Shavua Tov 7 Shevat 5776
by Reb Jason van Leeuwen
“Moses Has Two Mommies”
Such were the words of Rabbi Rachel Weiss, part of the clergy team of Manhattan’s Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, during Kabbalat Shabbat services on Jan. 1st. I was one of few “straight” folks, invited there by my 85 year-old Aunt Lea and her wife Jane. It had never occurred to me to wonder about how Moses was raised. Rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter, the Torah goes on to tell us that Moses’ biological mother became his nursemaid. Yeah, I guess he did have two mommies!
In CBST I found a warm and welcoming community. Their sense of shared destiny ran deep, as we often find in our friendly neighborhood shuls. CBST was founded in 1973, 5 short years after the Stonewall riots and Dr. King’s assassination. Members at first would introduce themselves to each other by pseudonyms. They would insist on no return address on congregational mailings. They were America’s Refusniks in the Home of the Free, still detainable for who they were.
Aunt Lea is a retired midwife and acupuncturist, who delivered babies for Hasidim and addicted mothers alike – completely unlike both communities who nevertheless trusted her with their lives. She found a nice Jewish girl – a doctor, no less! – about 30 years ago, and together they slowly made their way back to embracing the tradition of their youth, in a place where they did not have to hide who they were; where a man with a beard and sequined yarmulkeh shared the Divine Presence with a 6 foot 2 transgender woman wearing a beautiful dress. It felt like any other shul. It was no big deal.
When my daughter was 16, I was driving her home from school when at a red light, she said “Dad…. I’m gay.” After a few seconds, I shrugged my shoulders and said “Ok…. Mazal Tov.” It was no big deal.
And as I return home from my trip back East and encounter the birthdays of the trees and Martin Luther King, I think about how big a deal it used to be to come out in my family – even my far-Left, earthy-crunchy pinko Jewish family. Aunt Lea and Uncle Leon had to wait until Oma and Opa died before coming out. Our generation, thankfully, did not have to wait nearly as long. We did not have to wait because people in the earlier generation, alongside Dr. King, planted the seeds of justice, watered them, cultivated communities that affirmed how God made us all. My daughter is now eating their fruit, and the Source of Blessing must be thanked for it.
I don’t know what’s more important – a secular New Year of celebration, or a mystical New Year of cultivation. I like to hedge my bets and do both. And I like to celebrate that this is not only a new year, but a new day. Shavua Tov.