Blurred Lines in Parshat Vayera

I love Torah.  I love studying Torah.  I love teaching Torah.  I find beauty and inspiration in the way in which this sacred text reflects a multitude of experiences that exist within humanity.  I delight in the moments when the text touches something inside of me and seek to share the result as often as possible.

The experience of writing the following text was one such experience.  The expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael is something I have struggled with for some time now, and am grateful for the opening I discovered this year.  The opening in the text created an opening inside of me; it was an opening I had been waiting for.  Moving beyond fear, the risk of not sharing this Torah far outweighed the potential risk of sharing.

Blessed is our God who created us for his glory… and gave us a Torah of truth, planting within us eternal life.  May you open our hearts with your Torah, imbuing our hearts with love and awe to do your will and to serve you with a complete heart (lev shalem).

Blessed is the Source of Life, who gave me strength and courage to share my whole self with those who, in service to God, I serve.

The following d’var Torah was delivered at Congregation Kehillath Israel’s Community Kabbalat Shabbat (KICKS) on Friday, October 18th.  

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In this weeks Torah portion, Parshat Vayera, we read:

And Sarah said, “Laughter has God made me, whoever hears will laugh at me.” And she said, “Who would have utttered to Avraham – Sarah is suckling sons! For I have borne a son in his old age.” And the child grew and was weaned. And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Avraham, laughing. And she said to Avraham, “Drive out this slavewoman and her son, for the slavewoman’s son shall not inherit with my son, with Isaac.” (Genesis 21:6-10)

 ו וַתֹּאמֶר שָׂרָהצְחֹק, עָשָׂה לִי אֱלֹהִיםכָּל-הַשֹּׁמֵעַ, יִצְחַק-לִי.  ז וַתֹּאמֶר, מִי מִלֵּל לְאַבְרָהָם, הֵינִיקָה בָנִים, שָׂרָהכִּי-יָלַדְתִּי בֵן, לִזְקֻנָיו.  ח וַיִּגְדַּל הַיֶּלֶד, וַיִּגָּמַל; וַיַּעַשׂ אַבְרָהָם מִשְׁתֶּה גָדוֹל, בְּיוֹם הִגָּמֵל אֶת-יִצְחָק.  ט וַתֵּרֶא שָׂרָה אֶת-בֶּן-הָגָר הַמִּצְרִית, אֲשֶׁר-יָלְדָה לְאַבְרָהָםמְצַחֵק.  י וַתֹּאמֶר, לְאַבְרָהָם, גָּרֵשׁ הָאָמָה הַזֹּאת, וְאֶת-בְּנָהּכִּי לֹא יִירַשׁ בֶּן-הָאָמָה הַזֹּאת, עִם-בְּנִי עִם-יִצְחָק

 There is a good bit of confusion in these few lines, most of it related to the verb “צְחֹק.” A verb difficult to translate, whose very presence in these lines hints at the complexity of the situation.

 צְחֹק, עָשָׂה לִי אֱלֹהִיםכָּל-הַשֹּׁמֵעַ, יִצְחַק-לִי.

After the birth of Isaac, Sarah says: God has given me laughter, all who hear will laugh at me. Or is it: God has brought me joy and all who hear will rejoice with me? Even if we simply translate it as laughter — is it a joyous laughter or a bitter laughter? Is Sarah pointing us to her joy or her pain and can we hold those emotions together at the same time? Sarah, afterall, has been on a rollercoaster ride — unable to conceive, giving her handmaiden to her husband, now conceiving late in life. I want to view Sarah with compassion and then…

 ט וַתֵּרֶא שָׂרָה אֶת-בֶּן-הָגָר הַמִּצְרִית, אֲשֶׁר-יָלְדָה לְאַבְרָהָםמְצַחֵק.

Sara saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian that was born to Avraham מְצַחֵק laughing or playing or, according to the rabbis perhaps engaging in forbidden sexual activity.

