Friday, May 22, 2015

Getting Ready to Celebrate a New Jewish Family: Starring Rachie and Liz

I have written from time to time about various aspects of being a religiously observant Jewish family and how we are inclusive of all members of our Jewish community. I have shared observations from time to time about the trajectory of our Jewish community in its comfort level of welcoming our LGBTQ Members, specifically in our more Orthodox part of the continuum of all that we are. I have gotten personal from time to time in terms of our family and the interfacing of these factors, both in our thinking and in the reality of who we are.

And, lo and behold, in two weeks, our beautiful and intelligent (I have to say that, because I do not want my children to think I am superficial) daughter Rachie will be married to her beloved, our daughter-in-law-to-be, the also beautiful and intelligent (see above!) Liz. How am I feeling you ask? So let me share a bit.

I am overjoyed that our daughter has found the love of her life. We absolutely LOVE Liz and are as confident as one dare be that she and Rachie will build a truly beautiful Jewish home (Bayit Ne’eman) for all of Israel – that is, all of the Jewish community who agree to be part of their amazing lives. We are proud of the many accomplishments these remarkable young ladies have already achieved in their young years. We are awed by their grace, their poise and their ethical fiber. In short, we are grateful to HaShem for the guidance and presence in all of our lives that have brought us to this joyful moment. And as a bonus, I already LOVE Liz’s family. In all of this, I am probably (and hopefully) not all that different than so many other moms of a beloved daughter who is getting married.

That being said, I am acutely aware of how this is playing quite differently in the context of our Halachically observant lives lived mostly within the frame of our larger Orthodox community. I must say that the vast majority of people have been incredible and want to give Hakarat HaTov to our friends, shuls, community members and so many who have wished us well and rejoiced with us to the degree that they are able. I also want to acknowledge that those who will be sharing this event with us will differ somewhat than was the case for our eldest daughter, Yoella, and her wedding to our amazing son-in-law Jeremy (you still get to be my favorite son-in-law and that status does not appear to be threatened in any way LOL).

Here is what is NOT happening. There will NOT be hundreds of guests. Now granted, a lot of this has to do with the fact that the venue is at some retreat in Western Massachusetts, where Rachie and Liz’s community is close by, so ALL of the families are traveling many miles (and my hippyesque daughter in her hippyesque community did not want that big wedding with hundreds of guests). Think destination wedding! Still, I cannot help but wonder after driving three plus hours each way to more than a few weddings if this might have played out a bit differently for some more of our friends who are not coming if … but I will just wonder and leave it at that. Also, I am not getting so many people asking “how are the wedding preparations going?” Maybe I am just being needlessly hyper-sensitive but in the oft chance this is not the case, PLEASE everyone, ask … any friend or relative who is planning such an affair for their healthy amazing child, it does mean something! It means a lot!

We are so grateful for the many friends and family who will be celebrating with us and I am particularly thankful for our wonderful ESHEL family who will be with us as we all continue to navigate these waters of what it means to have children who are religiously observant and LGBTQ. We will be aware of friends and relatives who elected not to be part of this (not because of distance) and will respect that and hope that they can find it in their hearts to respect us as well. I am especially grateful (and you know who you are) to those friends and relatives with whom I have had extensive conversations about the particular nature of this wedding and commitment ceremony and their honesty in sharing that they wish us well but could not take part. For any who have dismissed us (and there were a few), and this must be said, I hope that as the years go on and others in your world (and it will happen!) come to terms with how God chose to make them, you will remember us and come to us for advice and support because we will be there for you!

Yes, we are in a celebratory mood; don’t forget that. However, just as we break the glass under the Chupah (wedding canopy) to recall the destruction of the Temple and the fracture that created in our lives as a Jewish people, we also recall the fracturing in our world today. Part of that fracturing for us as a family with members who are LGBTQ is the loss of some relationships. Yet, we simultaneously celebrate those new ones that have come our way. As I always say it is indeed a matter of balance. It is the Jewish way to consider what is amiss in the midst of great joy, so allow me this moment to do that.

