The Torch explores gender and religion in the Jewish community. Named for Deborah the Prophetess, "the woman of torches," the blog highlights the passion and fiery leadership of Jewish feminists, while evoking the powerful image of feminists "passing the torch" to a new generation. Disclaimer: All posts are contributed by third party authors. JOFA does not assume responsibility for the facts and opinions presented in them.
It’s about time. That is the overwhelming thought that I have as I read statements from one national Jewish organization after another coming out in support of gay rights after the mass shooting in Orlando. Actually, scratch that — they weren’t supporting all rights for this community, only their right to life. Hallelujah, at least all of us Jews can agree that the members of the LGBTQ community deserve to live, right? Aren’t we all such good people that we can agree that no one deserves to die by the hands of a terrorist?
Should our bar not be higher than not murdering the LGBTQ members of our community? Should we not be advocating for the freedom to express ourselves, empowering those among us whose voices are muted, and ultimately protecting ourselves and our communities from harm, whether it be psychological, emotional or physical violence? It is not enough for our leaders to say we are horrified by the mass murder of innocent civilians after the fact – -if that is all you have done, it is too little, too late. As leaders in our communities we must use our voices to be proactive, not just reactive.
Too often leaders are pressured to take the middle ground; we are to remain so politically correct that we effectively have no voice and no opinion. We are instructed by well-meaning community members that because we represent an institution, we must never take too strong a stance on anything of significance. Heaven forbid we should offend anyone!
These days it seems more important for our leaders to not be controversial than it is for us to be passionate or inspiring. Are we afraid to lose donors? To be disliked? To create honest and sometimes messy discussions that will not always be wrapped in a pretty package? I promise these things are not the end of the world. The end of the world looks much more like the hatred and violence that we see as a result of staying silent and brushing important issues under the rug.
I want to ask: when those of us who, by definition, have the loudest voices and built-in platforms and audiences are not using them to drive growth and change, what do we expect will happen to those whose voices are marginalized to begin with?
Leaders in every community have endless meaningful occasions to use our amplified voices for good. We can use our podiums to speak for the voiceless, the powerless and the victims. We can speak out against policies and viewpoints that are damaging or hateful. Very few people rise to a position of leadership by withholding their views. Most leaders are passionate, opinionated, and driven to make the world a better place. We often have a multitude of opportunities to express ourselves, and with every speech, every letter, and every public statement we can choose to say something or say nothing.
We can talk about the hard but important issues of feminism, racism, hate, sexual violence, and mental illness. Or, we can talk about the weather and how tasty the food is today. One is difficult but important, and the other? Why bother. Why do we need leaders if they aren’t going to lead? Why should we give people our ear if they are going to waste our time with topics of little significance that will not make a real, positive difference in our world?
A leader’s role is not to make everyone feel comfortable and happy — a true leader should speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. It is important to show solidarity and to comfort those who have lost family, friends and community members after a tragedy, but far more important and impactful to speak up proactively to create a cultural change that can prevent the tragedy from happening in the first place. Not everyone will agree with everything we say, and that is okay–the discourse itself is as important as the outcome.
As Art Williams said, “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy — I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.” Leaders, let us use our voices for good; make our opinions known; create change. It’s worth it.