My Take on California’s Prop 8

Some years ago, I wrote an article for our Divray Or Ami supporting Marriage Equality. In it, I argued that

We, the people who recall the words of our sacred Scriptures – You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of a stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9) – seek to do justice. We, people of faith who try to love mercy, defend vigorously the dignity of every human being, consistent with the principle that each of us is created in the Divine image (Genesis 1:27). While we respect those who may be single, we uphold the values of marriage and family. Marriage, imbued with the values of exclusivity, permanence, intimate companionship, and love, provides fulfillment for each partner and adds to the common good of the community. Thus, in an attempt to walk humbly with our God, we affirm that every human being has an absolute right to such fulfillment, and that the loving, committed relationships of same-sex couples have the same potential for kedusha (holiness) as those of heterosexual couples. Read more.

Huge numbers of religious leaders from all faiths signed onto an AN OPEN LETTER TO RELIGIOUS LEADERS ON MARRIAGE EQUALITY.

A majority of California Rabbis have signed a letter opposing Proposition 8. Why? Watch this video.

In line with our Jewish tradition that recognizes that everyone was born b’tzelem Elohim (in God’s image), we work to ensure that gay and lesbian couples do not face discrimination by laws which forbid marriage equality.

From Egypt to the Promised Land: Coming Out with the Help of Rabbi Paul Kipnes

We rabbis offer support and counseling to people through the many transitions in life. I recently received this from someone who years ago called me for help:

Coming out in my 50s was painful in the extreme, but having emerged at the other end of a prolonged coming out process, I am so grateful that I had the courage to finally live my truth…and it was Paul Kipnes, rabbi of Congregation Or Ami, who pulled me through the darkness and into the light.

I came home one day a few years back, and my ex-wife asked me if I was seeing anyone else. After having tried for so many years to keep my gayness secret from myself and then, when I could hide from myself no longer, to hold my family together until my youngest child left home, I finally said, “yes,” and all hell broke loose. She became so angry that I had lied to her, not told her of my struggles, not let on how tormented I was. From that moment, my life became almost too much to bear, as all my carefully constructed fictions crumbled.

Rabbi Paul was my refuge. When I called him up, he met me that very afternoon. We sat for hours. I cried, I mumbled, I stumbled my way through my story…and he held me, hugging me and providing me a safe space to try to figure out my life. He talked with me about the Jewish master narrative, leaving the narrow places of Egypt, wandering aimlessly in the desert, and finally arriving at the promised land. In my darkest moment, he showed me a flicker of light.

Today, I am filled with gratitude that I am in the promised land. I have achieved serenity, I have a serious relationship that is almost a year old, I have strong relationships with my grown children, and most important, I have a strong relationship with myself. In those dark hours when I first met with Rabbi Paul, I could not see a way out. He showed me that like Jews and gays so many before me, I too might one day arrive at a promised land.

I could not have seen that on my own. Because of Rabbi Paul, I was able to leave my personal Egypt, was able to muster the courage to wander through my own personal wilderness, and arrived joyously to today. When I say shehechiyanu thanking God for sustaining me, keeping me alive, and allowing me to reach a joyous day, I recognize that I am also thanking Rabbi Paul Kipnes and the divine within him that he showed me that dark day.

An Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality

The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing passed around AN OPEN LETTER TO RELIGIOUS LEADERS ON MARRIAGE EQUALITY. It spoke eloquently, with the support of a diverse group of interfaith religious leaders (including myself), about relational justice, about the significance of marriage and family, and about the importance of marriage equality. Two paragraphs particularly speak loudly in the current climate:

From a religious perspective, marriage is about entering into a holy covenant and
making a commitment with another person to share life’s joys and sorrows. Marriage is valued
because it creates stable, committed relationships; provides a means to share economic
resources; and nurtures the individual, the couple, and children. Good marriages benefit the
community and express the religious values of long‐term commitment, generativity, and
faithfulness. In terms of these religious values, there is no difference in marriages between a
man and a woman, two men, or two women. Moreover, as our traditions affirm, where there is
love, the sacred is in our midst.

Marriage is an evolving civil and religious institution. In the past, marriage was
primarily about property and procreation whereas today the emphasis is on egalitarian
partnership, companionship, and love. In the past, neither the state nor most religions
recognized divorce and remarriage, interracial marriage, or the equality of the marriage
partners. These understandings changed, and rightly so, in greater recognition of the
humanity of persons and their moral and civil rights. Today, we are called to embrace another
change, this time the freedom of same‐sex couples to marry.

