Culture, Religion, Sex & Gender

Welcoming Selihot

crossposted to JVoices
A personal bend:
I received an email this morning from my mom that was incredibly moving. She told me the synagogue I grew up in and still in many ways consider my shul, Rodeph Sholom, a Conservative Shul in Bridgeport, CT is going to be screening Hineini this evening before the Selihot service. I see this in the larger context, with the change in JTS’ chancellor, and the potential passage of an ordinance for gays and lesbians (yes just gays and lesbians–no BT on this one, partly because it’s different halachically and that’s a lot of what they are looking at and partly because, well that’s how people do incremental reform work and it’s flawed for many reasons on this issue, but anyway) to be ordained this December.
Many synagogues have moving sermons on the night of Selihot to remind us as we move into this time of Elul to think about ourselves and about change. In fact, if you’re in New York, B’nai Jeshurun is having a discussion called “Forgiveness in Extraordinary Times” with South African poet and novelist and poet Antjie Krog According to the website, “Her best-known book, Country of My Skull deals with the Truth & Reconciliation Committee that provided amnesty for perpetrators of crimes committed on all sides during the years of Apartheid.”
So why is this moving for me? Because I didn’t expect it, and honestly didn’t think it would happen any time soon. I knew the potential reach of the film, but still never thought it would cross my childhood shul’s door–not because they aren’t good people, and not because it isn’t an issue, but because it is so invisible there. When I go back to Connecticut, I am usually the only visibly queer person in a large congregation. Not surprisingly, I stand out. This isn’t unique to Connecticut. I still get this in many shuls and, yes, even in many independent minyanim in New York. OK maybe there are five of us, but really unless I go to a specifically gay, and yes I say gay for a reason, shul in NY, it’s the reality.
In many ways, like Shulamit Izen, who is featured in Hineini, I didn’t know that there was a community for me, that there were people like me, and that I would come, in later years, to find much more than just a redefinition or a desire to be seen in my community, but rather a long, deep history of queer and transgender Jews who have been at the center of building Jewish life.
This year my Rabbi is retiring–in fact he has to, the shul requires rabbi’s to retire by a certain time (I can’t remember if it’s because of age or years served). I know that in the past years, he has struggled to move the synagogue to be more egalitarian amidst an old guard that couldn’t deal with seeing women counted as apart of a minyan or wearing tallit. My mom sees this as his attempt to talk with the synagogue about being open to the realities that in their halls are young LGBTQ Jews who want to be there–and because I love my rabbi, I love him for doing it, even as my time has passed and even if it is only a step, a screening since for this shul it is a big step. Even though we disagree on issues like Israel and Palestine and even if I do not know where he stands on the issue of JTS and ordination, I love him because he is where he is, he struggles where he is, he doesn’t pretend otherwise and he meets people where they are to move them–(and an aside he’s always been fiery around issues of poverty and economic justice).
And it is, indeed, a moving reminder of change and growth moving into Elul. I hope all of you have many moments (personal, communal, political and all) like these in coming weeks, months and years.

2 thoughts on “Welcoming Selihot

  1. Went to 10:30 PM Selichot with my dad. Rabbi mentioned he could not find his notes on Selichot, 2005. He then was reminded that for us, in Houston, there was NO selichot 2005 as the city had evacuated for Hurricane Rita’s (non) approach.
    Beautiful service at Beth Yeshurun, with a Hazzan that makes me shed tears every time I hear him. Baruch Hashem we had Selichot THIS year! It is one of my favorite services.

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