Biblical scholar Robert Altar, playing off the common roots of מְצַחֵק andיִצְחַקnotes that this verb may be best translated as “Isaac-ing.” Whatever it was that Ishmael was doing, Sara was threatened by it. And why? Because Ishmael was acting too much like Isaac. Playing at being Isaac. Threatening to take Isaac’s place. By using the verb ” מְצַחֵק” the Biblical author blurs Isaac’s and Ishmael’s identities, just as Sara’s giving Hagar to Avraham as a wife blurs their roles. It is this blurriness that is foundation of the threat that ultimately leads to their expulsion.

Yet, the problem is not only that there are blurred lines, but also that the characters of Hagar and Ishamel are so narrowly prescribed in the text. Hagar will always be ha-gar ha-geir betocham, always prescribed as the stranger that dwells among us. Ishmael is simply referred to as “בֶּן-הָגָר הַמִּצְרִית,” he is only Hagar’s son, even to the exclusion of the fact that Avraham is his father. Further, neither Hagar nor Ishmael is given a name in the moments before Sarah declares that they should be cast out — they are reduced to the nameless and faceless, slavewoman and her son, sent out into the desert.

If the text didn’t so narrowly presribe who Hagar and Ishmael were, they might have been less threatening. Perhaps those things that created confusion would have been balanced with other pieces of their identity.

As a female-bodied person who wears clothing typically reserved for men and occasionally uses male pronouns, I know the world of bluriness. I walk through it everyday, and I see the way it is threatening to people. I have compassion for Sarah, because I see her in the face of all those who struggle with excellent intentions to locate my gender in their understanding of the world. I know the ways in which it pushes me outside of community, and I see the ways in which sharing my whole self with people allows them to bring me in. It is an experience of deep pain and of greater joy. Of pure laughter and the laughter that comes in response to the sheer absurdity of any given moment in my life. To be sure, it is not only genderqueer or trans* identified people who live in the bluriness or on the edge. People with disabilities, those of lower economic classes, single parents, interfaith members of our community — they also live in the blurriness, on the edge of at least one boundary or another.

And so I read this week’s Torah portion as a caution. As a call to notice, to investigate, to counter moments when a blurred line is making us uncomfortable or when we are too narrowly prescribing a person’s identity. After all, Hagar is more than just a slavewoman, regardless of what the text tells us. And despite what people might see when I first enter a room, I am more than just a genderqueer person. I occupy a space between male and female, which informs who I am but does not define it. In our world those who challenge the boundaries of society are often cast out without even so much as a jug of water on their shoulder. And so, we have two options — provide the water or confront what feels threatening. Both are important.

Our society is working hard to provide the water — food pantries, big brother big sister programs, safe space stickers — are all good examples. Tonight I want to suggest that we all work to do the latter. To confront that which feels threatening. This work is difficult. It requires us to discover the place in our bodies and our minds where that threat exists, to name it, and to actively work to unseat it. The biblical narrative doesn’t allow Sarah time or space to confront her emotions, and in fact, it needs Hagar and Ishmael to be expelled from the community in order for our story to move forward. And though we believe these stories to be sacred, our lives do not need to be dictated by theirs. Our stories require us to do not what Sarah did, but what we wish she had done — to stop, to look inside ourselves, to articulate our own experience, to learn about other’s experience, to find the places where our lives diverge and intersect, then, and only then, to move forward.

Shabbat shalom.

- Becky Silverstein

 

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Gender, Privilege, and Women of the Wall

Becky Silverstein

A year ago I entered the women’s side of the mechitza at the Kotel (Western Wall) and tried to place a prayer written on a small piece of paper into one of the cracks. The prayer asked Gd to create space for me at the wall and in Jewish community generally, as well as for the strength to be active in creating that space for myself and others. Instead of finding itself wedged into a crack among the folded-up prayers of thousands of other Jews, it fell. As I watched it fall, I suddenly felt out of place, aware that I was wearing shorts and polo shirt in a sea of long skirts. I felt like I was invading women’s sacred space. I felt like where I was standing was not a place that I, a genderqueer rabbinical student, belonged. Before my prayer reached the ground, I had run out of the women’s section. Pacing the Kotel Plaza, I recited the line “ashrei yoshvei beitecha (happy are those who dwell in your house)”1 over and over again to try and slow my heart rate. I vowed never to enter another women’s prayer space again. Since then, I have entered the women’s side of a mechitza twice, but not at the Kotel. Nor have I have questioned my decision to stay out of that space – until Tuesday morning. Tuesday morning, I prayed with Women of the Wall.

