Jews read sections of the Torah each week, and these sections, known as parshiyot, inspire endless examination year after year. Each week we bring you regular essays examining these portions from a queer perspective, drawn from the Torah Queeries online collection, which was inspired by the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible. This week, we’re sharing a post from 2008 where Debora A. Larry Kearne examines Parashat Devarim. This reflection is particularly poignant when you consider just how far we have come since 2008. At the time of this d’var Torah was written only two states had ruled in favor of marriage equality.
In this week’s parasha, Devarim, Moses speaks to “all Israel on the other side of the Jordan” (JPS, Deuteronomy 1:1). Having completed its 38 years of desert wandering, kol Yisrael (all Israel) now stands, poised between the wilderness and the Promised Land, their past and their future. In 2008, as members of the Jewish and queer communities, we may feel that we too stand on the other side of the Jordan. After all, some Jewish congregations declare their openness to queer Jews, same-sex unions are now legal in Massachusetts and California, and “don’t ask, don’t tell,” though imperfect, does allow the LGBTQ community to serve in the United States military. If we are the new generation who is standing on the other side, then what purpose does Moses’ lengthy prologue, have, why the historical review of the covenant between God and God’s people?
Because stepping into the unknown—even if it is the Promised Land—takes faith, and in this parasha, Moses reminds us that losing faith separates kol Yisrael from the Eternal One.
First of all, it can be difficult to depart from a momentous mountaintop experience. Indeed, God had to order the people to leave Mount Horeb: “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. . . . Go, take possession of the land that the Eternal swore to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (JPS, Deuteronomy 1: 6-8). Queer Jews, as part of the larger queer community, may marry or declare civil unions—but only in two states. Furthermore, within days of the California Supreme Court decision, groups who oppose the right of gays to marry collected enough signatures to place California Proposition 8, an amendment to the state constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman, on the November ballot. Taking possession in this instance means we must leave the victory in California and prepare to defend against those who wish to take away the right of queers to marry.
Moses recalls how the people behaved when they reached the edge of the Promised Land the first time: “Yet you refused to go up, and flouted the command of the Eternal your God. You sulked in your tents and said, ‘It is out of hatred for us that the Eternal brought us out of the land of Egypt. . . What kind of place are we going to?’” (JPS Deuteronomy 1:26-28). It is easy to dismiss the fear that the people felt at that time. It is easy to dismiss the fear felt today when, during a 23 July 2008 hearing held by the House Armed Services Committee, Military Personnel Subcommittee, Elaine Donnelly, President of the Center for Military Readiness, declares in all seriousness, “Inappropriate passive/aggressive actions common in the homosexual community, short of physical touching and assault, will be permitted in all military communities, to include Army and Marine infantry battalions, Special Operations Forces. Navy SEALS, and cramped submarines that patrol the seas for months at a time.” What kind of place are we going to?
Moses’ rebuke, “You have no faith in the Eternal your God,”(JPS, Deuteronomy 1:32) and God’s anger, “‘Not one of the men, this evil generation, shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers”(JPS Deuteronomy 1:35), sting today as they did then. Strong words to deliver a strong message: Losing faith in God and ourselves separates us from God and the covenantal relationship of our people, Jewish and queer.
Like the people standing before Moses, we stand on the other side of the Jordan, on the threshold of change. Acknowledge the fear of leaving the past and the known. Grab hold of faith, in God’s power and in our ability to walk proudly into the Promised Land.
“These are the words” (JPS, Deuteronomy 1:1).
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 Torah Queeries online collection, which was inspired by the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible. This week, Jo Ellen Green Kaiser examines Parashat Matot and Parashat Masei, taking a careful look at vows and the role of women in a patriarchal society.
At the close of Bamidbar/Numbers, the fourth book of Torah and the last book of the Jewish journey to the Promised Land, Moses engages in a long colloquy with the leaders of the tribes (matot) on the nature of oaths and vows. Parashat Matot begins with Moses instructing the leaders of the people on when vows can and cannot be broken. Parashat Masei (“Marches/Travels”) closes with tribal leaders asking Moses to adjust the vow made by Moses to the daughters of Zelophehad that they would inherit their father’s portion.
