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.
Being an ally is important and hard work—it requires dedication, mindfulness, and courage. Allies are absolutely crucial to Keshet and our work would not be possible without them. But what does it truly mean to be an ally? Today’s piece asks: Is it as simple as checking the box that reads “ally”? With Martin Luther King, Jr. Day around the corner, we are pushing our allies to think about how one defines allyship—and how that definition translates to action. How does being an ally allow us to be better advocates? What do you think?
The term “ally” was a very important part of my politics for a long time. Then, last March, in an epically important tweet last March, @FeministGriote wrote, “Being an ally is a process not an identity.” Say what you will about Twitter, but the truth is that it has the potential to change who and what we see and hear. (If you’re on Twitter and only following white, straight folks, please amend this.)
The term “ally” acknowledges social power, or privilege. It implies that the person who is applying the term to themselves also acknowledges privilege and the knowledge that claiming the ally label doesn’t actually mean anything if there isn’t action behind it. Allyship means realizing not only that language is imperfect, but that intention is nothing if it isn’t actualized, and actualizing it is tricky. (Read this piece by Jessie-Lane Metz at The Toast about, among many things, allyship when it goes very wrong.)
I’m realizing lately, more and more, that allyship is a minefield. We will fail sometimes. It’s easy to fail, because calling yourself an ally in a situation where you don’t have to do any work is one thing, but knowing when to step up and when to step back are other things entirely. The way racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia are structured is to ensure that we will fail sometimes. Allyship is one way that we can impact the status quo, but only if we accept that falling down is part of the process. And since failure is inevitable, because this is hard and imprecise work, we have to figure out to bounce back when we make a mistake. We live in this world where the dichotomy of perfection v. failure dominates. (Another reading assignment: The Queer Art of Failure by Judith Halberstam.) The truth, we know, is that there is a lot of room in between the two.
Here are some ways to ally like you mean it:
1. Repeat the following sentence to yourself over and over again: This is not about you. Calling yourself an ally is not a way, or should not be a way, to make yourself feel better. It’s not cute, it doesn’t (or rather, it shouldn’t) get you extra bonus points at life. It’s the way we should all be behaving. Do everything you have to do to remember that this is about people’s real lives.
2. Take up less space. A lot less.
Earlier this year, I wrote a piece about street harassment and racism, in which I talked about my own narrative of race, and the beliefs that I (and all white people) possess on some level about people of color. The thing is, that piece was like therapy for me, which is not the point. It’s not that processing my own racism isn’t important —it is —but allyship is the work of creating space, which means stepping aside to make room for other voices that are not yours. When someone with less privilege than you tells that you made a mistake, do your very best to listen and hear.
It should go without saying that all of these things apply to being an ally in Jewish spaces to queer folks, to Jews of color, to women, etc. This work is scary, especially when we do it in our own communities, which means it’s the place where it’s most needed. It’s political. Depending on how you see it, it’s religious. It’s very, very personal. And even though it’s hard, don’t stop. Please don’t stop.
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2013 is one for the history books. The year has seen unprecedented legal victories for marriage equality. Here’s our breakdown of a year in the fight for marriage equality—mixed with some wisdom and reactions from the Jewish community.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) & Proposition 8
On June 26th, Edith Windsor brought down DOMA. Although the verdict didn’t grant marriage equality nationwide, it did serve to end the federal government’s discrimination against legally married LGBT couples. Ariel, a rabbinical student, stood on the steps of the Supreme Court that morning: “A group stood in an interfaith prayer circle. Before the verdict was announced, I led the group in prayer—at that moment I felt what Abraham Joshua Heschel meant when he said that marching for civil rights was praying with his feet.”
The ruling on DOMA was accompanied with another victory—Proposition 8 was overturned.
“Having a wedding had never been something I thought I would have. As my partner and I sat on the couch crying, I realized that we had a lot of work ahead of us,” shared Meryl, a Jew living in California. “That weekend in San Francisco we saw lines outside City Hall for same-sex wedding ceremonies, but we knew we wanted to do something with our friends and family. In many ways we live our married life as we set up our marriage ceremony, a mix of American/Paraguayan, Jewish/Christian, English/Spanish/Hebrew, and always with compromise, learning, and wonder.”
