Categories
Books Inclusion LGBT

‘Mishkan Ga’avah: Where Pride Dwells’: A Project of Hope

Mishkan Ga’avah: Where Pride Dwells, edited by Rabbi Denise L. Eger, was published by CCAR Press in the spring of 2020. In this post, Rabbi Eger shares how the book came to be.

Some rabbis collect their sermons and publish them. They are pearls of wisdom for the ages.

I may yet do that at some point.

But more urgently, I saw the need to center the voices of the LGBTQ+ community. Throughout my years of service as a rabbi, I had to create ceremonies and prayers for my community when there were no resources. I was ordained in the late 1980s in the midst of the AIDS crisis, at a time when our beloved HUC-JIR still wouldn’t ordain openly LGBTQ+ people as rabbis or cantors. We lived in fear and in the closet. Maybe that is hard to believe now for our many openly LGBTQ+ rabbis and seminarians, but it wasn’t that long ago when we gathered secretly at CCAR Conventions late at night in someone’s room to connect with other queer colleagues.

Over the years, I wrote prayers for Pride Month and National Coming Out Day. I would write invocations and blessings for interfaith gatherings affirming the worth and dignity

of LGBTQ+ people, their families, and people with HIV. I had to invent, create, and imagine an authentic queer Jewish life when there was little liturgy available.

Religion is so often used to shame and hurt LGBTQ+ people. Too much violence and hatred are directed at the LGBTQ+ community in the name of religion. I purposefully write from a different perspective.

I tried to create prayers in a genuine Jewish voice that uplifted, instilling hope and healing. I tried to combat homophobia through prayers and reflections that reinforced the theology that all are created b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image. I tried to convey what today we call audacious hospitality, writing naming ceremonies for those transitioning gender, wedding ceremonies before we had any templates, and rituals for coming out. I wrote my first ceremony to celebrate someone coming out as gay in 1986! It was centered around an aliyah to the Torah, as a riff on benching Gomel and a Mi Shebeirach for well-being.

But luckily, over these same three-plus decades, LGBTQ+ Jewish life has grown and blossomed. We have seen tectonic shifts in not just welcoming LGBTQ+ and non-binary Jews home, but embracing queer life and queer Jewish voices.

Often when Gay Pride Month would roll around, many of you, my colleagues, would call or email me to ask for materials for Pride Shabbat. I shared whatever I had created that year. Clearly there was a need for a collection of resources to help communities live out our commitment to be welcoming and embracing places of LGBTQ+ folx. Not one for sitting around, after my time in leadership of the Conference, I knew it was the right moment to collect not only some of own writings, but to invite others to share their poetry, prayer, and passion—centering the voices and experiences of our queer Jewish community.

Mishkan Ga’avah: Where Pride Dwells was born out of this effort.

Mishkan Ga’avah represents some of the collected wisdom, voices, and experiences of Jewish LGBTQ+ people. It is a spiritual resource for both the individual and the community. I hope it inspires others to write creative liturgy and prayers using their own voices. And I hope it will offer comfort, solace, inspiration, and hope to LGBTQ+ people everywhere—a beautiful strand of pearls for all of our Jewish community to wear.


Rabbi Denise L. Eger is the editor of Mishkan Ga’avah: Where Pride Dwells: A Celebration of LGBTQ Life and Ritual (CCAR Press, 2020) and a past President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. She is the Senior Rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, CA.

Categories
gender equality High Holy Days

A #MeToo/#GamAni Confession for the High Holy Days

As we enter the High Holy Days, we reflect on our individual failings, but our liturgy also instructs us to confess communally, recognizing the role each person has in shaping their community. In that spirit, I offer this addition to our prayers of repentance to allow us to reflect on the plague of misogyny, which continues to shape women’s experience of the world. Gender harassment has many expressions, including sexual assault, sexual harassment, micro-aggression, wage inequity, and the unequal representation of women in leadership positions throughout all corners of our society. While this confession emphasizes sexual harassment, true equality will not come until we address all expressions of gender harassment. Confessing our communal wrongs is only one step in the tikkun, the repair needed, but it is an important first step.

 

A #MeToo/#GamAni Confession

 

 

Al cheit shechatanu

For the sin we have committed before You . . .

by not believing the victims

by being silent while women were bullied, harassed or undermined

by claiming to be ready to listen when we were not

by claiming equality exists for all

by not supporting victims

by not providing sexual harassment prevention training

by accepting the sexist comments made every day

by blaming the victims

by claiming our workplaces, synagogues, and organizations were safe

by contributing to an environment that allowed harassment

by explaining away harassment

by believing the victims but not acting to make change

by worrying about our community’s reputation instead of the victims’ needs

by not reflecting on the past and present behavior within our community

by denying that gender harassment has many faces

by allowing victims to suffer retribution

by not noticing when women simply walked away from our community or institution

by making the reporting of harassment difficult and hard to engage

by promising change and not fulfilling this promise

 

 

Al cheit shechatanu

For the sin we have committed before You, we ask forgiveness.