Women of the Wall is “a group of Israeli women joined by Jewish women from around the world, seek[ing] the right for Jewish women from Israel and around the world to conduct prayer services, read from a Torah scroll while wearing prayer shawls, and sing out loud at the Western Wall – Judaism’s most sacred holy site and the principal symbol of Jewish peoplehood and sovereignty2.” They gather on the first of each month to celebrate the new month, Rosh Chodesh, a festival day in the Jewish tradition. Tuesday morning, Rosh Chodesh Sivan, about forty women gathered at the back of the women’s section, a few male allies prayed from the men’s section, and a few more directly behind the women in the outer courtyard. The group had their own videographer, a supportive contrast to the group of police who video their services monthly. Additional soldiers stood on the men’s side and in the courtyard in case anything got out of control. On Tuesday, as usual, the group began the morning service, continuing until it was time to read the Torah. At that point, we moved, as usual, to Robinson’s Arch, an egalitarian prayer space away from the main Kotel plaza- highlighting the reality that women are, by law, prohibited from reading Torah at the Kotel.

I prayed as I did last month, behind the women in the Kotel Plaza. I positioned myself not as one of the women, but as an ally. As someone who is female-bodied, this distinction is important. Unlike my male colleagues who prayed next to me, I had access to the women’s section and thus the ability to identify as member of the group fighting for their right to pray as full members of Jewish community. As an ally I had certain privileges — distance from the cameras, distance from those who harassed the Women of the Wall, the ability to see what was happening from various perspectives. It also meant that I couldn’t always follow along with the service and didn’t feel the energy of the group – privileges that I consciously gave up to support the cause. Standing in the Kotel Plaza also afforded me male privilege – as long as I was read by the police as a man I was free to wear my tallit (prayer shawl) and tfillin (phylacteries). As with reading Torah at the Kotel, women in Israel are not allowed to pray at the Wall with tallitot worn in the traditional fashion or with tfillin. Though I declined to wear my tfillin in solidarity, the option was available to me. I chose the possibility of not passing as male, and the fear and insecurity that comes with it, over the emotional stress of praying in the women’s section. I successfully passed during the time we were at the Kotel. As a result the privilege I carried, however fleeting, was real. I am now forced to confront both the fear and insecurity that comes with attempting to pass, as well as the anger and shame that accompany that privilege.

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My view of Women of the Wall from the Kotel Plaza.

During the part of the service at the Kotel, I saw a gender non-conforming person attempt to enter the women’s section to join Women of the Wall. They were stopped by the police and asked for identification, presumably to confirm that they were female and thus permitted to enter the women’s section. I began to cry. That moment, one where the a police officer questioned whether this person could be in the women’s section, epitomizes moments of fear in my life. I fear the ever-present questions, the need to justify my presence, the need to justify my gender. I fear the possible violent repercussions when someone decides my appearance does not match the sex on my driver’s license or the sound of my voice. I fear being spit at and dragged out of both the women’s and men’s section. I fear this moment in religious spaces, I fear this moment in bathrooms, I fear this moment walking down a Jerusalem street wearing ‘men’s’ clothing, such as a kippah and tallit katan. I fear this moment when I am first introduced to a new friend or a new group of students.

But as shaken as I was in that moment, it turns out I was not at risk of being questioned. Those really at risk were the women who were wearing their tallitot, on the women’s side. In the end, it was my roommate, a close friend, and another colleague who were questioned, their names, phone numbers and addresses recorded for further investigation. They did nothing other than wear their tallitot as a tallit is traditionally worn. It didn’t matter. As the group moved from the Kotel to Robinson’s Arch, a police officer called them aside. I pushed my way to the front of the group and placed my hand on my roommate’s back just as the policeman was asking for her ID. I had never been more aware of the privilege I wore. The only thing I could do was take off my sunglasses and look straight at the police officers, hoping that one would ask me “at ben o’ bat?” Am I a boy or a girl – a frequent refrain in my experience in Israel this year. They didn’t. I swallowed my privilege with a feeling of shame and a hatred of both a government that passed and enforced unjust laws, and a society deeply entrenched in a rigid gender binary.

