Our family has a tradition (when we remember) to go around the dinner table and report on the “goods and bads” of the day. It’s a nice way to reflect at the end of the day. Sometimes, on not such great days it’s harder to find a “good” and on better days, it’s harder to find a “bad”. Either way, it’s a tradition that I like and wish we did more often.
I’ll start with my bad. The Orlando shooting. I’m still at the stage where I can’t really formulate anything to say. When there are large communal tragedies (such as terrorist attacks in Israel) I often find myself shutting up. When I say there are “no words”, it’s because there really are no words. I also worry that anything that will be said might become politicized or that someone else will say something which will make these tragedies worse somehow. So I tend to stay away from saying anything. In this case, I’ll just say that my heart goes out to the 49 victims and their friends, families and loved ones. Their deaths were senseless and cruel. And I hope it goes without saying to the LGBT community who is feeling that much more vulnerable and pained today, that I care about you and I’m so sorry this happened. Other than that, no words.
It’s nice to start with the bads, so we can end on a more positive note. The good. Our Rabbi mentioned the Orlando shooting in shul before yizkor yesterday. Many people in the synagogue had not even heard about it yet because it was Shavuot. But prior to the communal yizkor that we say for the victims of the holocaust, fallen IDF soldiers and victims of terror, our Rabbi made a point of mentioning the victims of the Orlando shooting. He spoke about how these were people who were cut down in the prime of their lives who were parts of families and communities. He asked us to pray for their memories. He didn’t mention the LGBT aspect, but it was clear that he was telling this Orthodox synagogue that when we are remembering loved ones, Jewish victims, etc. that it was imperative that we include these people in our prayers. I thought his message was clear.
I mentioned the brouhaha that led up to the Eshel shabbaton in the Lower East Side several weeks ago. I’m happy to report that the Shabbaton went on and from what I hear it was a wonderful weekend. In the week that followed it, several Rabbis went on the record to show their support for LGBT Jews in the Orthodox community.
First of all Rabbi Shmuli Yanklowitz posted a video interview that he conducted with an Orthodox LGBT woman, Shonna Levin about the challenges of coming out in the Orthodox Community. Following this video, he posted the following on Facebook:
“Orthodox folks who are deeply opposed to LGBT inclusion in our community, you can bash me publicly, you can tell those of us pushing for more respect that we’re “not really Orthodox rabbis,” but don’t you dare state that these vulnerable people created in the image of G-d are “abominations,” “worshipers of baal (idolaters),” “need reparative therapy,” and are “deserving of the death penalty.” In continuing to state such horrific things on Facebook (& elsewhere), you are putting lives at risk, destroying the Torah & making G-d a refugee from the world! I beg you, make me your punching bag, rake me over the coals, but lay off the children-at-risk! For the love of G-d!”
After this, Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, who I have met and have personally been on the receiving end of the compassion he shows to Orthodox LGBT people and their families, wrote an article in the Times of Israel titled, “Gay and Orthodox: An Oxymoron no more.” The whole article is fantastic (read it all). Here is a short excerpt:
“Being gay and Orthodox sets individuals on a lonely journey of self-discovery. Their bodies tell them one thing and God demands from them something else. Their self-identity is broken. Their emotions are pulling them in one direction while their conscience guides them in the opposite direction. Healing is hard and takes time. Our tzav hasha’a (call of duty) is to accompany them as they navigate this treacherous terrain, not to reject or ostracize them.”
Shavuot just ended. We as a nation have just recommitted ourselves to the Torah and all it entails. I haven’t mentioned the connection between the shootings that occurred in Orlando and religion. There is still much speculation. But we do know that religious fanaticism and prejudice that often comes from it often leads to tragic endings. Let’s follow the leads of the Rabbis mentioned in this post and not let our religion be the thing that allows us to exhibit apathy or much worse, disdain for LGBT people. Let us commit ourselves to making room for the LGBT people in our communities. Let’s show them that we DO want them to stay. That the community we have chosen to be part of and that many of them have been raised in DOES include them too. If we can do this, maybe there will be just a little less hate in the world. And maybe that will make a bigger difference than we can ever imagine.