Read more also at Jews for Marriage Equality

California Ends Gay and Lesbian Couples’ Exclusion from Marriage

We celebrate the news that California Ends Gay Couples’ Exclusion From Marriage.

Earlier today, the California Supreme Court handed down a historic decision upholding the freedom to marry in In Re: Marriage Cases. California’s high court is the second state high court to rule in favor of ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. (My home state of Massachusetts ruled over 4 years ago.)

With this ruling, our country has the opportunity to continue seeing how families are helped and no one is hurt by ending exclusion from marriage, just as other countries around the world have done.

Jewish tradition, which recognizes that all people were born b’tzelem Elohim (in the image of God), has a long supported the blessing and sanctification of marriages between two mature, monogamous, consenting adults, whatever their gender. Reform Rabbis voted in 1996 to support marriages between gay or lesbian Jewish couples and voted in 2000 to support rabbinic officiation at such unions. Now the State of California has recognized the validity and sanctity of such unions!

Mazel tov to all who worked for this day!

Hillel Grows Up: Helping GBLTQ Students

This from the Jewish Forward (12/26/07).

Hillel, the Foundation which works with Jewish college students on campuses around the country, is growing up. Recognizing that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (and queer and question) Jewish students exist and need Jewish support and services on college campuses,
Last week, Hillel’s president announced the completion of a guide that aims to help its staff members welcome “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning” students. The 186-page resource was written and edited by a largely gay-and-lesbian-identified group of Hillel professionals, several of whom have been discreetly meeting for years…
“I think what we’re dealing with in Hillel is well-intentioned professionals who want to be welcoming to all Jewish students,” said the guide’s editor, D’ror Chankin-Gould, in an interview with the Forward. “[Now we have] the resources to educate well-intentioned people in how to do better.” The guide, which was distributed to staff members at a Hillel conference and discussed at a workshop, includes chapters on coming out in Jewish communities, queer reinventions of Jewish rituals and the needs of transgender students. LGBTQ-identified Jewish students contributed testimonials.Our Jewish institutions – as a whole – are known for being slow to transform our values (that we ALL are created b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image) into access and acceptance. There often is a gulf between our stated desire to be welcoming and the actions that make a community welcoming.

Our own Congregation Or Ami, having written a series of webpages under the title “No One is More Welcomed at Or Ami than You!” that express our values of welcoming and, as action to back it up, offer direct access by personal email to the rabbi as a reality check, will soon unveil our own webpage for LGBT Jews and Jewish couples and families. Overdue, yes. Significant, absolutely.

Mazel tov to Hillel for its work.

Two Incredible LGBT Inclusion Resources

I am working to create the next page in our “No One is More Welcomed at Or Ami than You!” webpage series (see our multicultural, interfaith and special needs webpages). In researching resources for LGBT Jews and their families, I finally took the time to serious peruse the websites of the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation (IJSO) and the Jeff Herman Virtual Resource Center (JHVRC), both affiliated with Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. I am quite frankly amazed and proud that these two resources are available through our Reform Jewish movement.

The Jeff Herman Virtual Resource Center for Sexual Orientation Issues in the Jewish Community is a web-based educational environment for all those interested in learning about Judaism, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. It contains the largest online gathering of articles, texts, and websites on Judaism and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender topics in the world. The JHVRC also features answers to Frequently Asked Questions, case studies exploring how issues of sexual orientation might be discussed in a Jewish context, and guides for studying biblical and rabbinic text.

The mission of the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation is driven by Jewish religious values and the spiritual quest for holiness. The Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation seeks:

  • To achieve complete inclusion, integration and welcoming of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in congregations and communities.
  • To train and empower Jewish professionals, educate students, and support scholars and researchers in their quest to develop a theology and practice of inclusion.
  • To encourage dialogue between constituent organizations within the Reform movement on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender topics.
  • To foster collaboration with community based educational and social service organizations to further our mission.
  • To grow the Jeff Herman Virtual Resource Center (JHVRC) and develop new resources including a focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender liturgy and ritual.
  • To organize workshops and academic conferences and develop curriculum modules to be implemented within the HUC-JIR academic program.

I look forward to utilizing these resources as we become even more inclusive.

Speaking Out for Religious Freedom and Marriage Equality

Religious leaders must speak out on the moral issues of our day. The prophets did it. The sages did it. Rabbis throughout their time did it. Earlier this month I did too.