On January 3, legislation to legalize same-sex marriage was introduced in Rhode Island; it passed on May 2nd.
The Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island endorsed the legislation, declaring that “the right of civil marriage should be available to all Rhode Islanders.” In their endorsement, the diverse group of rabbi’s wrote, “lessons from Jewish history provide us with a mandate to work for civil rights.”
A bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Delaware passed on May 7th, making it the 12th state to enact marriage equality. The legislation eliminated civil unions, converting any unions to fully recognized marriages.
Upon hearing the news, National Coalition of Jewish Women released the following statement, “NCJW salutes state lawmakers and the governor for this step forward for civil rights for the people of Delaware.”
In 2012, over half of the voters in Minnesota rejected a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The Legislature passed a same-sex marriage bill in May, which went into effect on August 1st.
Minnesotan Rafi shared his views on his own upcoming nuptials: “We were anxious to have a wedding in a state where members of our own family wouldn’t be able to do the same. We were relieved when Minnesota became the first Midwestern state to legalize same-sex marriage through legislation, led by Jewish State Representative Simon—with a host of Jewish groups proudly helping hoist the banner of equality.”
As a result of the court case Garden State Equality v. Dow, New Jersey legally recognized same-sex marriage in October. Marsha Shapiro and Louise Walpin were among the first in the state to tie the knot. Just after midnight on October 21st the two wrapped themselves in prayer shawls and broke the glass, telling Haaretz, “When we broke the glass, we were destroying inequality and discrimination in New Jersey.”
As the year marched on, Hawaii became the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriages, cementing it’s place as honeymoon capital of the U.S.
Just before Thanksgiving, the Land of Lincoln gave us something to be thankful for: same-sex marriage was signed into law.
An open letter from Illinois clergy and faith leaders reads, “We dedicate our lives to fostering faith and compassion, and we work daily to promote justice and fairness for all. Standing on these beliefs, we think that it is morally just to grant equal opportunities and responsibilities to loving, committed same-sex couples.”
On December 19th, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in New Mexico.
Following on the heels of New Mexico, Utah legalized same-sex marriage on December 20th. Sarah, a rabbinical student in Boston, summed up her feelings for her home state, “Oh my heck, Utah! What fantastic, amazing, beautiful news! Congrats to my home state for defying my expectation that it would be the last one to get on the equality boat!”
We’ll take it as a good omen that as we say good bye to 2013, 18 states have the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. L’chaim!
In 2006 I was Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. Before you get too impressed, I’ll remind you: in 2006 anyone who picked up a copy of Time Magazine was voted person of the year. With the rise of Wikipedia, YouTube, and other various user-generated content, Time made the bold statement that everyone deserved the title. (Still, I’ve been known to impress strangers when I drop the accolade into casual conversation.)
This year’s Person of the Year is Pope Francis, who was elected head of the Catholic Church earlier in 2013. Although there’s much to be said about Pope Francis’ view on the LGBTQ community and his social justice work, the real story lies with the woman declared runner-up for the title: Edith Windsor.
Edie Windsor embodies sass; the 84-year-old widow was at the forefront of the legal battle that toppled DOMA earlier this year. Edith and I have a lot in common—after all, we both share (or almost shared) the prestigious Time magazine title. More importantly, we’re both individuals—and, how does that saying go? “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has?” Margaret Mead had a point—albeit one that has been turned into a bit of a cliché.
Edie was a fighter and a leader her whole life, she was taught at an early age “that if a boy called her ‘a dirty Jew,’ she should pull his hair and run home.” Hearing tales of her relationship with Thea Spyer conjures themes and images from the most romantic of blockbuster movies, but what sets her story apart was (and is) her bravery as an individual. After Thea passed away in 2009, Edie was handed an estate-tax bill of $364,053—a tax that legally recognized spouses are exempt from. She filed with the IRS. When the claim was denied, she took action. She fought back through injustice, and she has paved the equality path for queer couples in America.
Edie Windsor represents the power of the individual—a Jewish lesbian born to immigrant parents in Philadelphia who refused to back down. She might not be Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, but she sure is mine.
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I am a very, very strong supporter of equal rights and the freedom of men and women to marry whomever they love.
-Duncan McAlpine Sennett
Mazel Tov, Duncan and the folks at Congregation Beth Israel for nurturing and supporting him.