A Frenchman, a German and a Jew were wandering in the desert. All parched they craved their favorite drink.
The Frenchman proclaimed, I am thirsty, I must have a glass of wine!
The German said, I am thirsty, I must have a frothy beer!
The Jew said, I am thirsty, I must have diabetes!
Jews are a worrying lot. We often are consumed by fear and see our glasses of wine and beer only half full. Perhaps that is from years of persecution or just part of our DNA. Any way you slice it, we are pessimistic.
On this holiday of Sukkot however, we are commanded to be optimists; to see the good in a world we are reflexively used to seeing through a negative lens. When we recite the liturgy for this day, it is called the time of our “joyousness.” Thus, we are commanded to be positive and happy, for 7 days at least!
With this teaching in mind, indulge me to share a particular thought in light of the breaking news of the past week that I have seen in a particularly positive light.
A Conservative, pulpit rabbi of a storied synagogue in a major city revealed in a raw letter to his community that he is gay. He explained that his marriage would end but his respect and love for his wife and children would not.
It is not my place to address his letter or his choices. Rabbis are people first. Each clergy person is entitled to dignity and privacy for their sake and for their family. Suffice to say, I applaud his courage and pray that he finds the all the layers of peace and fulfillment he seeks.
The letter that accompanied the rabbi’s note to his congregation captured my attention. It was from the synagogue president with the imprimatur of the board of trustees he represents. The letter was unequivocally supportive of the Rabbi and his choices and set the tone and boundaries for the congregation to give time and space for the rabbi and his family as they take the next steps in their lives. The rabbi’s role at the synagogue was never called into question. The rabbi’s deep admiration by his constituents was evidenced in each word of the communication.
Twenty years ago, congregations summarily fired rabbis that came out – similar to how this rabbi did. Presidents — in those days and in similar circumstances — penned letters explaining why the behavior was an abomination and why this rabbi’s practices were against the best interests of the Conservative Movement and the Temple. Many colleagues that came out found themselves unemployed and unable to regain traction because of their orientation. Some of these rabbis lost their families and left the rabbinate, even the religion all together, because they could not find the support systems to be comfortable in their identity in a faith community.
Fast forward 20 short years, which is the blink of an eye in the history of the United States and even briefer than a millisecond in the time span of creation. Presidents are championing the honesty and courage of their rabbis. Leadership is setting the tone and demonstrating in word and deed what a welcoming, inclusive and embracing community is all about.
LGBQT concerns are the civil rights issue of our generation. Seeing how far we have come in such a short time is reason for us to be proud. In a time full of pessimism and cynicism, learning the right way quickly is something to be “joyous” about during this holiday.