Strikingly, both of these discussions center particularly on women and vows. In Matot, we learn that a man has no choice: if he makes a vow or oath, he must “carry out all that has crossed his lips.” Whether a woman must carry out her vow—or even whether she is permitted to carry out such a vow—depends very much on her social status. If she is divorced or widowed, i.e., outside the sphere of a man’s influence, then her vows cannot be broken; she has the same status as a man in this regard. However, the world of Torah is patriarchal: if a woman is married or if she is an unmarried woman living in her father’s house, then she is considered subservient to the male head of the household, and he has the right to dismiss her vow.
Before we shudder about the inequality of women’s roles in the Torah, we should take a second look. What is perhaps most surprising about this discussion of vows is how limited a man’s power is to circumscribe women’s obligations. The man only has 24 hours after learning that his wife or daughter has taken a vow to cancel it. If he does not act in that time, the vow is in full force. In fact, if the man forces the woman to annul her vow after that time, it is he, not she, who will suffer the divine consequence.
Moses faces precisely this kind of challenge at the end of parashat Masei. The leaders of the tribe of Manasseh come to Moses with a problem. Moses has just divvied-up the land of Israel, giving set acreage to each tribe. The problem for Manasseh is that back in Numbers 27, Moses vowed to give the daughters of Zelophehad, members of Manasseh, their father’s inheritance, as there were no male heirs. Yet, in tribal Israeli culture, if Zelopohehad’s daughters married, their heirs would be considered members of their husband’s tribe, and thus some tribe other than Manasseh would inherit their land.
Moses cannot break his vow, because it was not a simple legal agreement made with these daughters but a vow made in the name of God—God said, “The pleas of Zelophehad’s daughters is just; you should give them a hereditary holding among their father’s kinsmen; transfer their father’s share to them.” Moses had to let that vow stand, yet he had to do something; tribal leaders would revolt if they thought that women could inherit land that would then pass out of the tribe’s control. Moses’s solution was that the daughters of Zelophehad had to marry within their own tribe, so that their heirs would be members of the tribe Manasseh.
The case of Zelophehad’s daughters illuminates the constraints around women’s vows in parashat Matot. Even though women in the biblical world have far fewer rights than men, parashat Matot insists that women have full rights before God—they have the same ability as men to forge a private relationship with God through vows. Martin Buber, the great Jewish philosopher, calls this relationship the I-Thou relationship. God sees us for who we are; when we stand before God, we are naked, stripped of the social world that usually surrounds and binds us. We speak to God “face-to-face.”
In the world, however, we rarely are able to maintain an I-Thou relationship with God or even with each other, seeing each other as the person we really are. The social world intrudes, with its material requirements. Such is the situation for women in the biblical world. Their entire society was patriarchal, based on the rule of the householder over his house, the rule of the tribe over the householders, and eventually, the rule of the king over the tribes. These relationships are not I-Thou relationships, but I-It relationships; individuals are not known for who they are in themselves, but as objects, objects that dictate their role in the tribe.
Because the society was patriarchal, women had no agency at all in the social structure. Thus, allowing them to have an I-Thou relationship was dangerous, as an I-Thou relationship is predicated on the complete agency of the two who face each other. So, Torah allows the man who has most agency over a woman in the society, that is, who has the strongest I-It relationship to her, to prevent her I-Thou relationship with God. That the discussion of vows is really a discussion of the implementation of patriarchy is made clear by the fact that Moses only gives instructions about vows to the heads of the tribes (rashei ha matot). The instructions here are not about the value of women’s vows; the instructions are about how these leaders can preserve patriarchy.
