The Torah is strewn with transgendered hearts.
How can that be true? The Torah, as we know, is not written for or about transgender people, and in any case, “transgender” is supposed to be a noun or adjective, not a verb, an umbrella term for the millions of people whose gender identity or expression is more complicated than “male” or “female.” “Transgender” gathers gender-complicated people into a broad, simple category – the equivalent of “African American” or “Latino” – and implies that our identities, like those of other minorities, are a matter of fact that is not up for discussion. But though “transgender” has real advantages for describing ourselves to others, for many of us who identify as transgender, identity is an often-messy, ongoing process, not a simple, settled fact. For me, “transgender” isn’t just something I am – it is an active, terrifying, exalting process of unmaking and remaking a self that will never quite fit established categories of gender or identity. Continue reading
“To exclude same-sex families from membership and adult volunteerism is in direct contradiction of school policies, which place high value on inclusion.”
-Donna Oshri, Golda Och Academy
Creating inclusive Jewish spaces is a great goal — but how do you do it? While the answer is likely different for every synagogue, school, and youth group, it’s helpful and encouraging to hear about others’ successes, triumphs, and their lessons learned. So we’re running this regular column, called “The Tachlis of Inclusion,” to spotlight practices and policies that have worked for Jewish institutions all over the country. We hope they inspire you.
In October 2012, the administration of Golda Och Academy, a Conservative Jewish day school in New Jersey, sent a letter home to parents, letting them know that the school would not be renewing its Boy Scouts charter. The reason? The Boy Scouts of America’s decision to ban gay scouts and adult troop leaders.
“It was a very short meeting,” Adam Shapiro, Dean of Students at Golda Och Academy, remembers about the decision to end the school’s relationship with the local Boy Scout Troop. “Everyone on our administrative team looked at each other and said, this is pretty obvious. And since we made our decision, basically all of the feedback we’ve received has been positive.”
[Below is the full text of the insert. You can also download a pdf version to bring to your seder table.]
Every year, Jews gather at seder tables around the world to remember, retell, and reconnect with the story of our collective redemption. Passover compels us to ask ourselves how we are moving out of Mitzrayim, the narrow straits of oppression and brokenness that still mar our world, and toward liberation in our lives today. As mothers, fathers, parents, and family members of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Jews, we are inspired by our tradition’s story to strive for LGBTQ recognition, freedom, and acceptance.
Allies can have a powerful voice in that struggle, supporting LGBTQ people in their coming out process and helping others to understand the importance of justice, fairness, acceptance, and mutual respect for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. The role of allies is critical to the work of creating a Jewish community that is inclusive, safe, and supports all Jewish children, teens, and adults to be fully themselves.
At Passover, it is the family’s responsibility to retell the story, to inspire each new generation to accept the task of living out our values, of remembering that we were once strangers, and therein find an obligation to those on the margins of our own societies. As gay and straight parents and family members of LGBTQ children, we invite you to join us in considering our role in assuring LGBTQ liberation for generations to come.
Jews read sections of the Torah each week, and these sections, known as parshiyot, inspire endless examination year after year. Each week we will bring you regular essays examining these portions from a queer perspective, drawn from the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible and the Torah Queeries online collection. This week, Amy Soule explores the many meanings of the Biblical imperative to keep the altar light burning.
“The fire on the altar must be kept burning; it must not go out…The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out.” (Leviticus 6:12-13)
In ancient times, these verses referred to the sacrifices people were making as an act of worship. Having a perpetual flame on the altar symbolized that God was being continually worshipped by our ancestors. Today we worship very differently, without making any animal sacrifices. Why do these verses remain relevant to our modern lives at all, let alone as liberal GLBT Jews?
The connection between the Passover story and LGBTQ liberation is easy. Too easy. A group of people suffer under oppressors for hundreds of years and, thanks to a charismatic leader and a little perseverance, they are delivered amid clap and thunder, free at last to live their own lives. And indeed the Passover story has served as a prototype for liberation narratives for ages, not just in an LGBTQ context. It’s a story of underdog triumph that we Americans love. Our culture has embraced this Biblical tale with an almost unprecedented tenacity, and Americans who haven’t the slightest clue what the “books of Moses” are can at least summarize the book of Exodus for you. And can anyone read the line, “Let my people go!” without hearing Paul Robeson’s rumbling baritone?
But we’ve got the story all wrong. I’ve been saying this for years, poo-pooing people’s feel-good glow of freedom during this season, but no one wants to listen to a curmudgeon during Pesach.