My feelings of shame were based on my own choice to separate myself from the women and instead pray as an ally. Should I have chosen to pray in the women’s section? Should I have given up my emotional comfort for the cause? Isn’t that what being an ally means? What would have been gained? Where do I as a genderqueer, female-bodied person fit in the fight for women’s rights? The struggle for the rights of LGTBQ people is intertwined with the fight for women’s rights – both are about freeing us from the traps of gender expectations and roles. Within the larger struggle, I do not know how to engaage with my own fluidity, my own ability to move in different gendered spaces. I am not sure how, or if I always want, to leverage that fluidity.

I carried these questions and my sense of shame with me as I led the community in the concluding segment of the morning’s service. I had been asked by the gender non-conforming person who I had seen earlier. They read me as being female, a fact that I know for sure because of how they addressed me in Hebrew. The privilege I had carried for the first hour and a half was lost and replaced by the privilege of leading this holy community in prayer. Was it was right for me to move from one space of privilege to another? I’m not sure. As someone who had chosen to position myself as an ally, I was reluctant to take on a role that other, male allies, were not permitted to fill. Another friend pushed me forward and I accepted the invitation aware of my privilege and reluctant because of it. Still, leading felt like a tikkun, an act of repair. It allowed me to serve a community I want to support and challenge an oppressive system of gender roles and expectations. One that I am both a part of, and stand apart from.

Tuesday morning challenged many people, for many different reasons. But we shared sadness and anger, as well as the understanding that our collective action is important and necessary if the struggle for women’s rights in Israel is to move forward. I’m not sure that everyone present on Tuesday morning is aware or would agree that our collective action is also necessary for LGBTQ rights. My prayer for the creation of a space for my full identity as a genderqueer Jew may not be completely fulfilled, but on Tuesday morning I felt one step closer. That is how collective liberation works.

1Psalm 84:5

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Queer Identity within Clinical Pastoral Education

Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) is partially designed to see how all of your own “stuff” fits into all the stuff that the patients carry.  I was apprehensive about entering in, and concerned about exposing the deepest parts of myself to strangers in my peer-group.  Particularly, because of what I had heard from others having gone through, how my queer identity would become a part of what we are doing.  I don’t immediately come across queer outwardly, and knew that I would have the privilege of choosing whether or not to come out.  I applied to two sites, and did not include in my paperwork anything to indicate that I’m queer.  I met with the supervisors, and once I felt like it was enough of a safe space to come out, I did.  With one supervisor, a discussion was engaged about past gay and lesbian participants in the program.  However, with the other… the supervisor immediately turned identity into sex.

“What!?” he scoffed, “Well I won’t talk about what I do at home in bed with my wife, so I don’t expect that to be an issue that you’ll bringing in at all either.”  Feeling the disgust in my own identity at his (highly inappropriate) reaction, I knew I could never work with him, leaving the first site as my clear option.

I started a little anxious… I tend to go into new situations very cautiously at first, and unveil parts of my identity as I feel safe and supported.  In speaking with my peers, I came out naturally as part of a fluid conversation with a few of them.  It wasn’t until two weeks in, and “storytelling” that I came out to the group as a whole.  I couldn’t sense any change in the atmosphere… and afterwards one of my peers came over and gave me a big hug, telling me he was happy that I was here, and able to bring all that to the group.  Honestly, with this group, I hadn’t expected that much of an issue, yet I am accustomed to steeling myself for the worst.

