Six Stories of Marriage Equality

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David and Jonathan’s Wedding by Shannen Norman

David and Jonathan’s Wedding by Shannen Norman

Next Tuesday, April 28th, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on marriage equality. The outcome, which will most likely occur in June, will resolve the nation’s legal debates about same-sex marriage.

The Court will hear arguments from cases originating in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee, and will explore whether individual states can limit marriage, and if they must uphold marriages granted in other states.

With all eyes on the Supreme Court, we wanted to revisit six of our favorite stories of marriage, each told from a different—and distinctly Jewish—viewpoint.

After all, at the heart of this debate are people and their love.

From My Orthodox Yeshiva to Standing With My Husband Under the Huppah:
Growing up as an Orthodox Jew, Jonathan wasn’t sure if he’d find a way to make peace with both his Jewish and LGBTQ identity.

How My Wedding Made Me Feel More Jewish and More Gay: So, a rabbi, a Hindu doctor, and two lesbians walk into a country club… Trust us, you’ll want to read this one.

Will You Travel Through Space and Time with Me?: A Proposal at a Pride Parade: Josh and Aden met at a Keshet Shabbat dinner and got engaged at last year’s Pride parade. They plan to marry this October.

Marriage: A Political Act, A Religious Endeavor, A Chance to Celebrate Love: For Abi and Melissa, marriage was the ultimate act of commitment. But finding someone to officiate their same-sex, interfaith wedding wasn’t so easy.

And We March On: 10 Years of Marriage Equality in MA: Sarah and her wife were married twice: once in a religious ceremony in Georgia, and again legally in Massachusetts.

Let Us Come Home: Dan is a gay man from Massachusetts. So, legally, he can marry his fiancé, Keith. The only catch is that Keith is South African – so unlike heterosexual couples, Keith is not allowed to enter the U.S. as Dan’s legal spouse.

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Posted on April 23, 2015

Why Gay-Straight-Alliances Are Needed in Schools

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Each April schools across the country observe a Day of Silence, a day dedicated to ending anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment. While we will be silent on our blog on the 17th, today we are bringing you the voice of one Jewish LGBTQ high schooler who is standing up for herself, her rights, and her community by helping Keshet research Gay-Straight Alliances at Jewish high schools. If you’re interested in learning more about the creation of safe spaces in Jewish schools, watch Keshet’s documentary film, Hineini: Coming Out in a Jewish High School, about the formation about the first Gay-Straight Alliance at a Jewish high school.

picLiving in Boston there has never been a great deal of conflict between my Jewish identity and my queer identity. I have been lucky enough to grow up in communities predominantly comprised of LGBTQ folk and allies—even my rabbi was a lesbian. My congregation, my childhood summer camps, and my high school have all been centered around being open and educated about the infinite spectrum that is gender and sexuality. These accepting and open communities made it relatively easy for me to explore my own identity.

My communities taught me that there are limitless ways to feel affection and attraction and that there are a vast range of experiences between binary genders; they also taught me that this in no way needs to conflict with my personal spiritual life in Judaism.

I’ve always known that a lot of people don’t have access to the kinds of supportive communities that I do. It took me a while to find some of them, myself. Knowing that in theory still rendered my recent work with Keshet to be eye-opening.

My assignment as a two week high school intern at Keshet was to contact Jewish private schools across the U.S. and ask if they have Gay-Straight Alliances. I called almost eighty different schools. Twelve had GSAs. The ones that had them were eager to tell me about the great work their clubs were up to, and their stories were heartwarming! Other schools were less receptive and practically pushed me off the phone after I offered to send more information about our work. Each conversation made me really recognize the personal advantage it was for me to have these open environments in my life.

Posted on April 15, 2015

Joining Hands, Marching Together

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Last week we celebrated Passover. The Seders I attended called me to think about Mitzrayimthe narrow places where people are still oppressed.

I thought about the connection between Jewish history and oppression, from slavery in Egypt to today’s Jewish organizations who fight against inequality.

The LGBTQ community is familiar with oppression and the narrow places of the Mitzrayim. Yet, while there have been many broadened passages in movement for marriage equality and LGB rights, the channels for transgender and gender non-conforming folks are still the most narrow and constricted passageways in our community.

A recent study, “A Broken Bargain for Transgender Workers,” shows that more than four in 10 transgender people (44%) are underemployed. Unemployment rates for the transgender community are twice as high as the population as a whole—and for transgender people of color, the rate is four times as high. Additionally, transgender workers are nearly four times more likely than the population as a whole to have a household income of under $10,000. These disparities are mind boggling and yet they are real. Simply put, transgender and gender non-conforming people, in contrast to their straight and cisgender peers, experience higher rates of poverty.

I’ve seen these disparities in my own life as many of my transgender peers have found themselves stuck, with no chance of advancement, in the food service industry. I’m thinking specifically about one of my peers who, interview after interview, has been met with the phrase, “You aren’t quite what we are looking for.” Behind each rejection was an implied “Your gender presentation doesn’t look like what we were expecting.” And so my peer is stuck. He is underemployed and unable to leave the food service industry. He is having trouble making ends meet.

To step back to our Passover story, my friend, and other transgender folks, are working for corporations who act like Pharaoh. These big corporations make a generous profit and have the means to treat their workers fairly, yet they don’t. Instead, my peers, their workers, are unable to meet their basic needs. They struggle to afford essentials like food, rent, and transportation, let alone medications like hormones. Because more than four in every 10 transgender people are underemployed, the transgender community is disproportionately stuck in this reality—unable to advance, and unable to support themselves and their families.

Posted on April 14, 2015

Passover & the Dream of Liberation

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On Passover, we are taught every generation must see themselves as if they had personally been liberated from Egypt. For queer individuals, who too often have to struggle to come to terms with their own identity, on top of the daily struggle of living in a heteronormative world, the idea of liberation is all too real.

When I was still in the closet, I dreamed of the liberation that would come with being out. Ironically, I pictured myself advocating for LGBT rights even though at the time, I was too nervous and uncomfortable to proudly declare my own sexuality. Fortunately, since coming out, I have had the opportunity to realize that dream.

When I entered college, I came out, and had the opportunity to intern for Keshet. Working for Keshet, an organization that advocates for the full inclusion of LGBTQ Jews in Jewish life by working with rabbis, Jewish professionals, and Jewish institutions throughout the country, was especially meaningful; not only did it allow me to fulfill my dream of advocating for LGBT equality, it also allowed me to do so in a context that was especially personal. One of the major reasons I did not come out in high school was because of the homophobic environment in my Jewish day school, and I was delighted to learn that Keshet was working with my high school, among others, during my time there.

Jordan leading a session on LGBTQ rights.

Jordan leading a session on LGBTQ rights at the RAC’s L’Taken Social Justice Seminar for high school students.

The past eight months, I have had the pleasure to continue my advocacy work on the federal level as a legislative assistant at the Religious Action Center, where I handle our LGBT rights portfolio, among others. Beyond advocating for legislation that would further LGBT equality, teaching students about the current state of LGBT rights, and blogging about the intersection of current events, LGBT equality and Jewish values, I recently had the opportunity to work on a resolution on the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, which was adopted by the Central Conference of American Rabbis (the organization of reform rabbis in North America).

Posted on April 9, 2015

My Seder Plate Has Cinnamon

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There are several ways that LGBTQ Jews can be symbolically honored during the Passover seder. The orange on the seder plate is probably the most famous of these traditions. In this post. Z’ev recalls the time he asked an unfamiliar rabbi if he could bring a cinnamon stick to their seder.

I received a call from a rabbi I hadn’t seen for several years inviting me his home for a Passover seder. I was so honored by the invitation that I immediately accepted without a second thought.

The next morning I was making sure everything in my kitchen was ready for
when I came across a bottle of cinnamon sticks I had purchased for the holiday. I began to have second thoughts about my seder plans. I have been placing cinnamon on my seder plate for the past few years to honor LGBT inclusion in Judaism and it felt odd that I would be breaking my own tradition for the first time.

What was I to do?

My rabbi is friends with the host rabbi so I sought her advice. The host rabbi was “Conservadox” (a mix of a Conservative and Orthodox Jew), and I was sure that even the idea of making a change to centuries old rituals would be met with opposition. I was certain that requesting to add a small item to the seder plate would surely be denied.

My rabbi listened closely to my dilemma and suggested that I call seder’s host and explain the situation. The worst that might happen is he would say “no,” but since I was going to her home for second night seder we would keep my new tradition then. I thanked her and prepared to make that call.

