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Reflections on Yom Kippur and Mideast Peace

Sep8

by: Ron Hirsch on September 8th, 2016 | 5 Comments »

Elul, the month before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, has traditionally been a time to prepare for teshuva (repentance, self and world transformation, returning to one’s highest self). In preparation, we will be providing a variety of “takes” on this process. We also invite those who do not have a spiritual home to consider attending Rabbi Lerner’s High Holiday services – info available atwww.beyttikkun.org/highholidays. And if you have a poem, prayer, or thought piece that you feel would benefit others in this process, send it to RabbiLerner.tikkun@gmail.com (he might use it at the Beyt Tikkun service or, space allowing, on our website).

Reflections on Yom Kippur and Mideast Peace

As Jews around the world observe Yom Kippur, at levels of ritual observance ranging from the Haridim at the Wailing Wall to a reform temple in the U.S. Midwest to those who do not go to synagogue but in some way observe the Day of Atonement, it is important for each individual, for Israel, and for the world that the observance go deeper than even the most fervent practice of ritual and belief.

For Yom Kippur to have its intended impact, each person must understand and experience the spiritual lessons and meaning of Yom Kippur. What are those lessons?

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Understanding Unconditional Love and Forgiveness from The Gospel of Simon

Sep1

by: Victor Narro on September 1st, 2016 | Comments Off

In my book Living Peace: Connecting Your Spirituality with Your Work for Justice (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014), I reveal how the life and teachings of St. Francis of Assisi shape my work for justice, teaching me the way of peace, love, humility, and service. I talk about how my Franciscan spirituality has been enriched by the teachings of spiritual leaders of other faiths, such as Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Zen Master, poet, scholar, and human rights activist.

John Smelcer’s new book, The Gospel of Simon (Leapfrog Press, 2016, also available in Spanish as El Evangelio de Simon), speaks of the concept of unconditional love and peace through action. The book is a powerful and vivid narrative account of an encounter two thousand years ago during a public spectacle where an itinerant Jewish preacher named Jesus was being brutally crucified and a man named Simon was being forced by a Roman soldier carrying out the crucifixion to help him carry the heavy cross through the crowded streets. Through Smelcer’s powerful storytelling narrative of that encounter and the relationship that developed between Jesus and Simon, this book is able to provide deep insights into the teachings of the Gospel, not so much from the approach of preaching, but as a story that provides us with invaluable lessons. This book is storytelling at its best, and it can apply to all faiths and spiritual teachings. The book’s simple and eloquent prose invites the reader to read it deeply with an open mind and heart.

For me as a social justice activist and scholar, what moved me the most is Smelcer’s emphasis, with much simplicity, on how our spirituality or faith can be a force for justice in the world. Faith is how we choose to live our lives, mindful that we dwell in the presence of a higher spiritual being – a higher good. It begins with the simple act of loving. Because there is a higher Goodness who loves you, you cannot have faith until you love yourself. Through a conversation between Jesus and Simon, this book teaches us that it is the inward expression of love that matters. You must look into your own heart. What you adorn your body with outwardly is of no consequence and does not prove love. The contents of your heart and your acts of kindness are all that matter. Compassion is the soul in action. Compassion triumphs because it is endless.


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On Community and Conscience: Jewish Allyship and the Movement for Black Lives

Sep1

by: Lena Shapiro on September 1st, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Managing Editor’s note: As we have noted many times, the articles posted on Tikkun Daily do not necessarily reflect the official positions or attitudes of Tikkun. You can read our official positions in the editorials of the print versionof Tikkun magazine (available by subscription atwww.tikkun.org/subscribe). We also encourage readers to visit the special section of www.tikkun.org called “Political Vision & Spiritual Wisdom” where Rabbi Michael Lerner includes many ofhis editorials, short articles, op-eds to which he wants to call readers’ attention (even if he disagrees with them), and action alerts.

Many people have approached me recently to ask how I feel about the use of the word “genocide” in reference to Israel in The Movement for Black Lives’ official platform, which feels weird, because I don’t think the platform is about me. I have genuinely appreciated the interesting, varied, and important conversations I have had about the platform, and its investment-divestment section in particular, but I know I am not the only one who feels frustrated watching the controversy over the word genocide become the dominant story about a transformative political document that lays out a policy approach for a vision of justice and equality.

A sentence from the "Invest/Divest" section of "A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom & Justice."

