Owning Our Word, Interpreting Their Meaning: The Torah And LGBTQ Issue

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As you know, the Orlando attack has led to passionate discussions about some complex issues that we are wrestling with nationally. One of the issues in the spotlight is the fact that homophobia has deep roots in religious teachings. Islamic teachings pertaining to LGBTQ issues have made the headlines since the Orlando attack, but the fact is Judaism contains very troubling teachings concerning these same issues.

It is imperative that we understand and come to terms with the reality that the Torah – the same sacred book that our kids read as they become Bar/Bat Mitzvah, the same holy book we read every Shabbat and on the High Holidays – contains seeds of hate that have the potential to do great harm. This is why tonight, during our 7:30PM Shabbat Service, I will be talking about a few verses of Torah that not only condemn LGBTQ individuals (Leviticus 18:22) but also promote violence against the LGBTQ community. Yes, you read that last part correctly.

Many in the Jewish and Christian community who believe that the Torah is the true word of God and often hide behind the “you can love the ‘sinner’ but hate the ‘sin’,” overlook that the Torah teaches that “homosexuality” is punishable by death (Leviticus 20:13). Our holy text supports the idea that LGBTQ relations are not just abominations, these relationships are capital crimes!

As the passionate discussion surrounding Orlando and dangerous religious teachings continue, the Jewish community must own what our sacred text says, wrestle with the words in the text and determine how we, as a congregation that proudly includes many members of the LGBTQ community, interpret these words in a way that supports the values that we live by today.

I hope you will join us this evening. I encourage you to bring older children and teens with you (young children are always welcome but will probably not be engaged by the discussion!). If you can’t make it, the service and discussion will be streamed live, as always, here. For those of you on Twitter, we will also be live on Periscope (@rabbijacobs) at 7:30PM. The discussion should begin around 8:00PM.

Coming Together After The Orlando Attack

Thank you to all who came to our gathering last night. Many of us were not able to be there. Some of you saw the coverage of the event on WSVN. I wanted to share my words, as delivered by Cantor Debbie, with you today.

 

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My heart is broken, my emotions are high. Like you, I am struggling with the terror attack in Orlando – the latest hate, violence and extremism that has shattered our world. Cheryl, Abigail and Jonah join me in sending our condolences to the families and friends who have lost loved ones and we send our positive thoughts and prayers to those survivors who are healing after this attack. I know you join with us in saying that we promise to do whatever we can to honor the precious memory of those we lost ‪Sunday morning‪.

Given how close we are to Orlando, the number of kids we have at UCF and the number of UCF alum we have in our community, this attack hits so close to home. My own mother lives within walking distance of the nightclub where this nightmare took place. So many people are hurting. We’re hurting and, of course, that is why you came tonight.

I do want to share a few words with you this evening and I thank Cantor Debbie for helping me do so.

As we wrestle with Sunday’s terrorist attack, we must not overlook the fact that this was a direct attack on the GLBTQ community. Pulse, the nightclub where the attack took place, is an integral part of the GLBTQ community. Barbara Poma co-founded Pulse in memory and honor of her brother, John, who died from complications related to AIDS in 1991. Pulse was a haven for the GLBTQ community. To overlook that this was an attack grounded in homophobia and an attack against the GLBTQ community is no different than overlooking that the terrorist attack in Tel Aviv last week was an attack against Israelis, Jews and all supporters of the Jewish State.

As we wrestle with the terrorist attack, many of us are struggling with gun legislation and gun rights. Wherever you find yourself in this struggle, I think we all can agree that dangerous weapons do not belong in the hands of dangerous people. Just like after September 11, 2001, when we as a nation explored ways to keep our airplanes safer, now is the time for us – those of us who oppose guns, those of us who own guns, and everyone in between – to come together to find a solution to gun violence that makes our world safer. As we do so, we must remember that those who are determined to undermine our society will use all means necessary to do so. The Boston Marathon terrorists didn’t need guns. I say this not to dismiss the need for serious discussions about guns, but to remind us that the discussions we need to have must include conversations about bigger issues of security and personal privacy.

