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.
At both our East and West LGBTQ and Ally Teen Shabbatonim this March, we asked several Keshet College Fellows (Shabbaton alumni who have returned to the Shabbaton as staff) to share words of blessing and intention for the Shabbaton participants who are graduating from high school at the end of this school year. Here’s what they shared:
Bennett Decker (ECS ‘16; Keshet College Fellow ‘17):
In today’s parashah (Torah portion), some of us read this morning:
“וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָֽׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם”
“And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.”
Seniors, you have helped to build a sanctuary here, not just at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, but in the metaphysical place that surrounds and provides a backdrop for everyone here. As you exit your time in high school, remember that just as that space–that מקדש, that sanctuary–is meta more than physical, so too can you continue to create the backdrop for the faces around this room. Our berakhah (blessing) for you today is that you will find a way to unite the past (those who told their queer stories in traditional Jewish literature), the present (the faces here), and your futures to engender a more loving, more open, more Keshet Jewish future.
Alex Kohl (ECS ‘14, ‘15, ‘16; KCF ‘17):
When I first came to the Keshet Shabbaton, I experienced pure magic. Never in my life had I been a part of a more accepting group of people whose identities so matched up with mine. I was astounded by the incredible young people here, and also thankful for the staff who became role models for me.
Seniors: As you continue your journey into adulthood, I hope you will hold the magic of this weekend close with you. I hope it will inform how you think, feel, and act. I hope you will carry what you learned here and apply it to your passions–be that Judaism, queer identities, or something else.
I also hope that you will become the role model that someone else needs. I hope your experiences at the Shabbaton will assist you in becoming peer leaders and exemplars for your communities. Lastly, I hope you will continue to work for good. As it is written, “Justice, justice you shall pursue…” (Tzedek tzedek tirdof) (Deut 16:20). I hope you will take what you learn here and use it to help others in need.
Amram Altzman (ECS ‘12, ‘13; KCF ‘14, ‘15, ‘17)
One of my teachers, Rabbi Benay Lappe, tells her students that you need two things in order to be a ‘player’ in your community: gamirna, text skills, and savirna, moral intuition. In this week’s parashah, we read about Moses reascending to Sinai to rewrite the Torah and bring it down to Israel after destroying the tablets the first time. At the tail end of Deuteronomy, three books and forty years later, however, Moses tells Israel that Torah is Lo ba-shamayyim hi; it is not in Heaven, nor is it across the sea. Instead, he tells Israel, it lies on the tip of their tongues and in their hearts. The reversal is profound–the Torah becomes not just a text, but becomes the combination of both text skills and moral intuition that come through living a life of emotional complexity and intellectual rigor, which develops at the intersections of our many identities.
Seniors, the Torah you hold, and the Torah you have to share, is profound because it comes from within you and from the interactions and the impact you have on those around you, and from the impact that others have on you. It comes from your gamirna and from your savirna. It comes from the heavens, but it also comes from here on earth. It can–and does–also come from fleeting moments of saying hello to someone as you pass them by and from conversations that last late into the night. Your Torah comes from your being LGBTQ Jews. The perspectives you can bring to the communities of which you are a part, and the impact you can have, is equally profound. Remember that the Torah that you have to offer isn’t away on some mountaintop: it is already here. Never doubt your ability to contribute to either of those communities. Continue fighting to be a part of both. You are enriched by being an LGBTQ Jew — and the LGBTQ and Jewish communities are enriched with you in them.
Frankie Salzman (ECS ‘12, ‘13; KCF ‘14, ‘15, ‘16, ‘17)
When asked to give this blessing, I found myself at a loss for words. The only thing I was able to envision was myself, sitting where you all are, as a senior at the Keshet Shabbaton. At that point, in some ways, it was very different–just a group of twelve teens and a few adults who thought a space like this was important. However, in some ways, it hasn’t changed at all. The two people who I stand here giving this blessing with have been my friends since that Shabbaton, and some of these compassionate, inspiring adults are the same people who were there as well. The most important blessing that I can share with you today is them. Seniors, you may be leaving, some of you will be heading off to new cities and new schools, but always remember that you are not being left behind.
One of my favorite prayers has always been the Hashkivenu; every week on Friday night, we ask for shelter, for peace, and for guidance. These people around you today, the staff, your peers, all share one hope in common: your success. Do not be afraid to look to them. By being here this weekend, you have bestowed upon yourself the greatest blessing I could give–a community. Never forget that no matter where you are, or what happens next on your journey, you have people–a community–where you are wanted and you are loved, as the beautiful queer Jew that you are.
Rachel Barkowitz (ECS ‘12, ‘13 ‘14; KCF ‘15, ‘16, ‘17)
Things I Wish I’d Known as a High School Senior: A list by Rachel Barkowitz
Even if you are your own center of gravity, the world does not always revolve around you. You shine just as brightly whether you shine alone or you are surrounded by a million other stars, but there is beauty to be found in even the darkest of nights, and sometimes, the feeling of panic that rises in your chest when you just can’t seem to catch your breath is only there to remind your lungs how lucky they are to taste air.
Sometimes, the world needs a lullaby, and sometimes, it needs a revolution, and sometimes, it needs both, but you do not sing alone, you do not fight alone; on our own, we are powerful, but together, we are radical, and we can change walls into windows if we truly try, and sometimes…
We’re going to need a break.
Erasers would be non-existent if we didn’t make mistakes.
Sometimes, you have to write your own love story, but that’s okay, because anyone else who tried to write it would’ve never gotten it all right anyway.
I know now what it’s like to be the fooler and the fooled, the followed and the follower, the loser and the lost thing, but I have found that sometimes it’s as much fun to be in control as it is to be in free fall.
Seniors, it’s true: life is a ride, it’s a roller coaster, a winding path of twists and turns but in the midst of all the people asking you, “Where are you going?”
Do not neglect how far you have come,
And do not forget the gift which is your present.
These are our blessings for you.
May you be guided down a path to exactly where you need to be.