We like to think we have moved far from the tribal society of Moses’ time, yet I see many comparisons. Reading this parasha brought to my mind the fight over same-sex marriage. In Judaism, the wedding ceremony itself does not entail a vow to God, yet marriage itself is understood as a sacred covenant, made by two people in the sight of God. Marriage is the ultimate I-Thou relationship between two people, a commitment to know each other as we really are, to see each other “face-to-face.” As we agree to meet the other as ourself, we bring ourselves closer to God as well. This is precisely the difference between marriage and a “domestic partnership.” A domestic partnership is a legal arrangement, in which we cede each other certain rights. A marriage is a sacred covenant, in which we agree to treat the other as a “Thou.”
Just as leaders of the matot were concerned that women’s vows would overturn their patriarchal society, so leaders of our civil society are concerned that gay and lesbian vows will overturn our hetero-normative society. They understand—we understand—that there is real power in the I-Thou relationship, a power that tends to overturn social mores and social structures. Seeing another as oneself is in some ways both the most sacred and most transgressive act, an act that defies social boundaries and cultural customs.
What I find most inspiring about Matot Masei is that Torah tells us that God welcomes this powerfully transgressive relationship. God welcomes the women of ancient Israel to make vows as well as men. God welcomes us to forge I-Thou relationships with God and with each other. It is not God who stands in the way of our deepest relationships. It is society that is not ready for God.
This week on Kveller, Rita Collins told her story of falling in love, facing discrimination, growing her family, and getting married. She shared how “a wedding and its preparation can really connect you to Judaism,” and reflected on how her marriage helped her feel more at ease with both being gay and being Jewish.
So, a rabbi, a Hindu doctor, and two lesbians walk into a country club…
It’s not the start of a joke, but a few years ago people would have been laughing at the idea that this was the start of a wedding story.
My relationship began just a few days before Prop 8 passed in California (I had only been in heterosexual relationships up until that point). I remember driving on the freeway in Los Angeles and hearing the news that the proposition had unexpectedly passed and that gay marriage, which had been legal for four months in California, was now illegal. I wasn’t anywhere near ready to be married at that point, but I remember thinking to myself for the first time in my life: so, this is what bigotry feels like.
I had always supported gay rights and gay marriage, even before realizing my own attractions to the same sex, but I don’t think there is a way of truly understanding bigotry until you are the victim of it. I had been married to a man…I met him, we had a relationship, and one day we chose to get married, but now I wouldn’t have that right anymore, because I was falling in love with a woman. I am truly not a very emotional person, but I remember driving on the freeway that day and crying.
As Pride month comes to a close, we asked a few rabbis to share their thoughts on their own LGBTQ communities. Let us know in the comments, what about inclusion work makes you proud?
DO YOU OFFICIATE AT SAME-SEX MARRIAGES?: Rabbi Mitchell Chefitz
In 2001, Temple Israel of Greater Miami, a prestigious center-city congregation, had fallen on hard times. In three decades membership had fallen from 1,800 households to 300 something. The pulpit was vacant. Career wise, it was a stepping stone to nowhere.
I had been in Miami 25 years, five as associate rabbi at a conventional suburban Reform congregation, 20 as director of the Havurah of South Florida, a progressive outreach program.
I was on sabbatical from the Havurah, considering my next direction, when friends brought me to Temple Israel. I saw a physical plant capable of becoming the great Jewish center South Florida lacked. Within the congregation was a nascent havurah, Ruach, formed by and for the LGBT community.
I began a series of interviews to see if there might be a match between me and the congregation.
One question surprised me, because it was asked by an old-time member. “Rabbi, do you officiate at same-sex marriages?”
I didn’t know what answer he expected. Perhaps he was from the old institution, resentful of the gay intrusion. Perhaps he was a member of Ruach itself. Either way, my answer surprised him and the others around the table.
“It’s easy to do a same-sex marriage,” I said. “The difficulty is same-sex divorce.”
More than a decade before, two women from the Havurah of South Florida had told me they would like to be married. We gathered the Havurah and presented the issue. Ultimately, we realized we couldn’t do a marriage unless we could also do a divorce. It took weeks to prepare durable parties of attorney and other legal documents to protect the union. We also prepared one additional document, an agreement, should there be a separation, to come back to a rabbi for a bill of divorce, to allow the individuals to marry another person, should they choose.
