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An Orthodox Gay First?

Orthodox-ordained Rabbi Steve Greenberg presiding at same-sex wedding of Yoni Bock and Ron Kaplan in Washington, DC synagogue, 10 November 2011 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Orthodox-ordained Rabbi Steve Greenberg presiding at same-sex wedding of Yoni Bock and Ron Kaplan in Washington, DC synagogue, 10 November 2011 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Yasher Koach to chatanim (חתנים or grooms) Yoni Bock and Ron Kaplan!

Standing in matching kittle’s (קיטלנים or traditionally white linen robes that Ashkenazim are known to be buried in after wearing it to their wedding as well as annually on Yom Kippur to signify purity, holiness and new beginnings) and orange kippah’s (כִּפוֹת or platter-shaped head caps worn for respect) the two men stood under the chupah (a symbol of the home that the couple will build together) in Washington D.C. holding hands.

I understand from the blogsphere that many in the Orthodox tradition are dismissing the wedding as both of the grooms are men. Although no one has asked me my opinion on the matter here it is: of course it counts. The grooms were married in Washington D.C. by Rabbi Steven Greenberg, author of the 2004 groundbreaking book Wrestling with God & Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition. 

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Posted by on November 15, 2011 in Queer Jewish Leaders

 

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countering the untrue

As the GLBT portal of the 16th Street J, The Kurlander Program for GLBT Outreach and Engagement (GLOE) engages metropolitan Washington’s GLBT Jewish community by sponsoring original programming and fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment at the Washington DCJCC.

My colleague in Washington D.C., who like me works to break down obstacles in our communities paths to living Jewishly, responds to the article, “Bridging the gap between faith and sexuality” (WJW, Oct. 20) in the brilliantly written (and re-posted below) letter. This article that my colleague writes about seems to express a limited capacity as to the centrality of Judaism in the lives of many that are outside of a hetero-normative experience.

I too have a limited capacity to understand how the role of Judaism can not be central to my life. Proudly I am as Jewish as I am a proud Lesbian, American, Feminist and ally to identities that are created in the image of the divine, צֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים‎‎; t’zelem elohim, but are not my own. Judaism helps to make meaning of my life, help me understand the inexplicable and it gives me some structure to the chaos around me. This afternoon, the chaos around me can be read simply through the blatant disregard for LGBT Jewish identity in this passive Editors response to my colleagues letter, “WJW had no intention to take a position on this issue.”

This evening I am speaking on a panel hosted by Spectrum, Marin’s LGBT Center. We will be talking about how different religions handle biblical prohibitions against homosexuality and on the role religion plays in helping make meaning of our LGBT lives. I anticipate questions about how LGBT Jews continue to look beyond words written in Torah as well as how it is that so many LGBT Jews continue to love a community of cultural relevance, faith and spirituality when some continue to foster feelings of marginalization for LGBT Jews and our steadfast allies. I have a few answers to these questions, including boasting about how extraordinary our local Jewish Editorial staff is, but I would prefer to give them in person, so if you are up for a conversation please join us.

Meanwhile, read this letter as it has been ‘cut and pasted’ from wjw: “What GLOE works to counter everyday. As a proud member of both the Jewish and GLBT communities in Washington, I was hurt and outraged to find that Washington Jewish Week seems to state that these communities are mutually exclusive. As the director of GLOE, a program of the DCJCC, I know that they are not.

The article “Bridging the gap between faith and sexuality” (WJW, Oct. 20) stated “While the Torah strictly prohibits homosexual behavior” as a fact without question. Such a qualifier does a tremendous disservice to all GLBT Jews and undermines the effort to build a more inclusive community.

With close readings of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, the latest data on the science of sexual orientation, and a sympathetic, accessible, and ecumenical approach to religious faith, Michaelson makes the case that sexual diversity is part of the beauty of nature, and that the recognition of same-sex families will strengthen, not threaten, the values religious people hold dear.  Jay Michaelson’s book, God vs. Gay?: The Religious Case for Equality, discusses the common misconceptions around this supposed biblical prohibition. Since this book, its author, and the surrounding program at the DCJCC were the topic of the article, I found it incongruous that the piece introduced Michaelson’s thesis with a dogmatic interpretation of the Torah. Even more importantly, the biblical imperatives towards love, community, justice, family, and saving a life, both vastly outnumber and outweigh any other verses one might “strictly” quote. WJW is an important voice in our community and the articles, images and words it chooses to print carry significance. That phrase, which betrays a bias toward exclusion, has repercussions throughout the community. I worry your readership will see this factually-stated interpretation and believe it to be true. Further, I am horrified to think of the closeted gay kids in our Jewish community whose parents receive this paper. Seeing an article in a Jewish paper that speaks to a gay and Jewish identity is a rarity for them. When they read beyond the headline, that “who you are is strictly prohibited in the Torah,” it only serves to shame them and to alienate them from Judaism – something GLOE works to counter every day.

Your statement was not just untrue – or even simply an unfortunate misphrasing – but rather, it highlights the bigotry that still exists within the Jewish community, and the lack of value placed on our lives as GLBT Jews. Haley Cohen, GLOE Kurlander Program for GLBT Outreach & Engagement Washington DCJCC”

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2011 in Hyperlocal, LGBT Alliance

 

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Queer Jewish Students are invited to Washington D.C. for Leadership Conference

National Union of Jewish LGBTQ Students Conference will begin on Feb 17, 2012 at the American University Hillel, Kay Spiritual Life Center • 4400 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC! Participate in the annual gathering of queer Jewish students by recommending a leader to attend!

Participating student leaders from Universities across North America began calling this annual gathering a conference of the National Union of Jewish LGBTQQI Students. Naturally, an abbreviation written as NUJLS followed this long-winded title, giving us the name of the conference that we still use today, NUJLS (pronounced "NuJoules" (nüjau(-ə)ls)).

In the fall of 1998 the Office of Student Life at the University of Oregon received a notice in the mail about a student leadership conference aimed at empowering GLBT Jewish leaders. The Dean who received the memo called our local Jewish Student Union, LGBT Alliance and Hillel House to recruit someone to represent the University of Oregon at this conference called NUJLS. I was nominated, grant dollars were dispersed, I flew to Texas, met a dozen new friends and learned about Jewish community leadership. Just like that my career, as I write about in this blog, discovered its roots.

From my perspective one of the many barriers that people experience into the organized Jewish community was eliminated for me. Representing the University of Oregon as a Gay Jewish leader, gave me the opportunity as a young person to easily navigate into the depths of what our Jewish community has to offer.

Each Spring since 1997, Queer Jewish University-level students, as well as our steadfast LGBT allies, have joined together on a selected University campus to learn from each other for a weekend Shabbaton affectionately called NUJLS. Each year NUJLS features speakers, text study, and workshops on topics such as Judaism and queerness, activism, relationships, ethics, coming out, and time to talk about our differing views on how students think about Israel. NUJLS provides an opportunity for student leaders from Universities across North America to build community, network and become more familiar with Jewish life.

This February at American University in Washington D.C. students will be able to hear from galvanizing speakers, share shabbat meals and participate in leadership workshops all the while fostering in the next generation of connected and inspired LGBT Jewish leaders.

As an alumni of NUJLS and now a proud board member I am asking my networks to help me spread the word on campuses and in your greater communities about NUJLS. Learn more!

 

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