Author Archives: Rabbi Ellen Lippmann

Rabbi Ellen Lippmann

About Rabbi Ellen Lippmann

Rabbi Ellen Lippmann is founder and rabbi of Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of Our Lives: Building a Progressive Jewish Community in Brooklyn. Rabbi Lippmann is the former East Coast Director of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, and former director of the Jewish Women's Program at the New 14th Street Y in Manhattan. Rabbi Lippmann was co-chair and still sits on the board of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. She served as the first social justice chair for the Women’s Rabbinic Network and has served on numerous boards and advisory councils. She is the founder of the Soup Kitchen at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, and co-founder of the ten year-old Children of Abraham Peace Walk: Jews, Christians and Muslims Walking Together in Brooklyn in Peace. Rabbi Lippmann was ordained in 1991 by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and also received there the degree of Master of Hebrew Letters. She holds a BA in English Language and Literature from Boston University and an MS in Library Science from Simmons College. Rabbi Lippmann and her partner are longtime Brooklyn residents and believe to be absolutely true what a Kolot Chayeinu member once said in jest: "IT DON'T GET ANY BETTER THAN BROOKLYN!" See Rabbi Lippmann's writings. On March 20, 2013, Rabbi Lippmann was named by The Jewish Forward as one of 36 of America's Most Inspiring Rabbis Shaping 21st Century Judaism.

Never/ Yes Again

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On June 20th, 2014, Rabbi Ellen Lippmann offered the following words of prayer at the UJA-Federation’s “Community Conversation on LGBTQ Engagement,” a conference convened to discuss ideas of LGBT inclusion in Jewish institutions.


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I am here because I am a lesbian, a Jew, a rabbi who sees Jews as my people and LGBTQ people as my people. So my partner gets to say, often, that she thinks a man and a woman together are intermarried. I am here because my partner and I celebrated our 30th anniversary this winter and could only get married 3 years ago.

I am here because there are a whole lot of issues other than marriage on the LGBTQ plate. And, I am here because I want as a Jew to say never again and know that I mean never will anyone obliterate any entire population AND I want as a queer person to say never again and know I mean there are so many things that should never happen again.

NEVER AGAIN 

Never again a rabbinic student going through school in hiding.

Never again to be cast away by those who use the Bible to dismiss us.

Never again a college student jumping off a bridge to his death because his roommate mocked his sexual connection.

Never again a parent unable to be with a child because of misguided lawyers and enacted prejudice.

Never again a trans person attacked on the street just for being transgender.

Never again LGBTQ deaths due to neglect and abandonment.

Never again state-approved killing of LGBTQ people anywhere in the world.

Never again a gay man beaten by Jews on the street.

YES AGAIN 

Yes to the wisdom, clarity, heart God places in human beings and yes to the times they are used for good.

Yes to marriage rights expanding across the country and across state lines, yes to love and yes to great sex.

Yes to the “It Gets Better” videos and to all the ways people encourage those who are losing hope.

Yes to LGBT centers across the country.

Yes to gay churches and synagogues that paved the way and yes to the amazing efforts of gay Muslims that will create a gay mosque and yes to every religious group that opens rather than closing doors.

Yes to activists and advocates of every generation who pushed hard and keep pushing.

Yes to the memory of Stonewall and yes to resistance.

Yes to UJA-Federation opening its doors even if it seems a little scary

And yes yes, yes to the glory of having the courage to come out as gay or lesbian, as queer, as trans, as gender variant, even in the face of this crazy world we live in.

 

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Beyond Victors and Victims

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The following article is reprinted with permission from SocialAction.com. Provided by SocialAction.com, an on-line Jewish magazine dedicated to pursuing justice, building community, and repairing the world.

There’s a joke that’s been making the Internet rounds for a couple of years that captures the essence of Jewish holidays: "They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat." No holiday is better described this way than Passover, which might be summarized as "Pharaoh enslaved us, we got free, let’s eat."