With this work done, we celebrated that marriage.
I described that incident to the interviewing committee.
“With that work done,” I said, “I will surely officiate at a same-sex marriage.”
I got the job.
WHY I’M PROUD: Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin
I am proud of my synagogue, Israel Center of Conservative Judaism, because our members don’t care about whether or not someone is gay or straight, or where they fall on spectrum. It is irrelevant and a non issue when someone walks in our doors. ICCJ is a place where people can flourish in a Jewish community, no matter their sexual orientation.
Looking back ten years ago, before we had any out LGBT members, we created membership forms with spaces for “Adult One” and “Adult Two.” This way if someone who identified as LGBT wanted to join our community, they would feel welcome from the first Shalom.
When I teach, I bring in Jewish LGBT writers, because they are part of the larger Jewish conversation. This way, the shul is a microcosm of the larger Jewish world.
Pride and community go hand in hand. For a good part of my life, I didn’t have much of either.
I grew up in a small suburb in Western Pennsylvania. I was shy, anxious, and uncomfortably Asian-American—not enough of one, too much of the other as far as some members of the Taiwanese émigré community were concerned. While my own parents didn’t give me too much of a hard time about being assimilated, I always worried about measuring up to expectations. And though I had a small group of friends, I never felt at ease with most of my classmates, who all seemed to know more than I did about pop music, shopping, and the opposite sex.
Keep in mind that this was in the ‘80s: before Ellen, before Will & Grace, before Michael Sam and Melissa Etheridge and others who were visibly out and proud. There were no role models where I lived, and no discussion of homosexuality. Looking back, I can tell I had crushes on girls. But had I been aware of it at the time, I probably would have burrowed far, far back into the closet—a closet I didn’t even realize I was in.
Breaking free of all that didn’t happen immediately, but moving to Boston definitely helped. I quickly met a slew of warm, nonjudgmental people who took me just as I was. Naturally, when I finally admitted to myself that I was gay and started telling my closest friends, none of them were shocked (or even surprised). Their love and acceptance gave me the confidence to keep coming out of the closet and to venture out to LGBT events, including the swing dancing class where I met my future wife.
Fast forward to 2008 … by then, my wife Kate and I had been legally married for four years. During that time I had experienced her family’s lovely traditions and learned some very basic information about Judaism. Since we both wanted more, we decided to look into joining Temple Emunah in Lexington, Mass., where Kate had previously been a member. I was more secure with my lesbian identity by then, but was still a little anxious about how the temple community would react to a same-sex interracial couple.
I needn’t have worried. As it turned out, Temple Emunah, through the efforts of its Keruv committee, had already been working hard on welcoming gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews as well as interfaith families. This, paired with the natural friendliness of the Emunah members we met, made us feel right at home. And when later on I decided to convert, our rabbi, Rabbi David Lerner, didn’t lecture me on how hard it would be and how much I would have to learn in order to qualify as a Jew. He instead expressed total enthusiasm for the idea and added, “And then you could get married under the chuppah!”
And that’s exactly what we did! In 2009, a few weeks after my conversion, Kate and I stood under the chuppah, and Rabbi Lerner married us in a special ceremony in front of our family and Temple Emunah friends. And five years later, we stood again on the bimah and received an aliyah in honor of our 5th and 10th wedding anniversaries: a public statement of love and acceptance that I, in my wildest dreams, would never have predicted.
When I reflect on that happy moment and on all the congratulations and warm wishes we received that day, I’m incredibly thankful for the embrace and support of our temple. I’m also grateful to all the organizations working toward inclusion, whether it’s Keshet’s efforts with the Jewish community or the many civil rights groups advocating for marriage equality and equal protection under the law. And I’m proud to belong to a faith that declares that we are all made in the image of God, and commands us to treat each other accordingly.
This Saturday marks the ten-year anniversary of marriage equality in Massachusetts. At Keshet we’ve been celebrating by inviting members of the community to share their reflections on how far we’ve come—and how far the country has to go.
