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.
In 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.
So 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