Parshat B’shalah describes "getting free" in all its frightening, liberating, gory, whining detail. Pharaoh sends the people of Israel, his slaves, out of Egypt as they have requested, only to change his mind and chase after them to return them to slavery.

A Struggle From the Beginning

The people, frightened, flee to the shores of the Red Sea, where God miraculously parts the waters, and they walk free to the other side, only to see their pursuers drowned in the Sea. The people sing and dance in their joy at this hard-won freedom, and begin the long, hard walk home, complaining from step one about the lack of food and water. They are attacked by Amalek, who will become the quintessential enemy, but thanks to Moses, Aaron, and Hur, they prevail, and journey on.

The joy of liberation is palpable here; we can almost hear their voices singing, see them dancing a wild ecstatic dance. The people of Israel is born here, brought through the birth canal of the parted sea, born in joy and singing. But war is born here, too, inextricably intertwined with our people’s birth; the pursuing Egyptians and the attacking Amalekites are as much a part of this birth as are Moses’s song and Miriam’s dance.

From the beginning of our life as a people, in part rooted in this Torah reading, we have understood that "they tried–are trying, will try–to kill us" and that it is our job, among many, to try to win. Later history will show that we often don’t win, and we become not dancing victors, but frequent victims, taking on that identity as strongly as–if not more strongly than–that of victor.

God’s Role in Battle

But we live in complex times, and these well-worn identities no longer suffice. Jews in America and Israel are no longer simple victims, notwithstanding the violence in Israel and the evidence of anti-Semitism in America and elsewhere. And the victor’s role comes at a high price. We need new images and new visions to guide us. A new look at where it all started will enable us to expand see new possibilities and have new hope.

A core question emerging from this week’s Torah reading is that of God’s role: Does God want the people to be warriors, and to be the Warrior among them, to always lead them to victory in battle, as the Song of Deborah in this week’s Haftarah (prophetic reading) would have it?

In Exodus 14:14, Moses tells the frightened people gathered at the shore of the sea, "YHVH will battle for you; [you] hold your peace." But what if we read it differently? The word for "[he] will battle" is yilcham in which we can see the letters of the word lechem–bread. One Hasidic commentary anthologized in the compilation Itturey Torah notes that "this God who battles is [also] the One who gives bread to all people."

Further, the word for "[you] hold your peace" builds on a root that can also mean "to plow" (as it does in Job 4:8, for instance). Together, these interpretations open the way to a radically different understanding.

Looking Towards A New Future

Rather than "God will battle for you; you keep silent," we can read the words of Moses this way: "God will give you bread; you will do the plowing." Only a short while later, God does give the people food, in the form of manna, and we might imagine that this represents for them the fulfillment of this earlier promise.

What a different vision of the future that promise presents! The violence of liberation may still be a necessity, but the future is no longer envisioned as one continuous battle, with the people of Israel as either triumphalist victors or ever-attacked victims. This reading allows us to look, with Moses and Miriam, into a future of tilling the soil, reaping the harvest, planting season after season.

A Partnership Between God and People

In this vision, Sukkot, or HeHag, "the festival"–one of its other names in our tradition–shares center stage, celebrating as it does a successful harvest and the ingathering of the people. Passover celebrates liberation, but liberation for a peaceful purpose. And God, the great Warrior, is also the ample Nurturer, Provider of food, Partner to the human plower.

This vision of a free people tilling the soil in its land was a mainstay of early Zionism. Together with a re-reading of our people’s beginnings as a nation, this combined vision could re-emerge as the underpinning of a new Israeli future. This future, while it is not likely to include many literal plows, is not one in which every action must be weighed on the victor/victim scale.

Rather, it is a future seen through the eyes of the Nurturing, Providing God, who provides food for all who live on the land and engage as partners in this process: "God will give you bread; you do the plowing." This is the vision of the prophet Isaiah, who spoke to us with these well-known words: "You shall beat your swords into plowshares, and your spears into pruning hooks." Perhaps Isaiah’s vision begins as the people Israel begins, crossing the Red Sea into a new freedom.

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