“I really don’t think so, Rabbi, I am not doing it, if you insist, you do it”.
It was Yom-Kippur-the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, sometime in the late 90’s when I attended graduate school at UT Austin. I am an Israeli-American and hence speaks fluent Hebrew. A fact which didn’t escape our visiting rabbi. On Yom-Kippur eve the rabbi asked me to read in Hebrew from the Torah- the 5 books of Moses, on the next day at the closing services of this Day of Atonement. I gladly accepted.
Only when I got home that evening, I discovered that I just agreed to read from the book of Leviticus chapter 18. And “what’s the biggie about Leviticus 18? Well nothing much- it is just the chapter in the bible which include the phrase “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence”… the text then elaborates on sex with beasts and other abominations. Since the Leviticus text is used very often as a justification for discrimination against queer people, as a gay man, I clearly didn’t want to read it. Apparently I was not alone- since so many synagogues find the text offensive and inappropriate, the prayer book suggests an alternate Torah reading.
The next day on Yom-Kippur itself, The Rabbi was not going to give up easily. She insisted that I will read the original Torah reading rather then the alternate. I utterly refused, when she couldn’t find any other Hebrew reader she agreed to the alternate reading. But not completely, she introduced me to the congregation which was filled with over 300 attendees, many of them my friends and professors form the university- none of them knew about my sexual orientation. Other then screaming out loud that I am gay, the rabbi did everything she could to embarrass me. She called me a stubborn who because of his own sexual orientation refuses to read the text. After bashing me for 5 minutes, in front of the whole synagogue, she then kindly invited me to the podium to do the reading.
I did- I read loud and clear adding my prayer to every Hebrew letter I pronounced. I knew that I was now officially, though unwillingly, coming out to my entire community and asked for acceptance, support and warmth.
I received them all- clapping is not allowed in the synagogue, hugging and embracing are. People I didn’t even know came and shook my hand at the end of services and thanked me, for what they called, my courage. The visiting rabbi was never reinvited back to our synagogue.
And this I believe, my friends-when people accept themselves for who they are and feel comfortable presenting themselves to the world, then they tolerate no discrimination, stand up for their rights and miraculously their community accepts them and embraces them. Frankly- even God does.
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