I lent my voice, and my understanding of the evolving Jewish tradition, to two efforts occurring in the State of California regarding Marriage Equality. In addition to supporting an interfaith amicus brief asking the California Supreme Court to decide that it is a violation of the California Constitution to deny same sex couples access to civil marriage, I wrote a letter to The Honorable Mark Leno (13th Assembly District), which said the following:

Along with other religious and spiritual leaders, I join with California Faith for Equality in writing to you in strong support of the “Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act” (AB43). I commend the protection this legislation provides for religious freedom while ensuring equal treatment under the law for same-sex couples.

I affirm the right to freedom of conscience and recognize that the state may not require religious groups to officiate at, nor bless, same-sex marriages. By the same token, I oppose appeals to sacred texts and religious traditions for the purpose of denying legal and social equality to same-sex couples. The state may not use the religious convictions of one faith for civil law that affects people of all faiths and people without religious affiliation. Furthermore, clergy should not be placed in the position of treating some couples they marry differently than others.

I thank you for setting a standard of leadership and integrity by exercising your legal right and your moral responsibility to pass legislation to end marriage discrimination in California. The right to love and to form a family through marriage is a fundamental human right, and was so recognized by the California Supreme Court in 1948. California public opinion has been moving with remarkable speed to support fair and equal treatment for same-sex couples. History is clearly on the side of full civil rights for all.

I commend your demonstrated respect for our constitution, for the separation of church and state, and for loving, law-abiding families. I join with you in standing on the right side of history, and in standing on the side of love.

History, and a compassionate honest interpretation of Jewish tradition, shows that this is the right path, the moral path, for us to support. I was honored to be able to raise my voice in support.

Welcoming Interfaith Families

I am amazed, each time I meet with an interfaith family, that they need to ask (in round about ways) whether the warm welcome and full integration that we offer to all Or Ami congregants is available to interfaith families as well. No one comes out and asks it directly, but I find it to be an undercurrent in the conversation.

Pleased that we offer a truly warm welcome to any individual or family who has chosen to create a Jewish home (and, if there are children, to raise them as Jews), we decided to put this into writing. We hope now that our Or Ami website is clear and true to the warm welcome we offer.

Our welcome begins:

My house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples. (Isaiah 56:7)

No one is more welcomed at Congregation Or Ami than you!

Congregation Or Ami, like all Reform Jewish congregations, holds the mitzvah (religious responsibility) of ahavat ger (welcoming the stranger) among the most important tenets of our faith. We actively welcome interfaith families into our communities and encourage their participation in our synagogues. We work to empower people to make Jewish choices for themselves and their families and strive to provide resources to inform educated decisions. We strive to be welcoming places for people of diverse religious backgrounds, sexual orientations and ethnic backgrounds.

Many couples that begin with two individuals from different backgrounds need to integrate separate lives into one family. And for interfaith couples and their families that integration also includes differing religious traditions and cultures. Remember: you are not alone. Congregation Or Ami, our Rabbi Paul Kipnes and Cantor Doug Cotler and our Reform Jewish movement, welcome you. Congregation Or Ami is already proud to be a home congregation for many interfaith couples and families, and we welcome you to share in the warmth of our community. We invite you to begin a conversation with Rabbi Kipnes to share your hopes or questions about being an interfaith family at Or Ami. Read more.

I am also proud that we added to the home page of our website images that signify our openness to diversity: the blue/white wheelchair (symbolizing our openness to people with disabilities), the rainbow flag (our welcoming of gay and lesbian Jews and Jewish families), and the 12-Step Triangle (our awareness of and acceptance of people recovering from addictions and dependencies).

Israel Gets It Right on Gay Marriage. Well, Partially.

Our Jewish homeland Israel got it right, partially, in terms of gay marriage when its High Court of Justice (“Supreme Court”) ruled six to one that five gay couples wedded outside of Israel can be registered as married couples. As Yuval Yoaz reports on Haaretz’s website:

A sweeping majority of six justices to one ruled that the civil marriages of five gay couples obtained in Toronto, Canada, can appear as married on the population registry. The gay petitioners sought to force the state to give equal recognition to common law marriages of heterosexual couples to those of gay marriages, which can be performed in certain countries.

While gay and lesbian Jewish couples still cannot be married within Israel, this is a step in the right direction for a Jewish state. Worry not about the comparisons to Sodom and Gemorrah. Jewish authorities from the prophet Ezekiel 16:46-50 to present times recognize that the sin of those two cities was their greed and selfishness.

May the rest of the world (America too) follow Israel’s lead.