Cindy’s story runs parallel to many of the reflections we’ve shared in this past month—10 years ago she first immersed in a mikveh as a “lesbian bride” about to be married in Massachusetts. Yet, her story is marked with struggles and frustrations—before being welcomed at Mayyim Hayyim she was summarily rejected by other mikvehs. Prior to finding a welcoming and open space at Mayyim Hayyim she was even told, “Well, clearly you would not be able to immerse in the mikveh as we provide a KOSHER mikveh and your lifestyle would unKOSHER the mikveh.”
Looking back ten years to May of 2004, Cindy recalls feeling as if it was no coincidence “that both Mayyim Hayyim and marriage equality in Massachusetts were born at the same moment in time.” As she entered the mikveh ten years ago, as the mikveh guide declared her ritual “kosher,” Cindy felt a “sense of peace and hope and renewal and pride. Pride in being a Kosher Lesbian Jew.”
Cindy shared the prayer that she wrote—and recited—before her dip in the mikveh waters ten years ago. Her prayer was deeply personal, as she reflected on her upcoming marriage and the love she felt for her daughter. Her prayer was also universal, calling for strength for the future from a truly holy place. She prayed,
“I believe that you are a G-d who loves deeply – who loves me for the Lesbian, Jew, Mother, Daughter, Sister, Friend, Lover, and Partner that I am and strive to be. Please help me to have the strength to endure whatever challenges come our way and please give me the ability to enjoy every beautiful moment in life – and the ability to enjoy the present without being consumed with worrying about what the future holds.”
Ten years ago it was hard for Cindy to find a mikveh that would welcome her. Ten years ago the only state that would allow her marriage was Massachusetts. We still have a long way to go before we can truly call our Jewish community, and our country, equal and inclusive. But, Cindy’s story gives us something to celebrate. Mazel Tov on ten years of marriage, Cindy!
(Read more of her story over at Mayyim Hayyim’s blog.)
As we celebrate the ten year anniversary of marriage equality in Massachusetts, we’ve invited members of the community to share their reflections. Today’s post comes from Sarah Richards, who married her wife once in a religious ceremony in Georgia, and again legally in Massachusetts.
As I sit down to write my reflections on ten years of marriage equality in Massachusetts, it strikes me that I’ve recently done something mundane yet remarkable. My spouse and I signed our first joint federal tax return. It’s honestly difficult for me to say what feels better: not having to pay the “gay tax” that has cost our family approximately $4,000-$6,000 each year, or not having to check the insulting little box marked “single.” Even though we signed our returns in our kitchen, with no audience or fanfare, no congratulatory hugs, it feels like a watershed moment. It feels a lot like the moment I experienced ten years ago walking into the town clerk’s office in Northborough, Massachusetts on May 17th, 2004.
My wife and I had already been married in a lovely ceremony nineteen months before when we lived in Georgia. We did the whole wedding thing: fancy clothes, flowers, a tiered cake with ribbon, a DJ. My hometown rabbi flew down from Massachusetts to do the ceremony for us. Many friends and relatives attended from around the country. But palpably missing was my wife’s family. Her parents and brother couldn’t attend because they “had other plans” that weekend. A dear friend who had served as a career mentor and surrogate mother of sorts walked my beloved down one side aisle while my parents walked me down the other side. We joined in the middle, and after the vows and blessings, we exited through the center aisle together.
So there we were, a thousand miles north, back in my home state, about to get married for a second time. This time we held the ceremony in our home and invited all our local friends to join us in becoming “legal.” The same rabbi married us again. But this time instead of signing a ketubah, the traditional Jewish marriage contract, we signed the marriage license papers we had obtained from the clerk. But they’re not the papers that hang framed on our bedroom wall. And when we talk about our anniversary, we always mean the one in October, not the one in May.
Our family lives back in Georgia again now. We’ve been blessed with three beautiful children since those events, all born here in my wife’s home town of Athens. There was a lawsuit filed recently in Atlanta on behalf of several plaintiffs who share stories similar to ours. The suit seeks to add Georgia to the list of states recognizing couples and families like us. And so we march on.
