Just a few weeks into the pandemic, soon after we began sheltering in place here in California, the actor, writer, and director, John Krasinski, began broadcasting an internet series on Saturday evenings called “Some Good News.”
A Jewish conversation for Pride Month. Jodi Rudoren, editor-in-chief of The Forward, will be joined by a panel of thought leaders to explore how far LGBTQ people have come and what happens next.Click hereto Zoom with us June 30 at 12:30 p.m. EDT.
Each week over the course of two months, John shared uplifting stories from around the world – some good news for us to celebrate in the midst of so much sadness, fear, and anxiety.
Although Krasinski is not himself a member of the tribe, there is something deeply Jewish about “Some Good News” - it exemplifies the value of הכרת הטוב - literally, “recognizing the good in our world.” On this final Shabbat of June, Pride Month, I have some good news to share.
First of all, it’s worth remembering that June is known as Pride Month because it was on June 28, 1969 that the Stonewall Inn uprising began, the start in many ways of the movement for full inclusion and full rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender persons in our country. So here’s the good news: in a nation where homosexuality was illegal a little more than five decades ago, we just last week celebrated a landmark Supreme Court Decision that makes discrimination against LGBTQ+ people illegal.
It’s a major step forward for LGBTQ+ rights. So let’s recognize this good. Let’s celebrate the progress that has been made. Let’s appreciate the brave leaders from across the streams of Judaism who have consistently and vociferously advocated for inclusion, for full rights, and for the recognition of same-sex marraige.
And let’s pause as well to recognize the good of a tradition that, over millennia has proven itself to be flexible, creative, and - most importantly - compassionate. Despite some truly troubling homophobic texts that constitute part of our tradition, Rabbinic authorities from across a broad spectrum of Jewish belief and practice including Reform, Conservative, and even Orthodox voices, have demonstrated Judaism’s flexibility and adaptability, just like American legal authorities have.
What was once outlawed and considered to be deviant, described in the Torah itself as a to’eva , an abomination, has now become normalized and even worthy of sanctification in a majority of congregations world-wide. I’m proud to be amongst the many rabbis and cantors who are honored and proud to officiate at same-sex marriages, to welcome LGBTQ+ members and guests into our community, and to partner with organizations like JQ International in the creation of a world where everyone is included, supported, embraced and celebrated.
So let’s be proud of how far we’ve come.
I was born just a few months after the Stonewall Inn Uprising, at the very beginning of the gay rights movement.
But growing up in the midwest in the 1970s, you wouldn’t have known that such a thing was happening and you wouldn’t have been able to imagine today’s reality.
When I was a kid on the elementary school playground, calling another boy - forgive me - a “faggot” was the ultimate put down. And if something was considered un-cool or nerdy, people would simply describe it as “gay.”
I’m not going to suggest for a moment that homophobia no longer exists - of course it does. But we must acknowledge how much has changed. I’m proud and I feel blessed that my daughters have grown up in a very different reality. They have friends who have come out in high school and experienced a supportive environment from classmates, faculty, clergy, and family alike. This is real progress and something that was not possible in my high school thirty years ago.
But there’s still work to be done.
Work that another Jewish value inspires. It’s the value of Pikuach Nefesh - the value of saving a life, considered by our tradition to be the ultimate value.
This fact should compel us to do more: suicide rates in the LGBTQ+ community, especially among young people, are five times higher than the national average. Many psychologists theorize that this is a direct result of LGBTQ+ persons being discriminated against, shamed, victimized, or simply unsupported for being who they are.
This is truly a matter of Pikuach Nefesh, of saving lives. By being more supportive and inclusive as individuals, as family members, as friends, and as a community, we can help to prevent, God forbid, a potential suicide.
Last fall we invited JQ International to speak to parents in our school community about LGBTQ+ inclusion. That night, Amanda Maddahi and Arya Marvazy shared with us a helpful tool for thinking about how we can be more supportive. It describes different postures, different attitudes that people might hold towards LGBTQ+ individuals. From “hostile” to “embracing.” 3 Here’s what I believe: the core, eternal values of our tradition want us to move towards the embracing end of this spectrum. Values like, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Values that teach that all people, regardless of their gender, sexuality, race, or ethnicity are God’s children, created in God’s own image.
Some of us might have grown up in a time or a place where the default posture towards LGBTQ+ people was hostile. Maybe we’ve become more tolerant throughout out lives. That’s good - but we can do better. We should aspire to move towards an accepting, inclusive posture. And ultimately, as inheritors of a tradition that teaches in the Talmud that the more compassionate, sensitive, and loving we are to our fellow human beings the more compassionate and loving God will be to us, we should aspire as individuals and as a community to become embracing. Actively seeking and valuing LGBTQ+ presence in our community, in our lives. Admiring and nurturing their contributions, seeking out their voices, their stories, and their truths and advocating action to change cultures that exclude or discriminate against them.
A final thought related to the Torah portion that’s read in many Diaspora synagogues this week. It tells of the sin of Korach, a rebel who tried to usurp Moses’ power.
A colleague of mine, Rabbi Dror Chankin-Gould notes that the name Korach, is related to the word kerach - which means “ice.” This confluence of parashat Korach and Pride Shabbat suggests to us then that the sin of LGBTQ+ exclusion, the sin of homophobia, is in some ways about being cold-hearted. It’s about a lack of empathy, a lack of understanding, a compassion deficit.
And here’s the final bit of good news: we can change. As individuals and as a community. We can move from hostile to tolerant to accepting to inclusive to, God willing, embracing.
And as we nurture our compassion, as we open ourselves up, as we treat others as we would want to be treated, with warmth and love, well then, we’ll have all the more reason to be proud.
Yoshi Zweiback is senior rabbi of Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles, CA.