“At Temple Israel of Hollywood, a true Reform congregation, I am blessed to say that a gay, pregnant, female rabbi is no more out of place on the bima than any of my colleagues!”
So declared my colleague, Rabbi Jocee Hudson, on the second day of Rosh Hashanah in a sermon in which she described both the changes that Reform Judaism has undergone that have opened the door to a wider diversity of Jews, and the challenges facing Jewish life anew in the 21st century. Rabbi Hudson noted that going forward the American Jewish community will need to open its doors even wider and be even more inclusive than we have ever been before to welcome Jews and their families, and to continue to rethink how we pray, how we learn and think about Torah, about the meaning of “community”, how we engage with the people and state of Israel, and about how we recommit ourselves to social justice work here and abroad.
Rabbi Hudson was quick to say that despite the need for ongoing change, such “revolutionary challenges” are, truth to tell, nothing really new in Jewish history and tradition.
That being said, our community has, indeed, changed dramatically in the last fifty years of American Jewish history. One of the most significant changes is the leadership role women have taken as rabbis, cantors, scholars, thinkers, and communal leaders. A second significant change involves the ever-emerging presence of LGBT Jews and Jewish leaders in our congregations thus helping us redefine the meaning of “family” in contemporary Jewish life.
Before Rosh Hashanah, I had the privilege to meet with Tyler (Tye) Gregory, a member of the national staff of “A Wider Bridge,” a relatively new pro-Israel organization that builds bridges between LGBT Israelis and LGBT North American Jews. Arthur Slepian, the organization’s founder has written:
“I am a gay man, an American, and a Jew. I am passionate about Israel, devoted to its well-being, and I want to see a resolution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that will enable both to live in peace and security. My love for Israel and my commitment to LGBT equality led me to create ‘A Wider Bridge,’ an organization dedicated to strengthening the bonds between the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities in Israel and America. I believe LGBT Jews have been a transformative force for good in the Jewish world and that LGBT Israelis have been and will continue to be a vital force in creating a stronger and better Israel.”
“A Wider Bridge” is a non-political movement based in San Francisco with offices forming in other major American cities. It includes Jews of all political positions relative to American and Israeli political life.
Israel is arguably the most open Middle Eastern nation to homosexual men and women. Recent LGBT pride parades in Jerusalem (2000 participants) and Tel Aviv (100,000 participants) were organized by Israeli LGBT organizations such as Jerusalem’s “Open House for Pride and Tolerance,” “The Aguda: The Israeli National LGBT Task Force,” “Israel Gay Youth,” “Havruta Religious Homosexuals in Israel” and “Bat Kol,” among others.
Mr. Slepian also writes:
“Israel is the most important project of the Jewish people. And we believe in K’lal Yisrael …[but] We are struck by how little the American Jewish and LGBT communities know about Israel’s LGBT communities (and vice versa), and we aim to change that….we believe that Israel is a country worthy of more engagement, more dialogue, more exchange of culture and travel, and should not be the object of boycotts and sanctions. Israel has [not] become some kind of gay paradise: no country in the world qualifies for that title. It is still very hard to be gay in many parts of Israel, there are still many rights battles to be fought and won, and there have been some tragic incidents of anti-gay violence….Our aim was to enable Israeli LGBT activists to meet with and exchange ideas with organizations in the United States facing similar challenges. …Among these are the efforts to enact civil marriage, including same-sex marriage, and the recent initiative in the Knesset to bolster protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender. And we support those who are working to persuade the government to develop more compassionate policies regarding gay Palestinians who flee the West Bank and seek refuge in Israel because their lives are in imminent danger either from their families or the Palestinian police.”
“A Wider Bridge” has grown dramatically since its founding. Currently, 25,000 people visit regularly its Face Book Page with 1000 daily views. This movement is a great contribution to contemporary American Jewish and Israeli life, and I support them with a full heart.