This is Pride Shabbat. The date was fixed to commemorate Stonewall in 1969.
I want to write about revelation. Though we inherit collectively the majestic legacy of Sinai, revelation comes to most of us in modest, private moments. When they happen, like the clouds which covered the desert mountain the mists of our ignorance, genuine or wilful, part. Beyond them is the living God.
I’m not suggesting we encounter God directly. We meet God through recognising God’s image in other people whose stories, hurts, joys and sensibilities we hadn’t listened to before. These moments open our minds and change us; at least they should.
I didn’t grow up knowing gay people and I wasn’t raised, in this regard, with a welcoming attitude. I don’t belong to the generations for whom LGBTQ+ is a self-evident part of the vocabulary.
What’s changed me is people, friends. One conversation will stay with me all my life. It was with a gay man who hadn’t yet come out:
It’s taken me years of anguish, but finally I can say the blessing for ‘making me according to God’s will,’ and know that God accepts me, and that I can accept myself.
I can’t count the mornings when, saying my own blessings, I think of those words with shame. I don’t mean shame on him, but about me and the rest of us, that this man had to suffer such self-negation for decades.
I’ve used the word ‘revelation’ advisedly. My appreciation of the sanctity of life was deepened; doors closed in my heart and imagination were pushed open. I know I have others which are still shut. Most of us do.
‘Shema Koleinu; Hear our voices,’ reads an important leaflet prepared by a member of our own congregation:
All over the world, Jews of colour, LGBTQ Jews of colour, from many different backgrounds, are committed to Jewish life, learning and living. Some of us are culturally Jewish – while we don’t go to a synagogue every week, we might love hosting big meals for our friends on Shabbat. Some of us are religiously observant or find our homes in Orthodox synagogues. Some of us are ethnically Jewish but aren’t religious at all.
‘It’s really about diversity,’ another gay member of our synagogue told me yesterday. Pondering her words, I realised that the same Mishnah which teaches that saving a single life is like saving the entire world goes on to say:
When a person stamps coins in the same mould they come out identical. But God stamps every person in the mould of the first human being, yet not one of them is like any other. (Sanhedrin 4:5)
Difference, like equality, is sacred. How urgent this teaching is, in a world of resurgent racism and supremacism.
It’s not enough to ‘tolerate’ people who are gay, though, tragically, it needs to be reaffirmed that this is an essential starting point. It’s only five years ago that Shira Banki was murdered in Jerusalem’s Pride parade.
Inclusion in a cloud of silence is not enough either. Do we as Jews appreciate being ‘included’ so long as we stick to the unspoken bargain and say nothing to betray who we are?
A full voice, being heard, celebrating and being celebrated with, leading, imagining, following together: this is a description of a community in which the image of God is recognised in every person. As the same Mishnah goes on to teach: each and every one of us, being unique, must [be able to] say, ‘For my sake the world was created.’
So I ask myself as a person, ‘Who am I hearing?’ and as a rabbi, ‘Where’s our community on this journey?’
Community that welcomes and supports.
It’s what you do – or are you just shooting the breeze? Alfie Ferguson