Six thousand miles away from home, I am home. I am in Israel. Here only for a few short weeks and yet a mountain of experiences reveal themselves. I traveled the country for two weeks with my daughter, wanting her to experience the beauty that is our homeland. From the top of Rosh Hanikra, to the Baha’i Gardens, to the Dead Sea and Masada, as well as to Jerusalem and half a dozen other cities for a whirlwind of visits with family and friends. When my partner joined us a week in, they embraced her with open arms. Their support has been amazing! My daughter has been witness to their love, as well as several intellectual and heartfelt discussions, sprinkled with infinite kindness, about our navigating the frum world as an LGBT family; a topic so relevant in the modern Jewish world today.
My daughter and I were privileged to spend a shabbos in the Gush with my cousin’s beautiful family. Being able to be a part of a shul, listening to the beautiful sounds of my fellow Jews singing Kabbalat Shabbat to the heavens, and being embraced by my family, have all given me great chizzuk. But even more so, was the opportunity I had as I sat on shabbos morning, coffee in hand, chatting with my cousin’s husband, a Rabbi, an educator, a learned and humble man. He too struggled with what the Jewish community must do moving forward, what he could do for his students struggling with their sexuality, his concern for us as a people in the modern world, and how to find a place for the LGBT Jew in the frum world.
His answers were infused with a true understanding of reality, with kindness, and with the pain of reeling from the death of sixteen year old Shira Banki Z”L, at last year’s Jerusalem parade; something so close to home for those who live here, and which has shaken the foundation of the Jewish world. How could another Jew hate so blindly, enough to take the life of an innocent child? This cannot be. This cannot be what our reality has become.
As I think of her, I keep hearing the words from a song by The Band Perry entitled “If I Die Young.” The title haunts me as do some of the lyrics: “The sharp knife of a short life” and “Funny when you’re dead how people start listenin’.” I cannot believe how much pain those words cause simply because their truth is irrefutable. And I ask, why is that? Why must we wait till tragedy strikes for people to wake up? Why must we wait for a hate crime, for the death of a child, to awaken us to our duty of loving our fellow Jew and eradicating Sinat Chinam?
From where do we gather the strength to heal when hate seems to triumph? I contend, by looking right into the Torah and at our midrashim. As I sat in the Gush, I knew I was a short distance from the Derech Ha’avot (Path of the Fathers), the holy path upon which Avraham Avinu walked. Of all the men and women discussed in the Torah, he is most special to me. Why? Because we learn from him the act of hachnasat orchim (welcoming of guests); the basic idea of opening one’s home, of breaking bread, of creating dialogue between each other, I submit is how we heal, physically and emotionally. I believe this is also how we build a community; for each Jewish home is a microcosm of it’s community. How we act, what we teach our children there, will ripple out into our communities and set the tone for future generations.
In addition to this, I realized that what was most important to me about the story of Avraham and the three Melachim (Angels) who visit him, is the timing of their visit. It was at a time when Avraham was not well, when he was most in pain after his circumcision – which entered him and the Jewish people into the covenant with Hashem. And yet he ran, with every fiber of his being, despite his pain, to greet and welcome his visitors. It is a lesson that has stuck with me and embedded itself in the deepest recesses of my heart and soul. Not only was he running to them, but their being there, in his most painful of hours, was healing for him. That is the beauty of a Jewish home, of hachnasat orchim, even if the one visiting is doing the beautiful mitzva of bikkur cholim (visiting the sick), the mitzva goes both ways.
In the most painful of times for me, both physically and emotionally, my home has B”H been filled with those who care for us. Our Shabbat table is filled with a constant buzz, and seuda shlishit a pot luck of families and food. We bring joy to them and they bring healing and joy to us, even in the worst of times. Having suffered through a number of surgeries, I must say that having my friends come by, even the ones who just came by to laugh with me (and at me!) while I was on my pain meds, has been the single most important factor in my healing process.
It is their presence that heals my soul after our exclusion. And although hyphenation has become a running joke in my town, and yes we do laugh at the stupidity of it all, I recognize that they keep me afloat through the laughter and tears. Their invites, their knocks on our shabbos door, their sharing of meals with us, the lechayims and nosh we share after our Friday night minyan, make everything seem normal; truly, Jewishly normal.
I believe Avraham Avinu would not have it any other way if he were alive today. So too should it be with each Jewish community, each shul out there that wishes to be kinder and more inclusive. All you have to do is feel what is right in every fiber of your being. Run, do not walk, to do mitzvot. Run to include the Jew different from you. Open your homes, your shuls and your communities to us; in fact, we are already there. We are in communities in America, Israel and around the world – all you have to do is reach out. It will heal you of Sinat Chinam and heal us of the pain of exclusion, for generations to come.
While teaching my daughter, my next generation, about this future home of ours, I looked out onto the Dead Sea and thought of it’s healing powers. I thought of Masada, where valiant Jews stood up for what they believed in, down to their very last breath, and I knew that being here inspires me and heals me, for this is home. And so I write and share my thoughts here hoping for a small amount of Tikkun Olam.
In that vain, I must include a story here about us on the way back from climbing down Masada (down is way easier than up!). The three of us got to talking about Lot’s wife and the story of the pillar of salt. My daughter educated us about a midrash she had learned. It had explained that his wife’s punishment, for turning to watch the destruction of Sdom, was that she became a pillar of salt. Why salt? Because she was angered over the custom of providing salt for Lot’s guests. She was a person so lacking in the sharing built around hachnasat orchim, that her punishment was rooted in the concept of midah keneged midah; as she did, so was she punished.
This concept must reverberate through each action we take in our lives. It is a belief rooted in what I wrote about in my last post, namely that G-d sees. Soon the Yamim Noraim will be upon us; a time when we account for all of our sins and ask G-d to inscribe us in the Book of Life. Can those who harm us and other LGBT Jews stand with comfort before the Almighty when those days arrive? Why not be the person who stands before Him with an accounting of the good you have done, the light you have shed, the inclusive shul or community you have helped build. Isn’t that what we should all aspire to be and do?
And so, being ever the optimist, I am strengthened by my time in my US home, by those who do reach out, who break bread with us, and make efforts to include us. It is not without purpose – I know that. I find myself sometimes wishing it could be our forever home, but knowing it will not be because of how the rabbis there have failed and continue to fail us, and knowing that without a shul we cannot stay. And so like Avraham Avinu, we too will one day BE”H leave all that we know to find our forever home in Israel, we too will gather strength, we too will heal so that we may embark on the next chapter of our journey. I feel it to be true, as Anne Frank wrote, “in my whole body and soul.”
Until that day, I will open my home, I will join others in theirs, I will continue to write, and I will continue to challenge the status quo. I will build bridges with those who embrace Judaism’s highest value of loving one’s fellow Jew, because those who come to heal me are my forever friends in this journey we call life – no matter what winding road I travel home.