Sunday, June 10, 2018

Proud and Holy (Korach)

Sometimes Jewish wisdom and observances come from unexpected places.  In last week’s Torah reading, we learned that a minyan of ten comes from the naysaying scouts whose negative report concerning the land of Israel and its inhabitants doomed their entire generation to death in the wilderness.   Now Korach—the namesake of this week’s portion and Jewish archetype of misguided rebels—speaks words of prophetic truth even in the midst of his evil uprising.  Proving that even arch-villains can be mouthpieces for the Divine, Korach declares: “All the community are holy, all of them, and the Holy One is in their midst.”  In response to these words, Rashi comments: “They are all holy because they all heard the utterances on Sinai from the mouth of the Eternal.”
Korach’s declaration is aspirational—it was not entirely true in his time, and even now, it is not fully realized.  Yet his words have indeed proven to be prophetic, for over the intervening centuries, the Jewish people have made progress toward this end of all-inclusive holiness.  Slowly but surely, we have expanded our recognition of the diversity of the community that stood together at Sinai. We have become far more open to Jews by Choice, who now make up a large proportion of our progressive communities. Sexism still persists, yet in today’s liberal Jewish world, women are powerful leaders in public life, serving as rabbis, cantors, educators, presidents and CEOs of synagogue boards and other Jewish non-profit organizations.  Racism, too, persists, yet our once completely Ashkenormative community has made significant strides in recognizing the contributions of Jewish people of color.
And on this week of Pride Shabbat, we celebrate the opening of Jewish life to lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender and non-binary Jews.  What could be more fitting than the rainbow sign, a reminder of God’s promise to care for the world, and now a symbol of the varieties of sexual orientation and gender identity that strengthen our community?
Here, too, our work is far from done.  In Idaho, LGBTQ people still lack the most basic legal protections from discrimination because our legislature has refused to add the words that would extend them the same rights that the rest of us enjoy.  As liberal Jews, it is our duty to keep insisting on justice for all, starting with our own Jewish LGBTQ individuals and families and extending our efforts to include the entire community. 
 Yet even as we remind ourselves of the tasks still before us, we should take this season to celebrate how far we’ve come.  When I arrived in Boise twenty-four years ago, CABI’s participation in Pride was a source of intense controversy.  Very few religious organizations participated and counter-demonstrators came out in droves.  Today, our state capital is illuminated in rainbow colors, Pride banners line the streets of the city, and same-sex marriages conducted beneath our chuppah are legally binding throughout the nation.  Our youth may take this for granted but for those of us who remember the bad old times, it is remarkable.
All the community are holy, all of them, and the Holy One is in their midst. 
Amen—and Happy Pride.