Rabbi Mary L. Zamore serves as the Executive Director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network. Rabbi Zamore is also the the editor of  The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethics, now available from CCAR Press.

 

Categories
Books gender equality

Complete Equality Comes to the Reform Ordination

I recently had the pleasure of sitting with a group of women days before their ordination as Reform rabbis. On that magical cusp between school and new career, they were filled with pride and anticipation. Five years of hard work were coming to an end and the next chapters of their lives were rapidly unfurling. They spoke excitedly of their new positions in congregations and organizations; they showed off pictures of new homes and offices.

As we sat in celebration and reflection, I asked them about the experience of customizing their s’michah documents, the certificate received at the ordination ceremony. For the first time in forty-four years, the women ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) 1) will receive certificates to document their ordination that are completely equal to the ones bestowed on their male classmates and 2) will have the choice of their Hebrew title. While this event will slip by largely unsung, it is historic and significant.

In 1972, the momentous ordination of Rabbi Sally Priesand, the first woman ordained by a seminary, was celebrated throughout the world. As many fêted this significant step forward for Jewish feminism, it was not noted that Rabbi Priesand received a slightly different s’michah document than her male classmates. Archival evidence, as well as the fact that some of her seminary professors refused to sign her certificate, point to the fact that the new language created for her singular s’michah was born out of great discomfort with a woman being ordained rabbi.

The ordination documents of male and female Reform rabbis have an English and Hebrew side. They are not direct translations of each other. On that historic day, Rabbi Priesand was handed an empty tube, as the faculty took so long to debate the content of her certificate’s Hebrew side. Weeks later when she did receive it, the world was too busy watching her be a rabbi to notice that the title written in Hebrew was significantly different than every other Reform rabbi ordained since 1883. In the English version, all graduates are referred to as rabbi, but in Hebrew Rabbi Priesand was named רב ומורה rav u’morah, while her male classmates were ordained מורנו הרב moreinu harav. The former is a nice title aptly describing what rabbis do, but it lacks majesty and history. The title is pareve, bland. The latter is an historic title used since the 14th century. Its possessive plural, our teacher the rabbi, lends the validation of the community; its provenance gives a nod to the continuity of tradition. This is precisely why, I believe, the Cincinnati HUC-JIR faculty of 1972 avoided extending the title to Rabbi Priesand.

Sometimes inequity is perpetuated because discrepancies blend into our communities, becoming convention. Usually, they are not continued out of malice, but of habit. And so, for forty-three years, Reform women rabbis received ordination certificates containing a tacit slight to the equality of women rabbis. From this year forward, the language has been amended to create complete equality. The new s’michah document is something for the Reform movement to applaud. HUC-JIR adds this step forward to the tremendous transformation of their faculty over the last 20 years to include world class scholars who are women. Now with the process of creating fully egalitarian s’michah language, HUC-JIR is also giving women rabbis the choice of Hebrew title. The new rabbis can pick between using רב rav, the traditional Hebrew word for male rabbi, or רַבָּה rabbah, the emerging word for woman rabbi. Invisibly connecting the Diaspora to Israel, the choice given to the North American ordinees is based on the longstanding approach used by HUC-JIR’s Israeli rabbinical program.Sacred Calling

The soon-to-be rabbis described their reasons for picking their titles. Some explained that they wanted to be referred to as רב rav in order to be completely equal to their male counterparts. They felt it functioned in the manner the word actor does in English. Yet, one woman passionately argued for her choice of רַבָּה rabbah, explaining that with the continued opposition to the nascent group of Orthodox women rabbis, she wanted to stand in solidarity with these colleagues who are beginning to use the title רַבָּה rabbah. It was extraordinary witnessing my new colleagues’ passionate exchange. Perhaps, the choice of Hebrew title will be taken for granted in a few years, but for now there is great excitement over the selection.

As we continued to celebrate the up-coming ordination, the conversation shifted to concerns. While recognizing how much has been accomplished in forty-four years, my new colleagues also spoke of great frustrations, including not knowing if they will be paid equally throughout their careers, if they will need to fight for appropriate family leave, and if they will have opportunities for career advancement unfettered by gender bias. A reflection s’michah document remained unequal because a decision steeped in gender bias became habit. I hope we will continue to step back and read the small print carefully in all matters that impact women in order to eradicate injustice in the rabbinate and our greater society.

Rabbi Mary Zamore is the Executive Director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network, the international organization of Reform women rabbis. She contributed “What’s in a Word? Inequality in the Reform S’michah” to the recently released The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate, CCAR Press.  Rabbi Zamore was recently quoted on this subject in an article by JTA.