I’m glad for the progress our country has made this past decade. I’m glad our children will grow up in a place where that type of discrimination is written into law less and less. I’m glad that fewer and fewer people will look out at the guests attending their wedding and feel a stab of pain not seeing their own family among them. And I feel a lot of gratitude. I am proud to hail from the state that led the way. I look forward to the day when I can tell my grandchildren about a time when things were different, harder. I want to see the expressions on their faces. I want to see in their eyes that hearing about a time without equality is like hearing about a time without electricity.
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As we celebrate the ten-year anniversary of legal same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, we’ve invited members of the community to share their reflections. Today’s post comes from Nahma Nadich, Associate Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, as she reflects on the power of organizing and the lessons she—and her daughters—learned through their work as allies ten years ago.
In the Fall of 2003, I was starting my 4th year as Director of Social Justice Programs at the Jewish Community Relations Council. I’d left a clinical social work practice in the gay and lesbian community, moving from the realm of the “personal” to the “political”. Since those were clearly separate and distinct spheres—or so I thought…until the Goodridge decision.
Having grown up with Jewish mentors who were civil rights activists, I was now thrilled to be part of the Jewish chapter of a civil rights story unfolding in my own time. Equally exciting was the opportunity to have my children witness this moment, and feel the pride that comes from seeing your people do their part to change the world.
In Boston, we were the first JCRC in the country to affirm and advocate for marriage equality, working closely with other Jewish organizations to leverage the influence of our community. As we navigated the politics first of our own community, and then at the State House, our most powerful tool was sharing personal stories. Our board members expressed their anguish at their adult children being treated like second class citizens; Jewish constituents talked with their legislators about the toll of inequality on their families. They changed hearts and minds.
The showdown came at a constitutional convention in the spring, when marriage equality was threatened. Advocates for equality faced vocal opponents, who were bused in from far and wide. As evening approached, the ranks of the opponents grew thin and the call went out for reinforcements. So I seized this opportunity to bring both of my girls to the battlefront. I told them to get out of their pajamas and stop doing homework—they were about to have their first visit to the State House!
When we arrived, we encountered an extraordinary scene: thousands of champions of equality in the halls of power, their voices ringing out in song after song of love and marriage. Holding hands, and as the time grew later, cushioning each other throughout the floor of the Great Hall, they were exercising their rights in the most personal way. They were citizens giving voice to a fundamental human aspiration—to be treated with dignity and respect. This display may not have been the most typical example of state house lobbying to show my daughters, but what they witnessed that day taught them a priceless lesson; politics, when done right, are deeply personal. And campaigns, when they deliver, change people’s lives, for generations. Like many of us, I wept my way through the weddings that followed, when the tears flowed most freely at the ostensibly dry and formulaic words, “by the power vested in me by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts!” At those personal celebrations, it was the affirmation of public rights that proved to be the moments that most stirred our souls.
As I reflect back on that time and on the decade since, I have to acknowledge another crucial lesson—but this is one I learned from my daughter. On that fall day when we learned of the court decision, I shared my joy with both my daughters, only to have my unimpressed 14 year old roll her eyes and say, “Yeah, big deal—it’s only one state. There are 49 more!” I understood her political naiveté and youthful impatience, but saw this as a giant teachable moment about the slow pace of progress. Ten years and eighteen states (and counting!) later, I see that in fact, she was right. One state was never enough; she was right to expect more, and to refuse a long wait. Yes, fundamental social change occurs most often at a maddeningly slow pace. Except for times like these. I thank my daughter for reminding me to be open to the possibility of miracles—both personal and political.
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As we celebrate the ten-year anniversary of legal same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, we’ve invited members of the community to share their reflections. Today’s post comes from Keshet’s Executive Director, Idit Klein.
Ten years ago on May 17th I stood in the sea of thousands on the steps of Cambridge City Hall in Massachusetts as the first same-sex couples were wed just after midnight. On my left a journalist from Japan happily snapped photos; on my right, a young gay male couple couldn’t stop kissing. I felt elated, proud of this state, and honored to have played a small role in securing this civil liberty.
