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Rabbi's Shabbat Message

June is Pride Month, a month for celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning folks and committing to build a world of equality and dignity for everyone. I’m thinking this month about all of the amazing Torah that I’ve learned from queer rabbis and teachers, but especially from one teacher in particular - Rabbi Benay Lappe. 

In this ELI Talk (basically a Jewish TED talk) Benay tells the story of founding SVARA, “a traditionally radical yeshiva” that places the voices of LGBTQI+ Jews at the center, and reads the Talmud through a queer lens. 

But she also tells a much broader story, a story that involves all of us, about what we do when the core beliefs we’ve held onto for our entire lives come crashing down around us. For Benay, this was the realization that she was a lesbian growing up in a world (and in particular, within a Judaism) that was heteronormative, and where lesbians definitely couldn’t become rabbis (at least not in the Conservative movement, at the time). 

Benay’s “crash” theory posits three different responses to when your master story crashes: 

Option 1: You deny the crash is happening, and take refuge in your master story. This might mean staying in the closet, continuing to present to the world a certain way and hide the truth emerging inside of you. In some ways, it’s comfortable, hanging onto the life that you’ve always known and imagined - but in other ways, a part of you may become frozen, or dead. 

Option 2: You accept the crash, reject the master story that you’ve always been told, and find some new framework that works. Maybe this looks like running off to a Buddhist monastery or another community where you hope your new self will be totally accepted, throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. It’s happy at first - but this too is a form of rejection, and it too may someday crash. 

Most people follow Option 1 or Option 2 after any crash, R’ Benay says, because they believe that our stories are unchangeable. BUT - there’s a third option. 

Option 3: Accept the crash, embrace the crash, go back to what you’ve inherited and take what is salvageable from it, and create an entirely new story that integrates the whole of your truth and the truth that you’ve received from your ancestors and family. 

In her talk, R’ Benay describes how the rabbis of the Talmud were Option 3 Jews. The Temple had crashed - literally - in 70 CE, and their old way of Judaism wasn’t working. So they revived and re-purposed and told a new story with ancient roots, a traditionally radical approach. 

I’ll stop summarizing now and just encourage all of you to watch Benay’s entire talk. It’s been a guidepost for me ever since I witnessed her deliver this talk for the first time - and the many times since to the crowds of queer and marginalized Jews young and old. These people had experienced their own crashes, many of them within Judaism itself, never quite feeling that they had a home in this place, never realizing that they might have a critical role to play in the evolution of Judaism. Their experience of understanding how the world crashes is vital to shaping a Judaism that is relevant, alive, and more life-giving for all people. 

Wishing a happy Pride month to our entire extended kehillah, when we re-up on our commitment to build a community and a world where each and every one of us can live our deepest truths out loud, on the surface - our whole community is better for it. 

Shabbat shalom,

R’ Lauren

P.S.: You should have received an email earlier today explaining how our COVID protocols are evolving - no more service sign-ups! We’re really looking forward to welcoming you back in person to shul, at your own pace, and also plan to keep the Zoom option open moving forward to enable multiple ways of accessing our community. 

P.P.S.: If you’re a dog walker or dog lover, join me and Dr. Amy on Sunday morning at 9am in Piedmont Park for a stroll together! More info. here. 

P.P.P.S.: Here’s a new tune for Friday nights: Vehasheivota is part of Aleinu at the very end of services, and essentially means: Cause this message to return to your hearts: at the end of the day, this entire universe is connected by the same core thread. Call it God, or Source, or Being, or Oneness - ultimately, we’re all part of that thread.

Wed, June 16 2021 6 Tammuz 5781