Keshet is a national organization that works for LGBTQ equality in Jewish life. The organization equips Jewish leaders with tools to build LGBTQ-affirming communities, creates spaces for queer Jewish teens to feel valued and develop their own leadership skills, and mobilizes the Jewish community to fight for LGBTQ justice. Keshet’s blog spotlights this work, as well as the voices of LGBTQ Jews, our families, and allies.
Part of the observance of Shavuot, the traditional spring harvest holiday, is the celebration of the bikkurim, the first fruits of the year. In this post, Becky Silverstein honors those “first fruits” of the LGBT movement who have made so much progress possible.
The journey from Passover to Shavout is seven weeks. Counting each night, we count the steps towards revelation and still, suddenly, the time for receiving Torah is here! As I prepare for my own experience of revelation this year, here is what I expect to see at Sinai: I expect to see millions of Jews standing together. I expect to see cultural Jews standing next to Orthodox Jews standing next to our non-Jewish family members and friends. I expect to see families, of all different configurations, huddled together under one
or around a picnic blanket. I expect to see cisgender Jews and transgender Jews, Jews with matrilineal lineage and Jews by choice. I expect to see millions of people staring at the heavens, watching the thunder and lightning.
In addition to being the day of revelation at Sinai, Shavuot is also an agricultural celebration that marked the bringing of bikkurim, first fruits, to the Temple. I imagine a time of great joy filled with song and sunlight. I see households celebrating together and praying for a successful continuation of their harvest. Like my view of Sinai, these households come in all shapes, sizes, and configurations.
Despite our reenactment of revelation at Sinai, we are no longer there, nor does the Temple exist today. Where are the places we connect to G-d and to community? They are synagogues and day schools, community centers and summer camps. I see these places just as I envision Sinai and the Temple – rich in diversity of people, of family configuration, of experience. I see children of queer parents celebrating their B’nei Mitzvah. I see LGBTQ people serving as rabbis, educators, and lay leaders. I see teenagers coming out in their youth groups and feeling safe.
In a time where an unprecedented number of civil rights are being granted to the LGBTQ community, it is easy to forget how we got here. In the moment of revelation or offering, it is easy to forget the 49 days of counting since our liberation at Passover. What I see in our communities is the result of hard work. It is the result of our own bikkurim, those who came before us and offered sacrifices on our behalf. They are the result of those who stood at Stonewall and those who insisted that being out was not a disqualifier for participation in Jewish communal life. They are the result of those whose stories I return to in the book
Lesbian Rabbis: The First Generation
and whose stories educators celebrate when they hang posters from Keshet’s LGBT Jewish Heroes series on their classroom walls.
This Shavuot, celebrate the bikkurim of the queer rights movement that we enjoy – celebrate how our communities look now. Then, with one foot in the Temple, ask: “What are the first fruits I am bringing with me? What sacrifices will I make this year to move our communities forward?” And with one foot at Sinai, ask: “How I will I use this Torah to make Jewish communities more inclusive for all its members?” The answers sow the seeds for next year’s harvest.
Pronounced: shah-voo-OTE (oo as in boot), also shah-VOO-us, Origin: Hebrew, the holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, falls in the Hebrew month Sivan, which usually coincides with May or June.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.