In response to the platform, some Jewish organizations have decided to distance themselves and withhold support from The Movement for Black Lives. This is not the first time that the Jewish community has conditioned its support for certain social justice causes on the exclusion of Palestinian rights. In a recentopinion piece, Northwestern University student Lauren Sonnenberg wrote that campus activism that links struggles for justice, security, and self-determination in America to similar struggles in Palestine does not make room for students like her. I have heard related sentiments from Jewish students on my own campus: that they are unwilling to participate in activism that recognizes the injustice of Israeli occupation, because they view it as an attack on their Jewish identity. It is not. The idea that social justice movements that support Palestinian human rights and dignity run contrary to Jewish values and interests is not just false: it is dangerous. Our participation in struggles for justice and security for all people cannot be suspended because it is part of our own community that is perpetrating and sustaining injustice.


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Reader Response: Promoting the Well-Being of Israelis and Palestinians

Aug17

by: Dr. Gerald H Katzman on August 17th, 2016 | Comments Off

[Editor's note: We welcome critiques of articles in Tikkun, and in this case, of one of the many books written by Tikkun editor Rabbi Michael Lerner. Rather than respond fully here, Rabbi Lerner will address some of the issues raised in our Spring 2017 issue of Tikkun, which will focus on the 50th anniversary of the Occupation of the West Bank.

Managing Editor's note: As we have noted many times on Tikkun Daily, the articles posted here do not necessarily reflect the official positions or attitudes of Tikkun. You can read our official positions in the editorials in the print versionof Tikkun magazine (available by subscription atwww.tikkun.org/subscribe).The post below is an example of the kind of discourse we rarely publish because it demeans a whole group of people, in this case the 1.5 billion adherents to Islam. The author states, "The religion of Islam must turn away from militancy. Just as Judaism and Christianity have matured and adopted the 'Left Hand of G-d' as the model for proper, praiseworthy human behavior, so must all branches of Islam." The notion that Christianity and Judaism have matured and adopted the approach advocated by Rabbi Lerner's book "The Left Hand of God" would be difficult to substantiate, particularly in light of the Jewish world's support for Israel's treatment of Palestinians and the Christian world's long history of violence (i.e. the crusades and the inquisition), sexism, racism, homophobia, opposition to birth control, and attempts to limit women's rights to control their own bodies. Additionally, the claim that Islam as whole is not equally "mature" is offensive and cannot be proven by referencing the small percentage of Muslims who support violence against other Muslims and non-Muslims. Frankly, all of these kinds of generalizations about any religion, national group, race, gender, etc., are likely to be false or unsupportable, and we normally ban such articles that contain them. It was only because this response specifically critiques our editor's work that we are printing it, because we want to be a model of openness to such critiques, particularly of our editorial leadership and our public stances, in contrast to most magazines and newspapers that rarely allow for this kind of vulnerability - though we would have been much happier to print a critique that didn't have offensive claims against other peoples and religious groups!]

I am happy to reply to Rabbi Michael Lerner’s request that I critique his book Embracing Israel/Palestine. The book clearly represents a well-thought-out and detailed account of factors leading to the present Israeli/Palestinian divide and proposals for solving the many issues that underlie the conflict. I do not pretend to have the detailed knowledge of the area that Rabbi Lerner possesses. However, I do have my own impressions from years of Jewish education, multiple visits to Israel, and pursuing my ‘hobby’ of understanding how children are taught to hate and how to prevent this reprehensible practice.

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Pope Francis and the Changing Catholic Church

Aug10

by: Sarah Asch on August 10th, 2016 | Comments Off

Pope Francis saidin late July that he would never call terrorism “Islamic terrorism” since all religions contain fundamentalist groups. He made the comment in response to questions about a French priest who was targeted and killed in a terrorist attack.

His statement came on the heels of progressive remarks he made in June when he called for the Catholic Church to apologize to the LGBT community for centuries of discrimination. In his efforts to move the church towards a new era of cultural acceptance we should view Pope Francis with as much scrutiny as we would any politically savvy public figure. And whether or not you believe that the Pope is doing his best with a centuries-old system or that he is not moving fast enough on certain issues, we can all agree he is moving. Then the question becomes: how sustainable are these progressive movements after Pope Francis resigns or passes away? After all, Pope Francis changed the tenor of the church pretty quickly after his conservative predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, stepped down at the age of 85. With that in mind, many wonder how far Francis, who is 79 years old, can move the church before he has to hand over the job to somebody else.