I procrastinated for a couple hours before finally sending a one word text: “Busy?”.

The rabbi immediately called and asked how he could help. I nervously asked if I could place a cinnamon stick on his seder plate this year as it’s been my tradition for the past seven.

“Why a cinnamon stick?” he asked. I took a very deep breath and began to explain.

“Judaism has made huge strides towards inclusiveness for the LGBT community. It was less than a decade ago yeshivas began accepting openly gay students and ordaining openly gay and lesbian rabbis. In 2012 the Rabbinical Assembly (the international association of Conservative rabbis) unanimously voted to approve same-sex marriage as well as provided rituals for this important life-cycle event. There are even openly transgender rabbis in prominent positions.

Posted on April 8, 2015

Reflecting on Freedom: Passover & the Supreme Court

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Frankie's group at the Supreme Court; Mark Wilson, Getty Images

Frankie’s group at the Supreme Court; Mark Wilson, Getty Images

This past summer I had the opportunity to be a part of the Religious Action Center’s (RAC) college internship program, Machon Kaplan. As part of my summer, my fellow participants and I decided to camp outside the Supreme Court the night before its final decision issuing day of the summer, the night before the infamous Hobby Lobby decision was handed down. We were all brimming with excitement at the idea of being able to actually sit inside the courtroom and see history being made right before our eyes by the Justices themselves.

When morning came, the line had grown from our group of about 30 people at the front of the line to likely over 200 stretching around the corner of the courthouse. Only the first 50 people are allowed inside the building, I was number 12.

After going through security we were sat in the back of the courtroom where we anxiously awaited the justices ruling. Personally, as an LGBTQ Jew, I remember thinking about all the possible implications this ruling could have on my own life. What could it mean if companies were granted the ability to have and hold a religious belief and affiliation? The case may have been directly about women’s health care, but indirectly had larger implications. As it is now history, the ruling came down in favor of Hobby Lobby. It asserted that for-profit companies could be treated as having a religious affiliation.

I will never forget how I felt sitting in that courtroom hearing the decision being read, and that feeling has risen back up in me this Passover season.

I had never in my life felt more like a second-class citizen, knowing that a ruling like this could open the gateways for companies to discriminate against LGBTQ people. At the same time, I felt a sense of wonderment and awe at simply being able to be in that room and hear such a monumental decision (positive or not).

During Passover, we, as Jews, think heavily on the ideas of freedom and equality within society. We recall how we were slaves in Egypt and treated as lesser. We also think about the miracle of the Exodus, of the Jews escaping from Egypt. With this recognition, we remember both joy and sorrow, similar to how I felt sitting in the courtroom. We rejoice in our freedom, in being lead to victory over our adversary in Egypt. However, we dare not forget that as we danced on the other side of the sea, people were dying behind us. We, as Jews, recall both the joy of being set free, but also the sadness of others dying, much like my feeling of elation at being present in the Supreme Court that day, but also knowing the hardship it would cause.

Posted on April 7, 2015

Passover is Best When ALL of Our Peeps are Included

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Peeps Seder

Passover is best when ALL of our peeps are included. Looking for LGBTQ inclusive Passover resources? We’ve got you covered at!

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Posted on April 2, 2015

An Open Letter to Tom and Transgender Teens Everywhere

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Last week the story of Tom Chai Sosnik, a teenager that came out as transgender at Tehiyah Day School, his Jewish day school, headlines. Inspired by Tom’s courage, and the need to support transgender and gender expansive teenagers everywhere, Rabbi Becky Silverstein penned an open letter to Tom and teenagers like him. We’re proud to share this letter on Transgender Day of Visibility.

Dear Tom,

Tom Sosnik at his naming ceremony photos/misha bruk

Tom Sosnik at his naming ceremony. photos/misha bruk

As I was preparing my sermon last Friday afternoon, I decided to take a quick Facebook break and saw the video of you addressing your school. I watched it and immediately shared it with my own social network, commenting that “while I don’t know this young man, I have the privilege of knowing others who share a similar story. Almost nothing in the world could make me smile wider than this.”

Tom, we have never and may never meet, and yet I feel as though I know you.

I see in your face the faces of the LGBTQ Jewish teenagers I have had the opportunity to work with in my time as a Jewish educator and rabbi. In your face, I also see a vision of what I want so badly for our Jewish community to be: a place where everyone can be celebrated for the entirety of who they are and where nobody feels the need to hide a piece of their identity.

