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 legal same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, we’ve invited members of the community to share their reflections. Today’s post comes from Rabbi Toba Spitzer of Congregation Dorshei Tzedek, a Reconstructionist rabbi who performed same-sex religious weddings before the verdict—but was finally able to legally marry Massachusetts same-sex couples 10 years ago.
I performed a number of weddings while still a rabbinical student, in the mid-1990s, as my friends began to make lifetime commitments and, being unaffiliated, turned to me—clergy in training!—to help them with their ceremonies. It was somewhat ironic that so many of my (straight) friends and acquaintances turned to me for this particular lifecycle event, as I had never been a huge fan of marriage. That may have been due to my own inklings as a kid that heterosexual white-wedding fantasies were not for me, or due to many years of being single and having to sit through other people’s weddings, or to my feminist and lesbian questioning of an institution that had historically been far from progressive.
Yet with all of that, I was happy to help my friends take this first step in creating a Jewish household together. My movement, Reconstructionism, was the first to officially sanction same-sex religious ceremonies, and so I had no qualms about helping anyone, gay or straight, craft a Jewish ceremony that reflected their sensibilities and values.
What I realized, however, soon after I began to do weddings, was that I had no interest in being an agent of the state for an institution that discriminated against me. Once I became a rabbi, I concluded that to sign a marriage license for a heterosexual couple would be somewhat akin to driving a bus that I was forced to sit at the back of. If I couldn’t get legally married, then how in the world could I participate in legally sanctioning the marriages of others?
And so, my policy for doing (heterosexual) weddings was that the couple would need to take care of the civil piece themselves, and further, that somewhere in the ceremony we would need to mention that legal marriage remained a privilege not accessible to everyone. With these two stipulations in place, I found myself able to stand under the chuppah with couples with a sense of integrity and wholeheartedness.
When the SJC (Supreme Judicial Court) handed down its landmark decision in 2003, I realized that my policy would soon be up for revision. As it happened, the first wedding I had scheduled for the spring of 2004, once the new marriage laws were in place, involved a lesbian couple. Not only that, but they had decided—for reasons of their own—to hold the ceremony in a restaurant with a bowling alley.
I had decided before rabbinical school that my achievable lifetime goal would be to bowl in every state of the U.S. (My unachievable goal would be world peace). So to officiate at my first civilly-sanctioned same-sex marriage in a bowling alley was too good to be true! And indeed, it was a marvelous moment when I signed the civil document, and under the chuppah pronounced the couple, by the power invested in me by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, legally married.” Mazel tov!
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.
Moved by this post? Join the conversation through MyJewishLearning’s weekly blogs newsletter.
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.
As Passover approaches, our friends at Kveller asked their readers and writers: “What do you need an exodus from?” Check out these testimonies from four Kveller readers as part of their “What’s Your Exodus?” series.
The first is by a woman who wants to “own” her same-sex relationship in front of her coworkers. Can you relate? Read her story here.
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.
Rabbi (to be) Ari Naveh recently shared how he balances the line between being a gay rabbi—and a rabbi who is gay. Here he takes his learning, as well as his years of work with the RAC, and puts it in practice, examining why the LGBT and Jewish community should be paying attention to two Supreme Court cases.
An arts & crafts supply chain from Oklahoma is paving the way for legalized discrimination. Think I’m being dramatic? I assure you, I’m not.
A few months ago, the Supreme Court decided to hear two cases: Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wagon Specialties v. Sebelius. Both of these cases challenge the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that businesses must include contraception in their healthcare plans. In both cases, the owners of the two corporations claim that the contraception mandate violates their first amendment right of freedom to exercise their religion. These owners claim that the religious rights of their corporations are being infringed upon—in other words, since the owners of Hobby Lobby are Christian, Hobby Lobby itself is Christian as well. If the idea of a non-sentient corporation having its own religious beliefs sounds a bit strange to you, that’s because it is.
Four years ago, in an unfortunate landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that corporations should be granted full permission to exercise their first amendment right to free speech in the context of direct donations to all manner of political campaigns. Put simply, the Court stated that corporations are people. The repercussions of this case on the already fraught status of monetary influence on political campaigns were, in a word, ginormous. But we are not here to discuss the unnervingly complicated issues of campaign finance law; I’ll save that for another blog post that you can read when you’ve got hopeless insomnia and that Ambien just isn’t working for you.
No, this is about how a Supreme Court case about campaign financing, and another about birth control, will affect LGBTQ Americans in serious, and terrifying ways—and why the Jewish community needs to pay attention. This is about what keeps me up late at night, worrying about the safety of LGBTQ Americans, and what my Jewish community can do to support equality.
Now, you may be asking yourself: What does this mean for the LGBTQ community—and the Jewish community? Aside from the overwhelmingly negative effects this case could have millions of women in the United States and their access to contraception—access to which Jewish tradition pretty much categorically supports if the Court sides with Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wagon Specialties, discrimination against the LGBTQ community in all sorts of forms will now have the legal right to be couched in the extraordinarily misleading language of “freedom of religious expression.”
You may recall the case of the Oregon bakery whose owners refused to bake a cake for a gay couple about to get married in nearby Washington State. Their refusal was on religious grounds, as they claimed that gay marriage stomped all over their belief in “traditional” marriage. The case went to a state Labor Board, who ruled against the bakery, claiming that it was in blatant discrimination of the rights of the couple.
However, if the Supreme Court rules for Hobby Lobby, that bakery would be completely within its rights as a Christian—that’s the bakery, not the owners—to refuse service to all sorts of people with whom it may disagree on religious grounds: gay couples, non-married couples, whatever. So fine, you may say: if a business wants to actively refuse service to any number of prospective clients, thus, you know, hurting its own profits, then zey gezunt, that’s their own silly problem. However, It gets worse: a “religious” company/factory/school/business could claim that it is well within its freedom of religious expression to not hire, fire, refuse to promote, taunt openly, or refuse any benefits to any and all LGBT employees, prospective employees or their spouses. A “religious” apartment complex could handily refuse to rent to someone living with HIV/AIDS, a same-sex couple, or anyone within the LGBT community; “religious” pharmacies could refuse to stock and sell contraceptives, HIV medication, condoms, or any sort of item that may be “against their religious beliefs.”
Our community has been working too hard and long to ensure that such blatant discrimination is legislated into oblivion where it belongs. With one swift bang of the gavel, the Supreme Court could terminate any real prospect of that legislation ever seeing the light of day, thus almost guaranteeing discrimination in the workplace, in medical care, in housing, and virtually everywhere else in this great nation, all for the sake of “religious freedom.”
Maintaining the freedom to practice one’s religion is no doubt vital, and – it should go without saying– already guaranteed to us in the Constitution. As a burgeoning Jewish professional, I know full well the real dangers of denying somebody’s legitimate right to practice their faith, and the even worse dangers when someone else believes their right to ‘practice their religion’ trumps your right as a citizen. However, what Hobby Lobby and the Conestoga Wagon Specialties stores are attempting to portray is not religious discrimination, it is homophobia, misogyny and racism masked in religious doublespeak, and showing a real chance of being codified into law.
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.
The Jewish world is full of debates. Get the latest in MyJewishLearning’s weekly blogs newsletter.
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.