As we wrestle with the terrorist attack, many of us are wrestling with the fact that the attack in Orlando, that attack in Tel Aviv, the attack in San Bernadino, the attacks in Paris, the attack in Boston, the attack in Chattanooga, the attack at Fort Hood and too many other attacks all share a frightening common denominator. Many of us are afraid or uncomfortable to call this common denominator what it is – radical, Islamic extremism. We are afraid and uncomfortable because we know that there are good, peace-loving Muslims out there and we don’t want to label as evil an entire religion. But, I have been taught by the wise Muslim American, Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, that we must openly call out and stand up to radical Islamic fundamentalists. Dr. Jasser, the founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement, calls upon his fellow Muslims “to reject interpretations of Islam that advocate for violence, social injustice and political Islam” and “to support a reform of Islam that advocates for peace, human rights and secular governance.” Dr. Jasser, his colleagues and fellow Muslims who stand with him want us to differentiate between peaceful, patriotic, inclusive Muslims and the fanatic, extremists who have hijacked their religion and are using it as a dangerous, destructive tool of terror. Dr. Jasser demands that we stand up to Islamic extremism. His courage and leadership are truly incredible and we must join the growing crowd of people who are standing with him.

Finally, Sunday’s terrorist attack has hit us hard. As we try to comprehend what took place, we are grasping for answers and, in doing so, looking to place blame on someone or something. This attack has us fighting over gun rights. This attack has us fighting over political candidates and politicians and what they have said or haven’t said. This attack has us fighting over personal freedoms and what the FBI, CIA and law enforcement has or hasn’t done to stop attacks like these. I’ve even heard people beginning to attack the owners of Pulse, the club where the attack took place. We’re upset. We’re angry. We’re confused. But we must remember that terrorists ultimately have one goal – and that is to undermine our community. One of the ways that they can do this is to divide us. As President Abraham Lincoln said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Yes, if we have the discussions we need to have following this most recent terrorist attack, we will disagree with each other. As we move forward with the current presidential campaign, these disagreements will become more and more obvious. But disagreement does not mean we have to turn against each other. Please, let’s commit to doing everything we can to keep this horrific attack from dividing us. We need each other.

The words of the Haskiveinu – our prayer for protection, comfort and peace (slightly modified for tonight):

Grant that we may lie down in peace, God, and awaken us to life. Shelter us with Your tent of peace and guide us with Your love and strength. Shield us from hatred, plague and destruction. Keep us from harm, famine and heartbreak. Help us to do good. God of peace, may we always feel protected because You are our Guardian and Helper. Give us refuge in the shadow of Your wings. Guard our going forth and our coming in and bless us with life and peace. Blessed are You, Eternal God, whose shelter of peace is spread over us all, over all Your people in Orlando, in South Florida, throughout America, in Israel, over Jerusalem – over all Your people everywhere.

Thank you for being here – for supporting each other – for creating a safe place.

Shavuot: A Time To Celebrate The Lessons We Have Learned

Tomorrow night, we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. According to Jewish tradition, it is on Shavuot that Moses climbed Mount Sinai and received not just the Ten Commandments, but the entire Torah. Contained within the Torah are hundreds of invaluable lessons that have the potential to make our lives more meaningful. In celebration of Shavuot, I encourage you to watch the short video posted below. It is from Soul Pancake and challenges us to think about some of the most important lessons that we’ve learned over the years. Interestingly enough, with the exception of the lesson about the Ford Probe, most of the lessons shared in the video can be found within the Torah. Given this, it is no surprise that more than 3,000 years after Moses received the Torah, we gather together on Shavuot to celebrate the moment we received the timeless lessons that continue to shape our lives and make us the people we are today

The Opposite of Loneliness – Marina Keegan’s Powerful Words

06kristof-jumboMarina Keegan and her parents at her graduation from Yale, 2012

I know that I have shared this essay before – but it is so powerful that I am sharing it with you once again below. It was written by the late Marina Keegan for a special edition of The Yale Daily News that was handed out at her graduation in 2012. As another school year comes to an end, as many of us prepare to send our kids off to college, as some of us get ready to leave home for the first time or leave campuses that have become our homes, please read Marina’s words. They were written for you. They capture the emotions associated with this time of year and our ability and obligation to start over. In addition, Marina’s words also remind us that life is precious. Tragically, soon after graduating from Yale four years ago, she was killed in a car accident. Her words are part of her powerful legacy, reminding us to truly appreciate what we have right now.