The most shocking part of CPE on my queer identity is the identification of the “stuff” we’re already carrying.  One develops a thick skin to societal homophobia, and I’ve learned to roll with the punches.  I’ve learned to laugh at white male humor, and let a lot pass me by.  However, in stirring up all this raw emotion at the heart of the human condition, everything else is amplified to a degree where I simply cannot ignore it.  For example, when the case of the abducted “Gay Woman in Damascus,” a Sunni Muslim woman, became clear that it was a straight, white, American man posing as a queer woman to make a point… I lost it.  I had become so invested with the character that I cried over her situation and called out to my peers to help support her.  And then… to have someone posing as one with deep seeded understanding of struggle and tension between a religious and queer identity was infuriating.  I could taste the betrayal, and disgust… and I’m not closely involved with this case at all.  The issues became so personal, in a way I haven’t felt in a long time.

Identity shapes who we are in any given situation, and participating in the CPE program is no exception.  My experience has been that my queer identity gives a unique vantage point from which I am able to gain a glimpse into the worlds of others, but ultimately, I cannot know unless they tell me.  Just like the straight, white, man posing as a queer woman has NO IDEA of their experience, I cannot understand what patients are going through.  Though I can’t understand, I can believe them when they tell me.

We are operating with God’s grace as God’s hands and heart; and importantly, God’s ears here on earth.  We offer a measure of compassion to every human that we come across, actively reaching to be a calming presence in the eye of the storm. And through all of that, my identity as a queer woman is nearly irrelevant.  Chaplaincy work, as I am experiencing it, is transcending identity and coming into a humanity, which binds us all in a communion and community.

I remember one day: praying with the victim of a stabbing, calling for God’s presence in the moment.  Then, walking up to the neonatal ward to baptize a premature baby that would not live through the day—her name was Briana Angelica, and she was no bigger than my cupped hands.  I caught my breath and walked back to the ED to comfort a neighbor and translator of a German man who had fallen from a roof and remained on the ground alone for at least 40 minutes.  I sat with a nine-year-old girl who had gotten into a car accident with her mom.  It was her birthday.  I called the family of a man who flew 15 feet off his motorcycle and would walk away with only road rash.  I sat for hours with the wife and three daughters of another man who crashed his motorcycle and was determined brain dead.  It was the early morning hours of father’s day.

I cried.  I prayed.  I called out to God.  I called out to anyone who would listen in the dark of the chaplains’ lounge.  I questioned my own theology.  I prayed.  I cried.  There was not really a point where my identity as a queer woman was relevant in all of that… what the patients and families needed was someone to listen, and someone to care.  Ultimately, it is so beautiful that despite what identity politics or political beliefs someone maintains… when it comes down to the raw, rare, human emotion at times of crisis and sickness, the very God in whose image we are created enables us to come together to support one another.  In these moments, boundaries are transgressed.

Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) is a required passage of ordination.  It’s essentially a constructed traumatic experience over the course of a few weeks to see how we do.  It includes brutal, honest feedback; and a learning method where “there are no mistakes, only opportunities to learn.”  It’s almost like boot camp for clergy.  I can see and feel the benefits of such an intense experience; yet like most rewarding experiences, there are so many growing pains.

Students in a unit of CPE (at least in the setting where I am) will experience more trauma over the course of a 24 hour period than a normal person will in a lifetime.  It can become deadening.  We will sit with patients in all places of their physical care: from a routine test to end of life care.  We will reach out to their families, and their staff.  We can have visits with laughter, tears, and so much grace.  I have walked out of a room feeling like my life is changed forever as a result of an encounter with a patient; and have practically run out of a room feeling like there were thirty thousand other places I’d rather have been at that moment.

It’s a blessing to have CPE as a queer experience, and yet, it’s not essential.  It has helped me to incorporate my own identity into a pastoral voice, though, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Chris Davies

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Claiming our Inheritance at the Boston Dyke March


v’shabat kad’sh’kha b’ahavah uv’ratzon hin’chal’tanu
Barukh atah Hashem, m’kadeish hashabat     

With love and desire you have given us your sanctified Shabbat as an inheritance.
Blessed are you, Gd, who sanctifies Shabbat.