Passover is fast approaching, which means it’s time to prepare to lead, or participate in, a seder. It can be a of lot of work – and anxiety – leading a seder that’s meaningful for everyone. But an interesting, thought-provoking, relevant, and inclusive haggadah can make all the difference!
Here’s a selection of LGBTQ haggadot that can be easily downloaded and brought to your seder table. While all of these resources provide lots of LGBTQ material, some may be more appropriate for your seder. If you’re interested in crafting your own seder, consider any haggadah designed to be “open source,” which will easily allow you to skip or add sections. If you’re looking for a more conventional seder that simply includes LGBTQ content, look for a haggadah that describes itself as “traditional.”
If you use any of them, let us know how it went.
Jews read sections of the Torah each week, and these sections, known as parshiyot, inspire endless examination year after year. Each week we will bring you regular essays examining these portions from a queer perspective, drawn from the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible and the Torah Queeries online collection. This week, Rabbi Jane Litman sees in the blessing before studying Torah echoes of the portion itself: we have the human need, and the human means, to connect with God.
The blessing that one recites before studying Torah is:
Baruch ata adonai, elohaynu melech ha-olam, asher kiddishanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu la-asok b’divray torah.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, Who makes us holy with mitzvot and gives us the mitzvah of engaging in the words of Torah.
We don’t ask the Divine blessing for obeying Torah, or hearing Torah, or even reading Torah, but rather for engaging with Torah. It is the process of engagement – the passionate give and take – that is sacred, not the specific content. In a world in which biblical fundamentalism is on the rise, it’s important to note that the Jewish relationship with our sacred text is interpretive. Our task is to take Torah seriously, not necessarily to agree with its literal content. Sometimes when we study Torah, we are struck by the eternal quality of its message; at other times its words seem tightly bound to a particular cultural moment and place. Torah is both ancient and contemporary – that is its gift. Continue reading
As we’ve explored in earlier posts by and about Orthodox Jews who are also LGBTQ (including a round-up of blogs, a video from hip-hop artist Y-Love, what it;s like to come out at an Orthodox high school, and an interview with the first out gay Orthodox rabbi), being Orthodox and LGBTQ is complicated. Luckily, in recent years there have been a growing number people and organizations providing support, safe space, and resources for LGBTQ Orthodox Jews and their families. Eshel, dedicated to building “understanding, support, and community for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people in traditional Jewish communities,” is a prominent example of the work being done by, and on behalf of, LGBT Orthodox Jews.
In January 2013, the author of this post attended a shabbaton organized by Eshel. These reflections originally ran on his blog, Orthodox, Gay, and Married Jew. We’re grateful for the opportunity to share his powerful post.
Like angels in the sky
in a garden full of glory
the galaxies so brilliantly related
on that first page of our story
The shabbaton started with davening on Friday night. I had been to support groups in the past, both for JQY or Jewish Queer Youth (an organization based in NYC whose primary objective is to give support to young men and woman struggling with issues related to being LGBT; please see www.jqyouth.org for more information) and a non-religious (and non-agenda driven) support group for gay married men (if you would like information about this group, please email me). When I went to these groups, which had about 10-20 people, I was scared and overwhelmed. Continue reading
We’ve been really inspired by the posts penned by some of the teens and staff who attended the LGBTQ Jewish Teen and Ally Shabbatons organized by Keshet and The Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center. Participants have been writing about their experiences, their identities, and the complicated and intricate ways that they navigate both. They’ve already covered coming out at an Orthodox day school and deciding to go “stealth” about trans identity, and one BBYO professional who staffed both retreats shared what it means for her, as a Jewish professional, to be an ally to LGBTQ teens.
These teens have shared their written words, and now we’re excited to for you to meet them in this short video! We’ll continue to run regular columns form LGBTQ and ally teens — stay tuned!
Jews read sections of the Torah each week, and these sections, known as parshiyot, inspire endless examination year after year. Each week we will bring you regular essays examining these portions from a queer perspective, drawn from the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible and the Torah Queeries online collection. This week, Rabbi Jill Hammer sees in the construction of the mishkan a model for a community where everyone, including and especially LGBT Jews, can contribute their own gifts.
In the traditional Jewish community, queer people are often asked “What is your justification for being a queer Jew?” as if queer Jews are a controversial idea rather than a life form. This question may in part stem from an internalization of the model of Sinai, in which ideas are set forth or decried based on covenantal aims. Yet in the parshiyot of Vayakhel-Pekudei, we find a different model for what it means to be a sacred community, one radically different than the model we see at Sinai, and one that tends toward acknowledging people as bodies as well as ideas.