In many cities and towns across North America (and the world), June is Pride month, honouring and commemorating the Stonewall Riots of June, 1969 and the start of the gay rights movement. Keeping with the Pride/LGBTQ theme, I have five things of interest to queer and transgender Jews (and their allies). In this post you will find: 1 – Trembling online; 2 – resources for transgender Jews; 3 – dlevy; 4 – ridiculous anti-Jew and anti-gay protesters; 5 – a review of the new CBST siddur.
2 – Jewish Mosaic let us know about Kol Tzedek, “an alliance of Jewish organizations working together in unprecedented ways to include transgender people in all aspects of Bay Area Jewish life.” (Additionally, they have a second focus: marriage equality and fighting prop 8.)
Over the past year, we met with a plethora of community members and rabbinic leaders to informally explore how transgender and gender variant people currently interact, or not interact, with the organized Jewish community. We compiled a report based on our anecdotal evidence and shared experiences of the perceived organizational, social and ritual needs of transgender and gender variant persons, and our wish to understand and serve this community’s needs better.
Our objective was to collect enough initial information to compile a brief report to present to the new CEO of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties (SFJCF), Daniel Sokatch. We had a very successful meeting in which we presented the report and had an enthusiastic and receptive conversation.
The report is available in PDF here. I share it with you guys in light of their hopes for the report: “Finally, with both confidence and humility, we offer this report to inspire similar initiatives elsewhere in the United States, within and outside the Jewish community.”
3 – dlevy says “Hi.” He’s too busy to post right now, so asked me to mention him in this post about the gays. (Seriously.)
4 – Mostly for some laughs, because does anyone actually take the Westboro Baptist Church seriously?!, check out this Slog video. At a protest outside the Stroum Jewish Community Center in North Seattle this weekend, they held signs including “Bitch Burger” (watch the video for an explanation on that one; it had me and my friends scratching our heads), “God Hates Israel,” “God is Your Enemy,” and “Antichrist Obama” – in addition to their boringly trite “God Hates Fags.” The Slog reports:
I know a lot of people may still be wondering, what exactly *is* a bitch burger? And/or is a CRAPuccino a drink that was invented in Seattle? Well, I tried to get some answers for you. Also stay tuned for Part II, where I try to find out why God suddenly hates President Obama… and, in Part III, a real live Israeli Jew asks “The Hot One” what he really thinks of anal sex.
5 – Last week CBST (Congregation Beth Simchat Torah: “New York City’s synagogue for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews, our families, and our friends”) finally released their new siddur, B’chol L’vav’cha / With All Your Heart. The siddur is for Shabbos evening services only.
We try to create the most meaningful experience of prayer we can. Jewish prayer is not a spectator sport. Each week will be different from the week before. Not every week’s service will “work” for every person. Not every service will give you what you came searching to find. But if you hang in there, if you come back regularly, the fixed portions of our liturgy and the weekly variations will most likely begin to speak to you and address those needs you felt keenly and those you didn’t even know you had. [p.14]
I use this excerpt by way of showing what CBST is trying to do with this siddur.
The siddur is English-heavy, the translations of the Hebrew are more often poetic than literal, and are sometimes all together missing. And if the goal is to make their siddur, and services, “meaningful [not only] to the learned,” translations and transliteration should be consistent, and the layout should be easy to follow. The Hebrew layout is at times confusing. Parts of the Kabbalat Shabbat service, for example, have the Hebrew laid out in two columns. My instinct was to read down the right-side column, then the left-side column; in fact we’re to read across both columns, row by row. Transliteration is also provided for the Hebrew, though not fully. I haven’t been to enough services at CBST to be certain, but it looks like transliteration is only provided in full for the Hebrew when the congregation might sing that specific section together in full. Otherwise only the chasima (conclusion to the prayer) is transliterated, and at times no transliteration is provided at all. But I suppose that’s all the technical stuff. Let’s look at what else is in there.
Just as they explain in their service style above, the new CBST siddur is full of extras which may be used during weekly Shabbos evening services, but also extras specific to holidays (Jewish and secular). Leading up to the ma’ariv Sh’ma, we find poems by Walt Whitman, Jane Kenyon, and Rami M. Shapiro. There are meditations or explanations throughout the siddur, and occasional suggestions on how a prayer may be difficult, but still relevant, to an LGBT Jew. On the same page as the Ma’ariv Amidah:
As a community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and straight Jews, we have experienced the ways in which LGBT families are excluded and erased from Jewish community and family life. Because of the way we love, some of us have lost our children or have been excised from their lives; many of us will never be legally recognized as the parents of the children we have raised. Likewise, many of os us are the children of parents who are not legally recognized. Yet despite this, we know that our relationships are holy and our families are real. Therefore, we acknowledge all of our ancestors, Avraham, Yitschak, Ya’akov, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, her handmaiden Bilhah, Leah, and her handmaiden Zilpah. Our ancestors descended from all of them, whether their relationships were celebrated or not, whether they were regarded as equal or not.
Were I writing this, I might have tied ancestors, families, and children, into the story of Chana, from whom we learned to pray quietly and with intention (Amidah is not, as this siddur explains, “silent prayer”), but that’s just me. If someone read the above paragraph and finds it helpful in focusing their prayers, that’s great. (It’s also possibly a sign of the demographics of the siddur committee that they focus on not having their adoption/children recognised, but fail to also note that many LGBT people are cut off from their parents and families for being queer/trans.)
Prayers are sometimes offered with two “gender” options – for G!d. (I’ll write in transliteration as the current version of wordpress still doesn’t seem Hebrew-enabled.) Side-by-side we see: Barchu es Shechina* ham’voresches and Barchu es Adonai ham’vorach. Both names of G!d are yud-hay-vav-hay in the Hebrew, but an asterix tells us that the first one is to be pronounced “Shechina.”
But let’s look at the bonus section. Laid out chronologically, following the calendar year, there are additional prayers, reflections, poems, and songs starting with Hallel, then going through:
Elul/Days of Awe, Sukkot/Simchat Torah, Shabbat Noach, Transgender Day of Remembrance, Thanksgiving, AIDS and World AIDS Day, Chanukah, Martin Luther King Day, Tu Bish’vat, Shabbat Shirah, Purim, Pesach, Counting of the Omer, Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron/Yom Ha’atsmaut, Shavuot, Pride Shabbat, Shabbat Chazon/Tish’ah B’av
Transgender Day of Remembrance includes one thing: “A Memorial Prayer,” in English, by Reuben Zellman. By contrast, the AIDS and World AIDS Day section is 6 pages long and includes prayers (excerpt from Psalm 6 Hebrew and English), poetry, and prose. For a siddur that makes an effort to have fair gender and transgender representation, I was surprised at how male-dominant the AIDS section was. For Jewish holidays, there are songs in Yiddish and Ladino, poems, prose, teachings from our sages, and more.
As a resource, I think this siddur is an interesting collection of sources for a Friday night. As a resource for my davvening, however, I don’t think it’s one I’ll use. If you’re in the NYC area, stop by CBST and let me know what you think of the siddur, and how they’re using the “extras” in their services. If you’re in another community that has decided to make use of this siddur, I’m curious to hear how it’s being received. Let me know!
… Happy Pride month, all!