Sasha T. Goldberg is the Associate Director and Director of Student Programming of Nehirim: GLBT Jewish Culture and Spirituality.
The postcards for the fourth annual Queer Shabbaton New York promised big: We boasted Jewish and LGBT diversity, a celebration of secular and religious practices, and cutting edge Jewish thought, culture and community.
With a wealth of teachers, scholars, Rabbis, lay leaders, and community organizers, though, this all seemed attainable. We enlisted presenters like Dr. Warren Hoffman, author of The Passing Game: Queering Jewish American Culture; Audrey Beth Stein, author of Map; Jay Michaelson, Nehirim founder; and Rabbi Steve Greenberg, author of Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition.
But what nags at the heart and mind of the retreat director—in this case, me—is always the same: Who will come? What will we really have to offer?
And these particular questions, I think, are actually part of the struggle of being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered (LGBT) in 21st Century America. These questions echo years of solitude in which we wonder, Am I the only one? Who will stand with me? And what will we really have to offer?
For LGBT people, these doubts reflect the experience of living in a society that insists we do not count or, worse yet, that we should not exist at all. Questions like these reveal what it is to survive being intentionally marginalized, discounted and erased from history. For LGBT Jews, there is also that old adage that many of us heard growing up—You can always walk into any synagogue—that we are still trying to fight for, reclaim or forget.
It is no wonder, then, that acceptance, celebration, support and community for LGBT people can never be taken for granted—not even as an insider, not even as the retreat director.
But then 111 people show up.
We show up to learn about topics like LGBT Jewish history, building Jewish LGBT families and community building. We show up to engage in Torah study, to write about our own LGBT identities and to consider a call to action for LGBT homeless youth. Those of us who show up, we are of every generation, every Jewish practice and every stream and strand of LGBT life. And by showing up, we offer our act of resistance. We answer decade upon decade of Who Will Come and What Will We Really Offer; we insist in our collective faith in one another.
When the young LGBT students showed up, they show their hope and faith that it gets better. When the attendee from Kansas tells me that she traveled to Queer Shabbaton New York because it’s the closest that she can get to LGBT Jewish culture, she makes her own journey of faith. And when those who have been closeted finally see the smiling faces of other LGBT Jews, their prayers of faith are at long last reflected back to them.
Nothing is a Utopia, of course. I could write about how some participants were uncomfortable with the word Queer, itself, and how others feel that it is the only identity that applies; I could write about how we had a printing snafu with our registration packets; I could even write about how I avoided my own personal and professional nightmare, all wrapped up in almost serving a carafe of less than fresh Half and Half to a people already plagued with stomach tsuris.
But really, I’d rather say this: I am honored and proud to be a part of a community built on faith—because what it means is that we will keep showing up. This last Queer Shabbaton actually converted me to my own suspicions: I believe that we will continue to practice faith together. Beyond our differences, beyond our various beliefs and beyond even my own worries of Who Will Come, we LGBT Jews of Nehirim will go on binding our hearts up with one another because that is the single strongest action of faith.
The rest, as they say, is in the details: During Halloween weekend, 2010, over 100 LGBT Jews, partners and allies attended the fourth annual Queer Shabbaton New York, hosted by Nehirim: GLBT Jewish Culture and Spirituality. The event was co-sponsored by Congregation Beth Simchat Torah and The JCC in Manhattan, with generous support provided by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. The weekend was, by all accounts, a tremendous success.
Sasha T. Goldberg is the Associate Director and Director of Student Programming of Nehirim: GLBT Jewish Culture and Spirituality. A Jewish scholar, educator and community organizer, Sasha holds a Master’s Degree in Judaism from the Graduate Theological Union and has taught nationally on the intersections of Judaism and various cultural, social, sexual and religious identities.