attorney who teamed up with one-time adversary David Boies to successfully lead this case. You might remember them as the tow lead attorneys in the Bush v Gore case after the election in 2000. Olsen said it better than anyone when he said:
“If there was ever a trial in the history of our country that the American people should have seen, it was this one.”
The ruling states “Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite- sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. (Full text)”
Proposition 8, adopted by ballot initiative in 2008, effectively denies gay and lesbian individuals the same rights afforded heterosexual couples under the law. Judge Walker’s decision reaffirms the strong commitment to equality upon which our nation is built.
At Temple Emanuel of Greensboro, we are desirous to communicate that gays and lesbians are truly welcome, not merely tolerated. There will be no asterisks, no hidden messages. We will sincerely welcome all who wish to explore the Jewish journey towards spirituality and social justice.
The issue of LBGT rights is front and center on our agenda as reform Jews.
We will strenuously oppose Defense of Marriage laws and amendments to state constitutions.
We will continue to support efforts to provide the legal mechanisms necessary in order that all LGBT couples who wish to enter into a relationship whether one calls it a marriage or a civil union will have ALL of the same legal rights that heterosexual couples currently enjoy.
We will continue to work for passage of ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in Congress.
We will continue to advocate on a state level for acts such as the School Violence Prevention Act and initiatives that would expand the protection of the state hate crimes law to gays and lesbians.
When it comes to weddings and marriage, Judaism is very specific. Traditionally, a Jewish wedding can really take place in one of two ways. The first way is to sign a Ketubah, a Jewish marriage document. Technically, at our weddings, after the Ketubah is signed, the couple is already married and there is no reason to continue on with a ceremony. Obviously, however, most do.
The ceremony itself has two main parts in it. The first part is the exchange of rings, where the couple says to one another, “Behold you are consecrated to me as my wife or my husband in keeping with the tradition of Moses in Israel.” And the second is the traditional seven marriage blessings, which are said by the Rabbi or the Cantor. These seven blessings are some two thousand years old and ask that the couple is experiencing maybe like that of the original couple in the Garden of Eden and that that joy should be experienced in the city of Jerusalem.
I am forbidden by North Carolina State Law to officiate at a wedding where I have not been presented with a marriage license. I have to sign off on the marriage license and send it to the Register of Deeds here in Guilford County. However, I want to stress that from a Jewish perspective, just having a marriage license is really not a Jewish wedding, nor does it constitute a Jewish marriage.
I mention this because I honestly do believe that there is an issue of Church-State separation here. The State may give legal status to a civil union between a husband and a wife, but it is solely our religious tradition that can give to a Jewish couple a sanctification of their union. As a matter of fact, the word for marriage, Kiddushim, means just that, sanctification.
Events of the past week have convinced me more than ever that we as Jews need to uphold and extend even further the separation of Church and State, especially as it applies to marriage. It is time for the government to get out of the “marriage business.” The government’s job should be to protect the rights of American Citizens to enter into contractual unions with one another, regardless of sexual preference. Marriage should be left to the realm of religious institutions and clergy. For those who want some sort of non-sectarian union, there is always the option of having such a ceremony performed by a judge or a Justice of the Peace.
Finally, I wanted to say that, from a Jewish perspective, this is not only an issue of Church and State separation and the protection of the rights of American Citizens to enter into contractual unions with one another. As Jews, we are guided by the very basic belief that all human beings are created b’tselem Elohim, “in God’s own image.” As Rabbi David Saperstein said in Congressional testimony in support of Economic Non-Discrimination Act, “Regardless of context, discrimination against any person arising from apathy, insensitivity, ignorance, fear, or hatred is inconsistent with this fundamental belief. We oppose discrimination against all individuals, including gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, for the stamp of the Divine is present in each and every one of us.”
We will reject what we consider to be selective reading of biblical texts, which in our opinion often comes from a homophobic perspective.
We condemn the reading of the Hebrew bible to support homophobic positions which would isolate homosexuals for special admonition.