Mazal Tov to all of our graduates! May each of you experience the awesome “opposite of loneliness” that Marina writes about and may you be blessed with the ability to appreciate that the best years of your lives are not behind you. As Marina explains, they are part of you and are set for repetition as you continue this journey we call life.

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“The Opposite of Loneliness,” Marina Keegan
(published in the The Yale Daily News – May 27, 2012)

We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life. What I’m grateful and thankful to have found at Yale, and what I’m scared of losing when we wake up tomorrow and leave this place.

It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt. The hats.

Yale is full of tiny circles we pull around ourselves. A cappella groups, sports teams, houses, societies, clubs. These tiny groups that make us feel loved and safe and part of something even on our loneliest nights when we stumble home to our computers — partner-less, tired, awake. We won’t have those next year. We won’t live on the same block as all our friends. We won’t have a bunch of group-texts.

This scares me. More than finding the right job or city or spouse – I’m scared of losing this web we’re in. This elusive, indefinable, opposite of loneliness. This feeling I feel right now.

But let us get one thing straight: the best years of our lives are not behind us. They’re part of us and they are set for repetition as we grow up and move to New York and away from New York and wish we did or didn’t live in New York. I plan on having parties when I’m 30. I plan on having fun when I’m old. Any notion of THE BEST years comes from clichéd “should haves…” “if I’d…” “wish I’d…”

Of course, there are things we wished we did: our readings, that boy across the hall. We’re our own hardest critics and it’s easy to let ourselves down. Sleeping too late. Procrastinating. Cutting corners. More than once I’ve looked back on my High School self and thought: how did I do that? How did I work so hard? Our private insecurities follow us and will always follow us.

But the thing is, we’re all like that. Nobody wakes up when they want to. Nobody did all of their reading (except maybe the crazy people who win the prizes…) We have these impossibly high standards and we’ll probably never live up to our perfect fantasies of our future selves. But I feel like that’s okay.

We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time. There’s this sentiment I sometimes sense, creeping in our collective conscious as we lay alone after a party, or pack up our books when we give in and go out – that it is somehow too late. That others are somehow ahead. More accomplished, more specialized. More on the path to somehow saving the world, somehow creating or inventing or improving. That it’s too late now to BEGIN a beginning and we must settle for continuance, for commencement.

When we came to Yale, there was this sense of possibility. This immense and indefinable potential energy – and it’s easy to feel like that’s slipped away. We never had to choose and suddenly we’ve had to. Some of us have focused ourselves. Some of us know exactly what we want and are on the path to get it; already going to med school, working at the perfect NGO, doing research. To you I say both congratulations and you suck.
For most of us, however, we’re somewhat lost in this sea of liberal arts. Not quite sure what road we’re on and whether we should have taken it. If only I had majored in biology…if only I’d gotten involved in journalism as a freshman…if only I’d thought to apply for this or for that…

What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. Get a post-bac or try writing for the first time. The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. It’s hilarious. We’re graduating college. We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.
In the heart of a winter Friday night my freshman year, I was dazed and confused when I got a call from my friends to meet them at EST EST EST. Dazedly and confusedly, I began trudging to SSS, probably the point on campus farthest away. Remarkably, it wasn’t until I arrived at the door that I questioned how and why exactly my friends were partying in Yale’s administrative building. Of course, they weren’t. But it was cold and my ID somehow worked so I went inside SSS to pull out my phone. It was quiet, the old wood creaking and the snow barely visible outside the stained glass. And I sat down. And I looked up. At this giant room I was in. At this place where thousands of people had sat before me. And alone, at night, in the middle of a New Haven storm, I felt so remarkably, unbelievably safe.

We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I’d say that’s how I feel at Yale. How I feel right now. Here. With all of you. In love, impressed, humbled, scared. And we don’t have to lose that.

We’re in this together, 2012. Let’s make something happen to this world.