Jewels of Elul: Rosh HaShanah
Knowing That You Will Be Counted in the Minyan
A Lesson from LGBTQ Teens ~ Idit Klein
Last summer, I met a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Jewish teens at a Shabbaton for LGBTQ youth. Each teen described the experience as “the first place I’ve felt like I could be both queer and Jewish, like it was a normal thing.” I will never forget their expressions of joy and profound relief at finding a community where they could just be.
The teens shared a sense of wonder at how good it feels to be fully seen and understood. When you can be your full self in a community, they reflected, you do not notice that you are being welcomed and included; you simply feel like you are a part of things.
Their desire for an unselfconscious, easy embrace by their communities encapsulates for me what makes building a welcoming community much more than a system or set of procedures. Surely, there are steps that every community must take to become inclusive of LGBTQ people, people of color, people with disabilities, poor and working class people, and others who experience oppression. But once we change policies and implement programs, the process of change must become an art: imaginative, inspired, idiosyncratic, and organic.
No one wants to feel the labor of being welcomed. As the teens put it, we all want to feel normal and effortlessly understood. For me, true inclusion runs so deep that no one can imagine the world any other way.
Idit Klein is the Executive Director of Keshet, an organization promoting advocacy for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Jews. www.keshetonline.org
I see this as “Coming to terms with the life you wish/ed for and the life you have.” RabbiB
The Road To “Yes” ~ Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson
As someone who fell in love with God and Torah as a collegian, I dreamed I would have a child with whom I would share my newfound passion. At my rabbinical school, I would see professors and their children swaying together in prayer or over a text, and I would imagine the thrill of sharing that piety with my (as yet unborn) child. When my wife, Elana, and I were told she was expecting twins, my heart and my fantasies soared. Yet, my beloved daughter, Shira, is not drawn to religious services. My son, Jacob, diagnosed with autism at age three, has difficulty speaking or turning the pages of a book.
I had dreamed of a child who would love the Torah as I do, and who could share that love with me. God, it seemed, had denied my dream.
As Jacob prepared for his bar mitzvah, he mastered Facilitated Communication, an assisted typing technique that proved he had taught himself to read! Able to hear through walls, Jacob had achieved remarkable sophistication and depth by ruminating on the conversations of others. Jacob and I began to learn together. We studied the weekly Torah portion and the prophetic readings. We studied the prayer book, and Jacob composed a soulful commentary. After his bar mitzvah, I committed to learn how to facilitate Jacob’s typing, which meant we could embark on further learning and have real conversations, too. Every Sabbath, Jacob and I sit in my study, and we discuss, and we learn – Torah, Heschel, Jewish history or philosophy. His comments continually lure me, and with the purity I see sparkling in his eyes, he reminds me to love God and Torah.
It turns out that it was not God who said “no” to my dreams. It was my rigid sense of what “yes” was supposed to look like that blinded me to God’s great, big, wonderful “YES” and almost blinded me to the miracle that is my son.
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is the Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University. www.bradartson.com