I have often joked with my family and friends, throughout this journey of fighting back against erroneous rabbinic decrees, that I would have the last word. On my gravestone would be engraved, my hyphenated name: “Shlomit Metz-Poolat.” Yes, I do indeed have a strange sense of humor, but in life, and certainly as a prosecutor, one must use such humor to fight the good fight and march on.
But I also know that I am learning much during my struggle, meeting so many kind and supportive people, and discovering inspiration when I least expect it. I was recently stopped at my local kosher market and told by a kind soul how sad he was to hear that I had been ill, how upset he was at how I and my family had been treated, and that he had been hearing about and reading my blogs. He then took a moment to tell me the following: “You should know that there are so many people who support you on the ground. You must keep on fighting this fight. It is an important fight. That in time, this fight will be won. Things must change.”
Indeed, things must change. But they must change from within. When we LGBT Jews leave the frum world, we lose our ability to impact from within, to be there in the forefront, to be a thorn in the side of archaic views of the human condition, held by rabbis who are too arrogant or too cowardly to change the way the frum world deals with finding a place for the LGBT Jew – the one I have called the stranger among you, yet who is from within you.
I thought about this concept as I began my Yom Kippur davening in this unassuming shul that found a place for me and my family for the High Holy days (although not membership) right near my home. It is an off-shoot of a larger shul whose rabbi also failed me, but I realized that that is what man does. He fails. He fails man and he fails G-d when he harms others. So I thought of this with the opening of Kol Nidre “May it be forgiven for the entire congregation of the Children of Israel and for the stranger who dwells among them, for [the sin] befell the entire nation through carelessness.” (The Complete Artscroll Machzor, Yom Kippur, p. 61)
You see, we are all in this together. We are all, at times, careless with each other. We all rise and fall as a nation together, and we all stand before G-d with our sins, asking for forgiveness, together. I thought about this over the last days of Sukkot as well, when I returned to shul and listened to a rabbi speak about our responsibility as Jews to each other. He spoke about our unity as a nation, how we must not cast aside any Jew, how we all received the Torah together, whether we were scholar, layman, tzaddik, sinner, man, woman or child. As for me, knowing what it is like to be cast aside by some, I hoped that his words would resonate with others. I hoped that change would come from within, that the casting aside of another Jew would never happen again.
Recently my friend Sarah Weil addressed the issue of change coming from within the frum community, in her article for the Huffington Post: Religious and Queer:Why the LGBT Movement Needs Religion. She is absolutely right about us LGBT Jews needing to find a place for ourselves within the community we know, to engage community members in meaningful discussion, to challenge those who oppose inclusion, and to simply exist where we belong. Change is coming because of people like her, maybe even because of people like me, but more importantly, because we have “support on the ground.”
I thought about what those words meant — “support on the ground” – and I knew them to be true. I realized that they meant that people distanced themselves from the actions of leaders which they felt harmed other Jews, that harmed their friends, that harmed me and my family. I realized it when so many people reached out, invited us for meals these past chagim, and even to a jam packed amazing barbecue, by a family who has sent me notes of support along the way!
I am seeing it more and more when people stop me in my community, people I have seen around for years, and some that I haven’t, some who I have spoken to before and some that I haven’t, who took a moment to tell me that they are reading my posts (which I post within my community Facebook page) and that I am making an impact. That I have “support on the ground.”
I even witnessed this in the shul that I have been attending more often. People in the shul went out of their way to include us, to wish us a chag sameach, a good shabbos, an easy fast, and who welcomed us into their minyan. Even if the rabbis in my community did not. In fact, one friend who helps run the minyan, welcomed us but joked that he was sorry but he could not give me or my partner an aliyah! I told him not to worry, even I was not that progressive! It is truly a grass roots effort to include us, and I am finding hope in community members on the ground, even if I cannot find it within their leaders. But that too will change, because leaders change and leaders grow; and those are the very best leaders.
How do I know that change will come, even from leaders? I saw it and heard it with my own eyes. Right before Yom Kippur some amazing rabbis and leaders, who have the courage to effect change, put out a video statement asking for forgiveness from the LGBT community that they have harmed or hurt in some way: Rabbis Ask LGBT Community For Forgiveness. This is something that I could never have imagined possible. But it happened, and it gives me hope. Take the time to read and listen to their words. They are truly what rabbis and leaders should be, and are capable of, in the most difficult and challenging of moments.
So while in shul, as I davened Hallel, and read the words of this beautiful tefillah, feeling joy at hearing davening once again on a more regular basis, I was moved by the following words: “I love Hashem, for Hashem hears my voice, my supplications. As He has inclined His ear to me, so in my days shall I call.” (The Complete Artscroll Machzor, Succos, p. 699) And as I witness these acts of outreach, these acts of support on the ground, I know he is listening. I also know that his people hear what he asks of us; that we be kind and compassionate to one another. That we not be careless with each other. That we not cast aside a fellow Jew.
And while I davened and read further in the Hallel, I saw another line that actually inspired this post: “It is better to take refuge in Hashem than to rely on man.” (The Complete Artscroll Machzor, Succos, p. 701) However, I felt that that this line in the tefillah required a footnote, or a change at the end, to read “some men.” You see, because although I do take refuge in Hashem, when man harms me, I also know that man is Hashem’s greatest creation. I do know that we are not all alike, that we are capable of growing, that not all men fail, that some are so courageous, that there are men and women who do support us on the ground, and who by their very actions will effect change. They are the men and women who inspire me. And while I do take refuge in Hashem, they are the ones who rebuild my faith in mankind. They are the ones who will have the last word. For this, I am eternally grateful.