Marching with the Torah

This is a guest post by Joanna Ware, a queer Jewish community organizer, activist, and rabble rouser at Keshet, a Boston-based non-profit building community locally and creating change nationally, working for the full inclusion of GLBT Jews in Jewish communities.

This year, my Simchat Torah preparations are a little bit out of the ordinary. I’m rushing to squeeze in one more load of laundry, wash a last round of dishes, and pack myself a liquid-less lunch, because tomorrow afternoon I’m taking off for DC.

National Equality MarchIn addition to Simchat Torah, this Sunday, October 11th, is the National Equality March, in Washington, DC. Representing Keshet, I will be marching and celebrating with a broad-based Jewish coalition dedicated to advancing full equality for all GLBT Americans. Every person in our contingent will have a story, a reason they’re dedicating their Sunday afternoon to this March — some markedly Jewish, some less so — but we’ll be together marching as Jews, on Simchat Torah.

During Simchat Torah, we are commanded to come together in celebration of Torah; in celebration of our laws. On Simchat Torah we weave and dance our way through singing, joyful communities, and each one of us, of all genders and sexualities, are offered an opportunity to both carry the Torah scrolls and to pass them on to another.

For me, as a queer Jewish feminist, the laws contained therein are fraught with complication. Our text teaches that Simchat Torah is an occasion when women are welcomed to carry the Torah even in some observant communities – a noteworthy difference between this day and the rest. But what of the genderqueer, gender non-conforming, and trans people within our communities? Can Simchat Torah be their day as well, or is it a day reserved for those of us who fit comfortably within traditional definitions of “man” and “woman”? These aren’t easy questions to face, for those of us for whom dignity and justice are everyday battles. The text in those scrolls both welcomes us, celebrates our efforts to live ethical Jewish lives, and also is too often used to remind us of our place – at the sidelines, or worse.

And yet, if there is anything Judaism allows us, it is space to wrestle with our traditions, teaching, and text; space to challenge and engage when the first answer feels troubling, secure in the knowledge that to question in this way is fundamentally Jewish.

Queer Simchat TorahSo on Saturday night, the DC JCC will be filled with song, dance, community, joy, and contention. As I carry the Torah during our Queer Simchat Torah celebration, I will carry both its infinite wisdom and our points of contention. And on Sunday, as I march, it will be in both celebration and contention. My steps will be Jewish, not simply because I am a Jew, but because I know that to demand justice and dignity for every person is a Jewish act. Because it is a Jewish act to balance the contradiction of our country’s avowed dedication to equality and justice, and the reality that within our borders there are far too many who are denied dignity, respect, and legitimacy. Because it is a Jewish act to draw courage from our convictions in our work for justice. And because, on Simchat Torah, we are to become the feet of Torah — and so I march for justice.

Join us this weekend, if it is in keeping with your Simchat Torah observance:

Queer Simchat Torah celebration: Oct 10th, 6:30 pm at the DC JCC (16th & Q St NW)
March meet-up: Oct 11th, 10:30am at the DC JCC

Keshet is proud to be organizing in collaboration with Nehirim, NUJLS, GLOE, and with the generous support of the Schusterman Family Foundation.

4 Responses to “Marching with the Torah”

  1. Wow this is great!!! What a profound holiday to be marching for equality! Goodluck.

    Elyssa Cohen · October 9th, 2009 at 6:44 pm
  2. It is heart warming and encouraging to see that Jewish teachings and traditions can continue to energize people to action, and help catalyze society to evolve greater tolerance, equity, and respect for our beautiful human diversity.

    Diane · October 9th, 2009 at 9:09 pm
  3. Sounds like DC this Sunday will be an amazing place to be a Jew. I wish I could celebrate these two important holidays with you Joanna, Simchat Torah and National Coming Out Day.

    If anyone reading this post lives in Minnesota, however, there are a serious of Jewish GLBT events in the next week to be held in honor of Coming Out Day, as well as a gay marriage campaign kicking off by a local Minnesota GLBT organization that is trying to reach out to people of all faiths. Learn more about the upcoming events, and the gay marriage campaign in TC Jewfolk’s article “Hi Bubbe, I’m Gay: or How to Celebrate Coming Out Day Jewishly” –

    Leora Maccabee · October 10th, 2009 at 3:37 pm
  4. [...] 2009 Marching with the Torah Jewschool, October 9, 2009 (blog post by Keshet community organizer Joanna Ware about the National [...]

    Keshet news » Blog Archive » Hot Off the Press – Check out these new articles about Keshet! · November 5th, 2009 at 3:29 pm

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik