From queer text study and institutional inclusion to profiles of queer clergy and youth voices, the Keshet blog features new ideas and reflections by and for LGBTQ Jews and their allies. The blog is produced by Keshet, a national organization with offices in the Bay Area, Boston, and New York that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life.
The first time I held my child, he took my breath away. I just wanted my love to surround him like a protective film against the dangers of this world. When he transitioned seven years later, I cried and prayed because I feared that my unconditional love might not be nearly enough to secure safe passage. My faith in the One who loves my child more than I ever could continues to carry me on my journey through the wilderness of trans advocacy as an Orthodox rabbi.
Breath. When a baby is born, a child falls, or a person is dehumanized, we wait for it in that unnatural silence. We wait for the imminent scream—that hasn’t yet found itself—to protest the trauma. The shock is so overwhelming that it distracts from even the unconscious act of breathing. What might it look like for us to provide the air for those gasping and to surround them with a loving cushion of it?
Tradition teaches that a “cloud of glory” accompanied the Jewish people in the desert and provided comfort and cover through their treacherous trek. Where do clouds of glory come from, and how can we access their power today to shield the vulnerable and exposed?
The mystics hint that the “cloud of glory” has its source in the human breath. With that first Divine exhale, into the nostrils of Adam, came life. After the exodus from Egypt, we finally gave it visible expression when we breathed a collective sigh of relief. We were free and held a safe space for each and every person to embrace that freedom and bond through a commonality of individuality. So precious was our united spirit that G-d preserved and condensed that communal breath into the form of a cloud—the cloud of glory. G-d is glorified when we show honor and dignity to all those who breathe.
The verse that provides the invitation to be happy on Sukkot—“You shall rejoice on your festival”—was part of the covenant of communal responsibility that was given at Mount Gerizim and Ebal. The cloud of glory, the Talmud tells us, was given in the merit of Aaron, the great lover of people and peace. When the Jewish people sinned with the golden calf, there was a breakdown of the cloud. It was only when people came together in the rebuilding of that communal safe space, in the form of the mishkan (tabernacle) on the 15th, that our cloud of glory was reformed.
The cloud of glory necessitates total inclusion; G-d’s breath is never wasted by putting extra people in this world. The biblical sukkah invites everyone to sit together in one dwelling place. Our happiness in the festival can’t be completely achieved if there are people on the outside still looking for shelter and sanctuary.
This Sukkot, I encourage every person in the Jewish community to sign on to Keshet’s Kavod Achshav | Dignity Now campaign for trans youth. By proudly declaring “Trans Jews belong here,” we are partnering with G-d to hold all of G-d’s children in a loving cloud of glory and safety.