Tom, in your face I saw the reason why I am out, why I share my story, why I work to make our communities more inclusive. Tom, your courage gave me courage.

This week we will celebrate Passover. In his Torah study this past Shabbat, my colleague and teacher, Rabbi Joshua Levine-Grater, remarked that Passover is not for the risk-averse.

The moments before and during the actual exodus from Egypt were extremely risky. How could the individual Israelites be sure that they would be redeemed? And yet, in order for our story to continue, each individual needed to take a risk, needed to take a leap of faith, and perform the Passover sacrifice.

Posted on March 31, 2015

Lucky to Have Two Mommies

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Earlier this month an article entitled Dear Gay Community: Your Kids Are Hurting hit the web and was widely circulated. The author compared her childhood to Heather Has Two MommiesBut, she now identifies as a “former gay-marriage advocate turned children’s rights activist,” arguing that same-sex parents can’t provide as fully as heterosexual parents.Today’s post from Rachel Leary offers quite a different picture, showing that the only thing better than one mom is two moms.

I wanted to start this post with a story from when I was little.

Rachel and her family.

Rachel and her family.

I’ve been trying to think of just the right memory to explain how I ended up where I am, doing the work that I am doing. But no one story seems to do it justice.

I remember the time I ran over my mom’s foot pushing my brother in a stroller at the gay pride parade and how my other mom balanced helping her with making me feel like I didn’t ruin the day. I think that memory is part of a bigger picture of how much I enjoyed those pride parades, because as a kid how cool is it to be the center of attention and part of such a great community?

I remember summer weeks spent on the Cape with families with two moms and two dads and everything in between. I think about how annoyed I used to get when adults would say “your mommy and daddy” this and “your mommy and daddy” that and how I used to get all sassy and tell them I didn’t have a daddy I had TWO mommies.

I remember my first kindergarten play date telling her mom how lucky I was to have TWO mommies.

I think about my parents’ friends and the trips we took and the ways they helped me become a strong, confident (albeit still sassy) adult.

All of that didn’t come from their being lesbian parents, but it helped. When they went to my school to consult the class about families like ours, they showed me how to teach others to accept you rather than just get mad. They showed me how to stand up for myself (whoever I was at the moment) and be my own person unapologetically.

Posted on March 30, 2015

The Ultimate Tzedakah: Being a Surrogate Mother

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Keshet is pretty excited about
The Guys Next Door
, a feature-length documentary that tells the story of Erik and Sandro, a gay couple with two daughters birthed by their friend Rachel. (Check out the trailer below!)

We had the chance to chat with Amy Geller, who is co-producing and directing the film along with Allie Humenuk. Amy, who was the Artistic Director of the Boston Jewish Film Festival from 2012-2014, came across Erik, Sandro, and Rachel’s story through an alumni connection at her college, and was inspired to share their experiences.

Amy and Allie spent three and a half years filming The Guys Next Door—which includes, as Amy puts it, “the ultimate act of
.” Rachel, who is in her 40s and married to her husband Tony, has three biological children of her own. According to Amy, “by helping her gay friends to have daughters, Rachel makes a deeply personal decision that has political implications. With the support of Tony and their children, she affirms gay rights and same-sex parenting.”

Rachel shared how her Jewish faith inspired her to act as a surrogate for Erik and Sandro:


I am Jewish and my parents raised me to believe in equality and giving to others in whatever ways we can. As a mother now, it is important for me to continue living the foundation of those (Jewish) values, and teach them to my children. My experience in helping my good friends, Erik and Sandro, be able to have children, symbolizes to me the notion of Tikkun Olam—my little part in helping heal the world. It struck me as incredibly unfair that my husband and I could so easily have children, and that for two gay men to have children would be such a hardship, particularly financial. I believe that being able to help them have their daughters not only benefits them, but also benefits my family, and really, benefits the world around us. My hope is that it helps people see that family can look like many different and wonderful things, and how two gay men, given the opportunity, can create a beautiful home filled with love and strong values, just as well as a heterosexual couple can.

We can’t wait to see the film when it’s finished! If you’re inspired by Erik and Sandro’s love—or Rachel’s act of tzedakah—you can help support the film through its Kickstarter campaign.

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Posted on March 26, 2015