In the weeks that followed, many well-meaning straight acquaintances would ask me, “So are you planning on getting married?” It was sweet but also a bit irritating. (Gay) marriage had been so politicized that people I hardly knew felt perfectly comfortable asking me such a personal question. A lesbian friend of mine groused, “When did the freedom to marry become the pressure to marry?”
After I got engaged several years later, all my married friends told me that my wedding would be a wondrous blur with few concrete memories remaining. And, of course, they were right on the whole. I remember seeing my soon-to-be wife walk into the room where we would sign our ketubah after we hadn’t seen one another in 36 hours. I remember taking a deep breath before walking down the aisle together. I remember the impromptu d’var Torah my secular Israeli father gave when he toasted us. But what I remember most vividly is the moment at the end of our wedding ceremony when Rabbi Sharon Cohen-Anisfeld, one of the two rabbis officiating, said, “I’ve said this many times before as an act of civil disobedience. But today, it gives me great joy to say this as an act of civil obedience: that according to the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I pronounce you married.”
More than two years later, I still feel a quiet thrill when I remember that moment.
I was an activist for marriage equality during the struggle to preserve same-sex marriage rights in Massachusetts. I spent hours in conversation with various Massachusetts rabbis and other Jewish community leaders urging them to take a public stand for equality. I believe deeply in the justice of this fight. Yet the day of my wedding, our shared triumph here in Massachusetts took on new meaning for me. I take great comfort in knowing that here in Massachusetts, and in 17 states plus the District of Columbia, future generations of LGBT people will never view their marriages as expressions of civil disobedience. May the rest of this country and nations around the world soon recognize the justice of this cause.
There is no doubt that love is in the air—as a hopeless romantic, Valentine’s Day is a holiday I always want to celebrate. Sure, it’s hard to make an argument for Valentine’s Day as a Jewish holiday, but every holiday can’t be perfect. And the argument that the day has become all about commercialism isn’t lost on me—although I’m willing to forgive any holiday that is accompanied by such fantastic discounts on chocolate. The day isn’t perfect, but it gives us an opportunity to think about love—and think about how to celebrate love.
As a wedding photographer, I’m part of many couples’ celebrations of love. If you think navigating the ins and outs of Valentine’s Day shopping is complicated, you should try planning a wedding. To say a lot goes into it is an understatement—and as the photographer, I need to know it all. Where—and when—will you be singing the ketubah? What is the story behind your chuppah? Will there be a tish or a bedekn? Will you both be stepping on the wine glass? The questions go on and on.
Last week, perhaps inspired by pervasive and inescapable Valentine’s Day decorations, I sat down with a few of my wedding planning forms. The forms ask all of the questions—the whens, the wheres, the whos, the hows, and the whats. My forms, which were passed on to me by others in the business, ask some pretty basic questions, like “What will the bride be wearing?,” or, “When will the groom head to the ceremony site?” Over the course of the past few years, I’ve updated forms to meet the needs of my couples. Now, I no longer have a “one size fits all” form, but instead one for a bride and groom, a groom and groom, and a bride and bride.
As the number of states legalizing gay marriage continues to rise, I’ve seen more and more wedding photographers figuring out how to update their contracts and forms. Even though it seems like a small detail, the forms that wedding professionals use help to set the tone. When I sat down with my forms last week, I made the decision to update to one single gender neutral form—one that refers to the couple simply as “the couple,” and asks for details regarding “partner one” and “partner two.” While I want my wedding couples to feel as if every detail of their process is customized to their specific needs, I also want to set a tone of inclusion—making it clear that I welcome couples that fall into any and all gender categories.
When we celebrate love, we should be celebrating inclusion. So, should your Valentine’s Day plans tomorrow night lead you to the chuppah, here’s to a celebration that welcomes everyone.
If you’re looking for more information on Jewish clergy and institutions dedicated to inclusion, check out Keshet’s Equality Guide.