In the blessing of the rabbinate, there are times we actively pursue our mission, understanding definitively why we advocate and share. But there also are times that our mission pursues us, reminding us why we do what we need to do – and maybe even more importantly, teaching us why our faith has embedded within it such values for guidance in each and every instance. On a very personal level, such has been the case in being an ally and appreciating how significant this reality is.
It actually wasn’t something on my radar. I believed, ironically, it was obvious. I knew my beliefs of complete acceptance and support of LGBTQ+ individuals. In 1995, I saw it as an honor to stand under the chuppah with two women sharing their love with the community, in what we dreamed of being a legal wedding but back then could only be a commitment ceremony. While letters had been sent to the editors in the Jewish press opposing this occurring on our bima, we were steadfast in our support, resolute in knowing this was holy. Didn’t our actions on that Saturday evening say it all?
Nearly 20 years later came the request to stand in front of the Federal Courthouse in Detroit rallying as the judge heard the landmark adoption case in which two women challenged Michigan’s ban on same sex marriage. Surprised that other rabbis refused to attend and speak at the gathering, organizers still believed it important for a Jewish message to be added to the rally. Following three other clergy, all of whom were gay, this straight rabbi ascended the podium. But who was I to speak following the eloquence and personal experience of those who preceded me? All I could reflect upon was the reality of the holiness found in my marriage, the blessings of my children.
Knowing all of us to be created B’tselem Elohim (in the image of God), why shouldn’t every individual be afforded this love, this joy? It was an unfamiliar crowd, but one that offered remarkable support. Unbeknownst to me, a young woman, a congregant of mine, had joined the gathering. She found me at the end and thanked me with words and hugs, her sister having recently come out. If only I understood at that moment what she was communicating.
Then there was the Shabbat after the attack on Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, when eleven Jews were murdered in shul. Standing with us in solidarity, the Archbishop of Detroit shared from our pulpit, as did the Imam of the Islamic Center of America. The support and love felt both from the bima and in the pews was palpable. That morning, as I spoke of baseless hatred and the need to love all, honoring our diversity of religion and race, words were added to include sexual identity and the necessity to never discriminate.
The strength and hope gained from that morning lifted us up in the midst of our pain. But once again, words privately shared after our morning prayers still resonate powerfully for me. In my mind, speaking of acceptance and adding to my remarks those in the LGBTQ+ community was natural. Yet, when a gay man thanked me specifically for this inclusion, what I believed to be obvious, was unexpected to many praying with us that day.
One might think that a rabbi would learn more quickly. But ultimately it was this year’s pandemic that made the necessity of becoming an ally so pronounced. With additional time to study and share, some of my teachings incorporated these words of inclusion and acceptance specifically.
A few discussions and lessons with Rabbi Mike Moskowitz – the other Rabbi Mike Moskowitz – that were conveyed to my congregation opened my eyes even more. And with comments publicly stated, articulating what I had believed and embraced for my entire rabbinate, the greater the response became. Watching individuals from the LGBTQ+ community repost my comments, share my teachings, affirm my beliefs, I realized it is not that I had said something so unique but that there are not enough allies in our world. What we do might seem obvious in resonating our beliefs; however, if we do not articulate it clearly, we are not demonstrating how important being an ally truly is.
The prophets of our faith cry out advocating for this reality. In recognizing the schisms and exclusions developing among the people Israel, Isaiah declared “My house shall be a house of prayer for all people.” There is no distinction here. All people. All of us are welcomed into our community. All of us deserve and feel the support and even love of community. And through that, all of us feel the support and love of God.
Why is it that two women, one of whom I have known for over 15 years, are so effusive when something positive and in support of the LGBTQ+ community, of their love, is made public at temple? Why is it that they both respond so quickly and affirmatively when their rabbis have done something lifting up this community? Again, for me, the words and these actions are what Judaism teaches. But for them, for far too many years, that is not what they have heard. Unfortunately so much of Judaism, of religion, has excluded, judged or at best remained silent. And a positive statement every couple years, at a service here or a rally there, is not enough.
We cannot undo the wrongs of our past but we can make right today by letting others know that we are allies; that we understand the importance in allyship.
In watching these women, their courage lifts me up. We cannot necessarily know the challenges felt and experienced, what they pushed through to find hope. To some degree, like the people of Israel, resiliency is their superpower. They persevere. They lift each other up. They exude positivity. Interesting that in being an ally we gain wisdom and insight from those we include. As a community, we gain strength from how they live with resilience.
For a couple years, these two beautiful individuals have been trying to get pregnant. It has been difficult fraught with challenges and setbacks. Last month though they announced their impending joy with excitement – and I responded in looking forward to the simcha that was on its way. Immediately the text shot back, “get ready for being in our lives for a long time.” Finally, through this thick head I realized how important and even how blessed it is to be an ally.
I realized you cannot say this too many times, ever. You are loved. And in being an ally, we help bring God into our world. Say these words to those in your lives. They need to be heard and affirmed. It makes us stronger as a people. And yes, some superpowers actually can be shared.
This essay first appeared in Chaver Up!: 49 Rabbis Explore What it Means to be an Ally through a Jewish Lens.