Like heterosexual men and women, LGBT’s are God’s children, capable of bringing light and love to a planet whose darkness is caused not only by sin, but also misguided judgmentally.
Finally as Jews, we remember that some sixty years ago, the Nazi war machine killed 6,000,000 Jews and three hundred thousand Roma or gypsies. Let us not forget however that eight years prior to the mass murder of Jews, homosexuals and people of special needs were gassed in an effort to “purify” the Aryan race.
Our society often says the fashionable slogan of “Never Again,” but do we really mean it?
So we know, of course, that this decision will be reviewed by other Courts, including in all likelihood, the U.S. Supreme Court. Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage launched a counter-attack to rally the religious right, calling Walker’s decision a sign of a “Soviet-style” government takeover of marriage, leading the way as conservative groups stroke a backlash against the decision. Apparently, those against the Prop 8 decision will stop at nothing to delegitimize this decision before it ever reaches the Supreme Court.
And we know that the long march to full marriage equality will not be uninterrupted; there will be victories such as we celebrate today as well as setbacks. But it becomes clearer every day that we are now, finally and blessedly, on a road that is destined to end with justice for gay and lesbian Americans.
In a statement this week, the national leadership of the Reform Movement wrote: “We will continue to stand with the LGBT community in California, and all who cherish justice, as this case makes its way through the Court system. We are proud of the leadership roles played by so many Reform Movement rabbis and activists, and we stand ready to work with them as we move forward.”
So as Reform Jews, we welcome this week’s crucial ruling by Judge Vaughn Walker, holding that California’s ban on same-sex marriage is a violation of the Constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses.
As Reform Jews, we believe that when we first are able to see the beauty in others, only then will our eyes be opened and we will be able to see that beauty within ourselves. When we first are able to be kind to others, only then will we be able to open up and be kind to ourselves. When we first are able to forgive others, only then will we be able to open up and forgive ourselves. In our world as God made it. Let us cherish the fact that there are those of different religions and races and those of different sexual persuasions.
Friends when we look at others who might be different from us, let us cherish their difference and appreciate their diversity. When we see them as beautiful holy manifestations of the divine, we are seeing them as God sees them!
September 7, 2010 | 4:39 pm
Posted by Brandon Gellis
I identify as being gay and Jewish. I do not however know which if any, I identify with more. With growing interest in blogging, I’ve gained a greater inclination towards reading more blogs, and being more observant of Internet discussions. Recently, I read this blog, http://gayspirituality.typepad.com/blog/2004/02/on_being_gay_an.html, which made me think of the “parallel universes” I live in. After thinking about this for a bit I thought why not blog about it? Growing up in a richly Jewish neighborhood I blended pretty well with those around me, but attending a highly diverse high school and college, I became a minority, in a number of ways.
Prior to high school I was taunted and called names like “fag” and “queer,” once high school rolled around the bullying ceased and criticism was more in the form of looks, whispers, and questions about my sexuality. Not until the last 7-8 years did I have the foresight to became more proactive about gay rights, equitability, and even consider how being gay may be an “issue.” Now living in a much smaller community, which noticeably houses more gays than Jews, I have become more sensitive to parallels between being gay and being Jewish.
Before, being surrounded by so many Jews, enabled my naïveté or hid from me the realities that some folks don’t understand Jews like they don’t understand gays, like they don’t understand inter-racial couples, families that adopt multi-national children, single-parent families (and unfortunately the list goes on and on). For me it all boils down to one basic question or sentiment, “Just how scary is the unknown, to you?”
I think many may agree that a great amount of the world’s criticism/judgments/scare-factor is based on fear and not knowing. I have noticed that while previously, I never felt persecuted or judged for being openly Jewish, as I have at times for being openly gay, I have noticed a culture change where I live, work, and play. For the most part, diversity is respected in my community, there are definitely times when some people lose perspective, choose to conveniently misstate information, or out-right neglect to be inclusive.
I do see many parallels between the two worlds I live in. I see the same acceptance, indifference, and judgment around me, just on a clearer, more easily distinguishable scale now.