In the Babylonian Talmud Tractate Pesachim there is a series of discussions about Shabbat, its entrance and exit, and the role of people in marking those transitions.  In one particular story, a group of friends are sitting around eating a late lunch on a Friday afternoon and they ask an elder to go outside and see if Shabbat has become holy so that they can stop their meal and designate it for Shabbat.  The elder responds to their request saying that “there is no need.”  In the context of the Talmudic passage it is unclear what is not needed, though possibilities include: pausing their meal to designate it for Shabbat, sanctifying Shabbat at all, or going outside to see if Shabbat has begun yet.  Regardless, the statement “there is no need” is a strong one that reveals the privilege of this particular group of friends.  They are, of course, rabbis of the Talmud.  The question at hand, the role of people in sanctifying Shabbat, rests on the assumption that this group already has a relationship with Shabbat and with the Jewish law that governs the way they interact with her.  Regardless of what they need to do or do not need to do it is clear that Gd’s holy Shabbat is a part of their inheritance.

As a member of the GLBTQ[1] community and a rabbinical student, it is clear to me that the words “there is no need” do not apply to places where Jewish and Queer communities intersect.  There is so much need.  Before these needs can be addressed, they need to be made visible.  GLBTQ Jews need to be seen as vital members of our GLBTQ communities.  We need to be seen and valued as Jews who have vast interests and abilities and life experiences that can, and already do, enrich Jewish life.  We, GLBTQ Jews, also need to stand up and claim Jewish community, Jewish tradition, and Jewish law for ourselves.

Friday night, 6pm, Boston Common.  A few weeks ago, I promised a friend that I would provide dinner for her in the event that she was volunteering for the Boston Dyke March.  Being the rabbinical student and committed Jew that I am I suggested that, since it was a Friday night, challah and grape juice would be in order.  I figured we could get four or five friends together for a pre-March dinner.  A second friend jumped on the idea, set up a facebook invite, and got an organizing team together.  Harnessing the power of collective enthusiasm, twitter, and facebook, there we were on Friday night.  We stood in a circle, huddling in close to be heard over the music of Zili Misik coming from the stage, small cups of Manischewitz in our hands.  I recited Kiddush, we sang the last lines together, claiming Shabbat as our inheritance.  Loaves of challah were uncovered.  We reminded each other of those in the world without food, and the members of the GLBTQ communities in places where it is not safe to stand up and be seen.  We thanked Gd for the food and privilege we were so blessed to enjoy in that moment and dug in to one of the best potluck dinners I have participated in all year.  It was exactly how I had pictured it; only there weren’t just five of us, there were twenty-five.

v’shabat kad’sh’kha b’ahavah uv’ratzon hin’chal’tanu

These are the words that are still ringing in my head.  With love and desire you have given us your sanctified Shabbat as an inheritance.  To us.  With love!  With desire!  To us!  I stood standing in the center of a circle of GLBTQ Jews and our allies, closed my eyes, and heard their voices joining mine in acknowledging and accepting Gd’s gift to us.  The sounds of Zili Misik faded and my voice rose: “Barukh atah Hashem, m’kadeish hashabat.”  The word “amen” has never felt more affirming.  In that moment I was being seen in a way I had never been seen before – I was me, Becky – Queer, Jewish, Rabbinical Student.  And I saw those around me as I had never seen them – Queer and Jewish and my community.

The earlier statement that “there is no need” is reliant upon the assumption that the rabbis had a relationship with Shabbat, with Judaism, with Gd.  After experiencing Shabbat Potluck at the Boston Dyke March, I can say without hesitation, “relationship established.”  I am ready to move beyond that basic assumption, and I’m pretty sure that the Queer Jews who stood around me are ready to move beyond that assumption as well.  This is my calling – to push myself, the Jewish community, and the Queer Jewish community to simultaneously continue to build a platform of visibility and to move forward from it.  I can no longer wait to ask the questions, the deeper questions, and to engage others in them.  They are questions that both call to me as a matter of moral imperative and enliven my soul.