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Lift It

Jul11

by: Rabbi Michael Rothbaum on July 11th, 2016 | Comments Off

If God is all-Powerful
Can he make a rock so large he himself
Cannot lift it
Cannot move it
Made up of the stone shavings of
The names
Carved out of the rock
Huddled in a pile
On the ground
The names so large
He himself cannot lift them
From the hearts
Of the bereaved
The empty spaces
Left in the rock
He himself couldn’t lift
There but not
There
The black blood that is
There but not
There

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More Blood Flowing, Will It Ever End?

Jul11

by: on July 11th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

Two more black men shot dead by police, blood flowing from their bodies. As I think about Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, and the blood flowing from their dying and dead bodies, I wonder if their souls are free from the societal stories about who black men are and the internalization of some of those stories. I think about the impact these stories have on the psychological, spiritual, physical, and social presence and existence of Black people in our society and how police and others react to them as a result of these stories.

Our society treats African Americans as though black bodies are less worthy or less valuable than white bodies; that black human beings are dangerous and threatening. I want to paint their bodies full of life, full of blood, but with different letters and societal stories inscribed on them. I want our societal stories to be ones of love, of acceptance, of worthiness, of value, of safety, of nonviolence, of beauty, of strength, of grace. Stories that in fact are the truth of who all of us are but on black bodies all we see are the negative images. I want these positive stories to shine brightly.

How might we get there? Spiritually, we need a mikvah – a bath of flowing, fresh water washing over each and every one of us that brings down the loving grace of the transformative energy of the universe to cleanse us. So each and every one of us can compassionately and gently, with love and strength, disrobe ourselves from these places of constriction, these stories that have become so embedded in our beings and in our culture that they become us instead of just stories. So that black bodies are finally free from the stories that they are dangerous and to be feared, from the hatred and prejudice that our society has imprinted on them so we can see their humanity rather than be obscured by our projections. And so that those of us who fail to see through these inscribed stories can wash ourselves clean of the stories imprinted upon us that impede our capacity to see the humanity of others.

What would happen then? Might black lives be freed from the legacies of prejudice, fear, and hatred that our society places upon them? Might police officers be freed from seeing black men as dangerous and threatening? Might we all be able to see the humanity in each other?

As I enter Shabbat with a heavy heart, I hold in my heart the memories of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, their family members and all who loved them, the Black women and men who are reminded once again of their own fragility in a country that is supposedly free, and of all the lives throughout the world who are killed and whose true stories we are unable to see. May we one day find a path to our true freedom where we see through the stories to the souls that live within each of us. Until that time, may we continue to do the work needed to fundamentally heal and transform our world.

Cat Zavis is the Executive Director of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. She is also an attorney, mediator, and trainer in conflict resolution and empathic communication. She has co-led trainings with Rabbi Michael Lerner on integrating spirituality and activism and on communicating across differences on Israel and Palestine. You can reach Cat at cat@spiritualprogressives.org. To learn more about the Network of Spiritual Progressives, go to: www.spiritualprogressives.org.

Jewish Law and Our Most Cherished Traditions Require Justice for Hassan Diab

Jul5

by: David Mivasair on July 5th, 2016 | 6 Comments »

Out of the 613 commandments our tradition identifies in the Torah, only two are expressed with the word tirdof -pursue it! One is “seek peace and pursue it. “The other famously is“tzedek, tzedek tirdof -justice, justice you shall pursue” in the Book of Leviticus.Our sages of old taught that in repeating the word “justice,” the Torah is telling us that we must pursue justice only through just means.

When acts of terror are committed and innocent people are tragically killed, to apprehend the perpetrators and assure they will never kill again is just.However, identifying and apprehending the perpetrators must be done only by just means.

This is why we must not remain silent as Canadian citizen and Ottawa professor Hassan Diab faces conviction in France for a gruesome crime for which no credible evidence against him has been presented.

Mr. Diab is accused of a crime of the most heinous sort: planting a bomb outside a Paris synagogue in 1980, which killed four people and seriously wounded scores of others. Such a crime demands justice for the victims, of course, as well as the family members of those innocent lives stolen on that fateful day.

But justice can only be served – as in any case, regardless of the degree of horror inflicted – if the evidence points clearly to the culprit. Should a man be convicted of a crime for which there is no credible evidence against him?

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The False Consciousness of Stewardship

Jun28

by: Eleanor Johnson on June 28th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

According to New York Magazine, citing data from NASA and Bloomberg, it’s been the hottest month in recorded history for a year now. In these temperatures, we’ve got big frozen things melting, low-lying places flooding, hurricanes swooping out of season, trash pools whirling in ever-widening gyres, and species quietly going extinct. The long-term impact of the heating up of the earth’s surface is not entirely clear, but what is clear is that something needs to change.