So, when you see me, please by all means, ASK are we excited? YES! Are we happy for our daughter? YES! How are arrangements for this weekend Shabbaton and Wedding/Commitment Ceremony going? Well… I THINK we are where we need to be two weeks ahead of time. I certainly hope so! Or as Liz’s mom, Deb says, we will know the Monday after!!!

Monday, May 18, 2015


This is actually a continuation of the last posting as it is also a continuation of my daily learning of Gemara. I am still in the middle of Pesachim and learned a wonderful concept a while ago that is how God, called RACHMANA (The Compassionate One) FIXES difficulties in the text by making the exclusion of the one with Tzara’at (leprosy) a positive commandment for him or her alone to observe by the juxtaposition of words that indicate that the one with Tzara’at should live alone outside of the camp (understood to be the general community).

This concept struck me as amazing on several levels. First, this is NOT a matter necessarily of forced exclusion of one towards another but indicated as a personal responsibility to exclude one self. Let us reformulate this a bit. Think of those of us who go on meditation retreats to cleanse ourselves from the “stuff’ of living and to try to center ourselves. Many of us put ourselves in all types of seclusion for different reasons. What if we can turn this around and look at the one with Leprosy as one who needs and embraces this seclusion to reconsider one’s life and the trajectory of that journey. For those of you who think that this sounds so absurd, consider those of us who have various illnesses and do exactly this. For me, as a chronic asthmatic, the notion of solitude and concentrating on my breath and only on that, for example, has a very powerful meaning.

What if Miriam (Moshe and Aharon’s sister), with her leprosy, needed that reboot? While the Midrash and others teach that this leprosy was a result of her speaking inappropriately about Moshe publicly, we could look at this as a “stress itch.” We know all too well that so much of what happens inside of us shows on our skin, especially those with various skin ailments, such as eczema or even … leprosy??? We are all fallible and try our best and so many who do experience such seclusion as a result of illness do report a type of reconsideration of their own sense of what it means to be human and humane on many levels. Its just something to consider, though it may be somewhat “out there.”

Secondly, in Pesachim, we learn that the one who does not abide by this commandment of exclusion is NOT to be punished severely for they have transgressed a positive commandment, not ignored a negative one. Finally, the notion can be extrapolated that the responsibility for this is NOT on the community, in terms of how they view another. Rather, the responsibility is on the self for excluding one from the sanctity of the ritual practice for a given period of time. Perhaps, just maybe, this provides a wonderful model for how we look at various needs of withholding oneself from the larger collective and how it is a personal matter, not one of community sanction.

There is this notion in Torah learning of the value of a REMEZ, that is a hint from the text. This discussion in the Gemara is all about this hint that we are to discern from our careful reading and understanding of the text and what it is as well as what it is not teaching us. I think that is critically important for those who are too often so quick to judge others to remember!

Shavuot is coming up. We are taught that we WERE ALL present to receive Torah. Similarly, in the beginning of Masechet Hagiga in the Talmud we are taught that ALL OF US should be part of this communal experience of coming to the Temple with our offerings. As we have discussed at other points on this blog, right after this statement, too many groups are categorically excluded (e.g. women, those of questionable gender identification, deaf, blind, children, lame, slaves, etc.). However, the Tractate then goes on to “retract” a bit, if you will, by stating conditions of exclusion that ultimately err on the side of caution in including everyone who wants to be there. I think our Talmudic teachers are sending us a message of great import for our lives today. Namely, that is, it is NOT up to us individually to exclude or to send members of our community out. Rather, individuals will take on various states of inclusion or exclusion of their own accord, as it is important to each of us when looking at our community.

Let us consider this Shavuot the degree to which we personally want to be part of community and worry about the genuine nature of that inclusion and let each other person tend to their own personal positive commandment to do so. In that manner, we can joyfully and freely accept the wonder of our Torah and all it is, regardless of so many reasons that others may indicate we should not do so. It is NOT theirs to judge!