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I am an ally. I have been an ally my whole life. I believe in openness, equality, and love. I know this because of my faith, which promotes these values to the highest degree. And I believe that my Jewish foundation has taught me to live so that all might find freedom, for as we teach until all are free, none are free.
There is so much hate in this world, and a lot of it is dedicated to the LGBTQ community. From ruthless beatings of couples walking down the street, to hate crimes that end with casualties, to the massacre at PULSE a year ago, the LGBTQ community has been embattled. People simply want to love and be loved. To exist in a world that embraces and celebrates who you are and empowers you to live openly and honestly in the world.
I am an ally because I believe in all of that. I believe that is what my Judaism teaches me. Those are the values implanted in me at a young age.
I want to go back in time a bit to my years before ordination. I decided one summer, before it was popular, to pursue credentials in Clinical Pastoral Education one summer. I joined the newly formed CPE program at MD Anderson Hospital in Houston and assigned in 1985 to a floor, which served AIDS patients. In 1985, it was an isolation floor with severe protocols and barrier education for staff and visitors. It was a cold and fearful environment. It was in the days we understood little about the disease and were fearful of its contagion. I sat for hours, gowned from head to toe, wearing two layers of gloves, with patients who felt their lives running away from them. Human beings, isolated and removed from human touch, warehoused in wards and unable to reach out. I listened to story after story of love and loss and hope. I was forever changed by that experience.
In 1988 I was ordained as a rabbi and immediately created outreach to the gay and lesbian community there. An early experience in my emergent rabbinate was the call from a congregant one night about their son who had committed suicide. He was gay, had acquired AIDS, and felt that he could not tell his parents either truth and killed himself with his father outside the door to his apartment banging on the door. His was a voice that made no sound, a cry in the night. His parents were crushed and his friends were bereft. And so I needed to create a loud voice.
And wouldn’t you know that I found myself on the Washington DC Mall in 1991 in the midst of a march for LGBT rights. The funny story was that I bought a t-shirt and wore it a lot and my kids began wonder why I was wearing a t-shirt that had lesbian across my chest. But I felt passion and purpose through my own engagement in the struggle for openness and acceptance. I can’t imagine what my colleague, Cantor David, and his husband, Michael, went through a decade or more before that or those in Stonewall in 1969. So I became an ally and I found voice in one of the proudest moments of my early career when I brought to Milwaukee WI a part of the newly created AIDS quilt. And we sat as a community to make panels for all the young men and women who lived sacred lives and died, often alone.
In my opinion, to be an ally means to be hyper-focused on the rights of all to gather, to love, to feel, to be. This service, these days of PRIDE in our community, are meant to elevate all our lives. To challenge us to be better than we are … to rise higher … to love deeper … to lift each other. These days remind us that the struggle never ends for equality and acceptance and freedom. The news reminds us that if we turn our backs, if we close our eyes, we could lose in a moment all the strides we have made together. So I am an ally, and I am an activist.
Rabbi David Wolpe wrote a recent piece on the need to leave politics off the pulpit. And, in truth, I find some merit in what he says. But Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the URJ responded “we should be moral goads, always free to speak truth to power and lift our voices to affirm our 3,000-year-old mandate to “Speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy” (Proverbs 31:9) as an expression of our care and concern for the world around us.” That is where I am.
As an ally, I want to tell the LGBTQ Community this: I stand with you. I will hold you steady when the hate becomes overbearing. I will be your shoulder to lean on when you feel that you cannot stand on your own. I will do my best to understand everything that you go through. I will grieve with you when hate crimes take the life of someone in your community. I will welcome you with open arms where other people would turn you away. I am your ally. Together, we will build a world based on love that is stronger than hate.
On this glorious Shabbat, gathered in this sacred place, with hearts and hopes bound together, let us all reaffirm our hope in a world that embraces all, celebrates all, cherishes all, and protects all.
Shabbat Shalom