This post is from Rabbi Sharon Kleibaum, senior rabbi of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, New York’s LGBTQ Synagogue.
Judge Walker’s decision last week to overturn Proposition 8 in California is a momentous and prophetic one–a decision that cries for a more just world. Despite the appeal, August 4, 2010 is a date that will go down in the history books. The question I am stuck with now is: Whose history books will record this day?
Without a doubt, this will be a day of mourning and rage in the conservative Mormon history books, the history of the religious right, and the rest of the hatemongers who work tirelessly to make this world a more broken place. The religious right has infused the marriage movement and LGBTQ rights into their daily lives, their prayer, their sermons, their donations–it has become a central part of their religious lives. If I am one hundred percent honest with myself, they probably think and take action on LGBTQ rights more than most of us in the Jewish community do, myself included. And this is what terrifies me.
Will August 4, 2010 be a date in the Jewish history books? Will Prop 8 being overturned be remembered as a day of significance for the Jewish people? For many of us as individuals, I am sure the answer is yes. From those of us in New York to those in California who were at the front of this fight, I know that many, many Jews will remember August 4th as history in the making. Some whole congregations will be celebrating this week, and while I find this thought heartwarming, I know this is not enough.
Jewish institutions have not yet taken on LGBTQ justice with the same commitment as the religious right. Federations, JCCs, Hillels, our schools, our synagogues, our political organizations–we have the infrastructure and institutional power necessary to advance LGBTQ justice, but most of us stay silent or only take action occasionally. What would it look like if Jewish communities across the country made LGBTQ justice the same kind of priority as the religious right did in California? What would our communities look like then? What would our history books say about us?
From Judge Walker’s decision, the following statement seems to be generating some excitement among people, “Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians.” This is true, and it is not enough. If we only take on the legal discrimination that denies LGBTQ people basic access to rights and we do not take on the moral and cultural discrimination that fuels it, then we are not doing our jobs. It is the abuse of religion in the name of hatred that leads to violent hate crimes, queer youth being kicked out of their homes, and trans individuals being denied healthcare. As Jews and as people of faith, it is upon us to redouble our efforts not just in the legal realm, but in the moral realm as well. We need to act.
With Rosh Hashanah fast approaching, it is a time for all of us to take stock of this past year and ask questions about how we want to live and what we want our world to look like. What will be recorded in our history books and who will be inscribed in the book of good life? It is time for all of us, myself included, to work even harder to fill our books with words of justice in the coming year.
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum