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I moved to North Carolina about eight months ago after living most of my life either above or well above the Mason-Dixon line. I remember distinctly a few weeks before I left, my parents sat me down and attempted to warn me about life in the South. Mind you, neither of them had ever lived in the South, but they were concerned that as a gay Jew, I would not be able to make a home for myself here in the way I would elsewhere. “Don’t be too loud or expressive about your Jewishness; maybe hide your Chai (the Hebrew symbol for life) necklace,” they both warned. Needless to say, I took their ostensibly dire warnings with many grains of salt, and reminded myself I was moving to Durham in 2016, and not Birmingham in 1955, or Jackson in 1860, which I think my parents were both expecting.
Really, up until about a month ago, I was absolutely right. I found a community just as strange, diverse, interesting, and engaging as I’d hoped for. A month ago, however, our state legislature seemed hell-bent on returning our state to all its hateful antebellum glory with the passing of HB2, the so-called bathroom bill. But of course, just like Birmingham in 1955 was never about buses, water fountains, and school, HB-2 is not about bathrooms. It is – and always has been – about what happens when anger, fear, and anxiety go unchecked and are written into law.
Interested in more posts about Jewish life in the South? Check out MyJewishLearning’s Southern & Jewish blog!
This is why it was so unfortunately necessary, and still so moving, that I had the privilege of joining so many of my rabbinic colleagues and fellow Jewish leaders from all over the state for a press conference at the state legislature offices in Raleigh on the 26th. Those who spoke gave testimony as to not just why this hateful legislation is morally repugnant, but why it’s frankly un-Jewish. Rabbis Fred Guttman and Lucy Dinner spoke passionately about Judaism’s perspective that we are all created in the image of the divine, lending each of us, in whatever bodies, genders, and expressions we choose, a spark of godliness. The most exciting part though, is that many as we were that afternoon in a crowded press room, we represented only a sliver of the over 45 other rabbis and Jewish leaders who signed a petition calling for the full repeal of this bill.
The legislature has dug in its heels in unfortunate and deeply misguided defense of this bill, but so have we. Our goal is to prove my parents wrong, to demonstrate that Southerners do not speak in one voice, and to show that, just as the rabbis and faith leaders in 1860 and 1955 did, the voice of faith is the voice of the righteous, and the beacon to work towards equity for all.
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