The Kiddush recited on festival evenings that coincide with Shabbat ends with the following blessing:  Barukh atah Hashem, m’kadeish hashabat v’Yisrael v’hazmanim.  Blessed are you, Gd, who sanctifies Shabbat, Israel, and the festival times.  It would certainly be a radical move, and one that I’m not ready to make, to consider the Dyke March a festival.  And yet, last Friday night I felt as though I, those around me, and the Dyke March were all engaged in the work of bringing Gd’s presence more deeply into our world.

– Becky Silverstein


[1] Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer

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Coming Out: Telling Our Stories

Dear friends, colleagues, and family.

Many of you know that as a teenager I attended Johns Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth summer program at Franklin and Marshall College at the Lancaster site.  My time there was some of the most formative of my life to date.  The positive experience that I still remember so vividly today was due to team of educators and residential life staff that worked every day to create a safe space for all of us to learn and grow.  When I returned as a staff member, it was in large part to pay back a dept of gratitude that I felt to those staff members, especially to those who continued to be role models and mentors for me long after I left Lancaster.  My effort to fill their shoes began with the words “My name is Becky.  I grew up in New York.  I am Jewish. And I am a lesbian.”

Those words were part of an opening presentation created around CTY’s “Zero Tolerance” policy for bullying.  By outing ourselves in a variety of ways (sexual orientation, religion, cultural heritage), we hoped to demonstrate to the CTY community that CTY was a safe place to be whomever it is you are. Here I was outing myself in front of 500 people, including 15 young women who would be living on my hall for the next three weeks.   I was terrified.

Since coming out almost ten years ago, I have come out over and over and over again.  The feeling of terror I felt on stage has slowly moved into anxious uncertainty.  Each time I meet a new person I wonder if they will use the wrong pronoun and if they will be embarrassed if I correct them.  Each time I enter a new community I wonder if I will be the only person who identifies as queer, or if my voice will somehow be dismissed because I speak from a place of minority.  When I was hired to work for a community during the Jewish High Holidays, I felt compelled to make sure they knew my girlfriend would be joining me at services before I committed to working with them.  As secure as I am in myself, I know I can not control others.

How blessed I am to be able to write this email without that feeling of anxiety.  Today is National Coming Out Day.  I feel so lucky that today, I can come out to you and not worry what you will think – except maybe “duh” or “tell me something I don’t already know.”

Today I am hoping to continue what I began nine summers ago at CTY.  Our world does not have a zero tolerance policy, but that doesn’t mean we can’t each have one.  Today, I am coming out as someone who recognizes the potential I have to affect another person’s life, the potential I have to help someone realize that they are important and feel safe growing into who they are simply by being present, by being who I am, and by saying outloud “I support you.”  Today, I am asking you to come out as a role model and an ally with me. I am asking you to refuse to stand by and watch as teenagers kill themselves because of senseless bullying and hatred.  I am asking you to refuse to stand by and watch ss young people choose a life on the streets because they have no where else to go.  I am coming out because I will not let you sit silently by either.

I am writing to ask each of you to take a moment and consider what you and your organizations currently do to support GLBTQ youth, and all youth – as they begin to discern and grow into their own identities.    All teenagers (really, all people) deserve love and support.  Everybody deserves to look up at school, temple, church, on the playing field, or at the movies and see someone like them.

Just as GLBTQ youth can’t change who they are, neither can you.  I recognize that not all of you work directly with youth, nor do all of you identify as GLBTQ.  This is a good thing.  Support comes in many different ways and should come from many different directions.  Changing your facebook status to indicate your support is a good start, but it is not enough.  If you need ideas, follow this link to Keshet’s “Ten Things You Can Do Today to Strengthen Our Community.”  Feel free to substitute “pastor” for “rabbi” and “Unitarian,” “Christian,” or another faith tradition for “Jew.”  Write or call your high school principal and ask what they are doing at your high school to support GLBTQ youth – even if you graduated 30 or 40 years ago.  Want more ideas?  Check out the GLSEN website, support HRC, or ask me.

GLBTQ youth and adults are part of your community – wherever you are.  Your community needs you.  How will you respond.

With love and hope.

—Becky Silverstein
Co-Founder QIC

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Welcome to QIC

This is the official first post of our QIC blog. More to come soon.

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