 

Categories
Rabbis Social Justice Statements

Bearing True Witness: Raising the Collective Rabbinic Voice

Late last week, the New York Times treated us to a column featuring two Reform rabbis, Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig and Rabbi Yoel Kahn, along with other religious leaders who have been pioneers in the struggle for LGBT equality. The article’s title suggested a problem it was striving to correct: “Push Within Religions for Gay Marriage Gets Little Attention.”

Reading the news, one could easily develop the impression that religion itself opposes LGBT equality and reproductive liberty, while demanding easy access to fire arms, to name just a few examples. Consider discussion around the Boy Scouts of America’s policy change, permitting gay and lesbian adults to serve in leadership capacities. We have all heard much about religious groups’ demand that they be permitted to bar gay men and lesbians from serving in these roles in the Boy Scout Troops they house, but precious little about religious groups that will only host Boy Scout Troops with clear, enforced non-discrimination policies.

Amplifying the progressive religious voice is hard work. As the New York Times’ headline writer suggests, our endeavors often garner “little attention.”

This week, I experienced the power of our collective rabbinic voice. On Monday, I had a phone call from a friend who works for Planned Parenthood. Her voice was filled with frustration, even loneliness, as she articulated the pain of being accused of gross inhumanity. Later that same day, our Reform rabbinate issued a statement, “CCAR Condemns Deceptive Campaign against Planned Parenthood.” I sent it to my friend. She was deeply moved that a group of clergy had rushed to Planned Parenthood’s defense. Not Jewish, and not being religious at all, her principal association with religion is in the claim of many that God hates Planned Parenthood, its work and its advocacy. Suddenly, a group of clergy has rushed to Planned Parenthood’s defense, boldly asserting “truth” to combat the lies that threaten to cripple women’s reproductive liberty.

In its 2015 session, the Arkansas Legislature, like many before it, resolved to welcome tablets of the Ten Commandments to stand on the grounds of our State Capitol. While I oppose doing so, in this week of reading Parashat Va’etchanan, which includes those Ten Commandments, I would suggest that the very people behind such efforts have much to learn from those commandments. When they claim that God commands that we discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, they take God’s Name in vain. When they charge that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue for profit, they bear false witness against their neighbors.

When I posted the CCAR’s Statement about Planned Parenthood to Facebook, one of my friends asked whether mainline Protestant groups had made similar declarations. I don’t know the answer, but I’m not aware of any. What I don’t do is take the bold truth-telling of the CCAR for granted.

Whether the issue is racial justice or gun violence, religious freedom in the United States or Israel, LGBT rights or reproductive liberty, we may be grateful that our CCAR President, Rabbi Denise Eger, and our Chief Executive, Rabbi Steve Fox, among other leaders, are prepared to raise the collective rabbinic voice to bear true witness: God loves all, created in the Divine image; and God demands truth.

And let us pray that, some day, no longer will a headline writer for the Times or anyone else have to say that our collective religious voice for truth “gets little attention.”

Rabbi Barry Block serves Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, Arkansas. 

Categories
CCAR Convention

Gender Issues are Mens’ Issues

As we are about to reconvene in dinners focused on an aspect of gender identity at the CCAR in Chicago, I remember my obligation to write a small piece about why a group of men got together to talk about gender issues at the CCAR last year, in 2013.

As we aim to bring real egalitarianism to our synagogues, Reform Judaism, and our countries, it has become abundantly clear that when men and women progress through the same jobs, equality in treatment, pay, and benefits works to everyone’s advantage. We must enlist men to see that gender issues affect everyone, including men.

Here are three issues that come to mind immediately that impact women and men as rabbis:

  • When a woman gets paid less in a job than a man who may then succeed her in that job, we have lowered the pay standards for both men and women.
  • When standards are different for men and women because of benefits that may come from partners, organizations’ standards for offering benefits may drop as well.
  • Expectations and treatment of partners differ based on gender.
  • Many of these issues were raised in the last month by President Obama and are also discussed in an article from Slate last year.

These issues are complicated. That doesn’t remove from us the obligation of working to proceed in a more-fair-for-all direction, especially as we encourage egalitarian parenting too.

These issues already exist in our movement. Some have been discussed on RavKav. I believe very strongly that we need to begin to create a system of principles on these issues from which we can negotiate reasonable and fair outcomes in our constituent organizations.

The CCAR is responsible for leading the way on social issues for all of our rabbis. Men must recognize that gender issues are our issues, so that we can truly bring equality to all.

Thanks for reading, if you have so far, I look forward to figuring out ways to participate in moving forward on these issues.

Happy Spring to all,

Jonathan

Rabbi Jonathan Freirich serves as associate rabbi at Temple Beth El in Charlotte, NC.