In all of this discomfiting warmth, I am primarily concerned about people, and I am of a mind to start pointing fingers. Not at big industry, emerging nations, or even the U.S. government. I want to point at people who read the Christian Bible superficially, thus engendering misunderstandings that become powerful and damaging political ideologies. More specifically, I want to point fingers at Christian environmentalists who, with the best of intentions, take on the mantle of environmental “stewardship,” which they derive from the Bible, but actually use that mantle to the detriment both of the earth and to accurate readings of the Bible itself.

I’m talking about the Biblical treatment of stewardship. Many Christians invoke the idea of stewardship as a justification for their environmental stances. In one interpretation of Christian stewardship, God gave the earth unto mankind, so that mankind could act as steward of that gift, using the earth’s resources to the greatest possible advantage. Now, of course, many Christian Environmentalists understand stewardship not as carte blanche to do what they will with the earth, but as an obligation to manage God’s gift responsibly. But all too often, the idea of stewardship is impressed into the service of demands to drill for oil in the arctic or dump massive amounts of waste into the seas because, well, there those places are, kind of big and empty and underused.

What I find fascinating about the discourse on stewardship is that it misses the point of the steward parable – often by wrongly conflating it with the Parable of the Talents. The actual stewardship parable, often called the Parable of the Unjust Steward, tells a story of a steward who is entrusted to manage his lord’s wealth responsibly. But the steward fails in his assigned task, wasting all of the lord’s goods, so that the lord demands an account of his expenditures and fires him from his job. Bad news: it looks like there are pretty dire consequences for mismanaging the lord’s goods. But things get more interesting. In response to getting busted, the unjust steward goes to people who were in debt to the lord, and he reduces their debts by half. Now things get really weird: the lord praises him for redistributing the lord’s wealth in this way, for being “unjust,” and for taking wealth from the lord himself.

Needless to say, this parable has historically been a source of consternation for Biblical commentators. But in the 1380s, a cleric named Thomas Wimbledon had a great insight into it. He delivered a public sermon on the Unjust Steward to a group of Londoners, which emphasized how the steward’s original squandering of the lord’s wealth would have consequences for the weakest, poorest, and most desperate in society, and how that neglect to take care of those in need was his primary crime. Thus, the steward’s redistribution of wealth at the end makes sense: it is direct atonement for the initial act of wasting and squandering.

Now, the circumstances of the 1380s were different; Wimbledon wasn’t protesting environmental squandering by nation-states and corporations. But his fundamental insight is deeply relevant to our current socio-political and environmental situation. The Parable of the Unjust Steward only makes sense if you understand it as a claim for the importance of economic justice, the redistribution of wealth, and the protection of the poor. That is what the Bible endorses as the mandate of a steward. So, if the industrialized nations — in fact, I’ll just say the U.S. – wants to orient its environmental policy around the idea of stewardship, it needs to do so with the awareness that stewardship is ultimately about the protection of other people. Poorer people. People down the ladder of socio-economic stability and security.

In our current geopolitical moment, then, anyone who wants to lay claim to stewardship of the “earth” should actually make an effort to foster economic and environmental justice that will include, for instance, the Global South — the area of the surface of the earth that suffers the most acutely from the ongoing effects of colonialism, structural inequality, and environmental decay. If you want to be a good steward, a good Christian using the earth’s resources well and responsibly, you have to do so with an eye not simply toward the material preservation of what you have been given — like coal, oil, gas, or water — but also toward the people who have less than you have and who are structurally positioned to have less access to what you have.

So, as the earth continues in its perhaps doomed course of warming up, I would like to make a plea that people who rely on the Bible to justify their political stances on the environment read a little more carefully, so as to recognize that, to Jesus, the goods of the earth that we are most meant to preserve are the welfares of its human denizens.

Eleanor Johnson is a professor at Columbia University.

The Chuppah That Held Us All: What We Found in Our Gay Marriage That the Supreme Court Missed

Jun24

by: Michael Rothbaum on June 24th, 2016 | Comments Off

Rabbi Michael Rothbaum and his husband Anthony Russell under the chuppah.

“We probably have to leave at some point, right?”

I stood at the edge of the bandstand, Anthony’s hand in mine. We were under the chuppah, having just crushed the glass, two feet descending on one piece of fragile stemware. The weight of two grown men – men who had waited to know the time was right, who had waited to be ready, who had waited for the law to catch up with them – came crashing down on that one glass. It never stood a chance.

We had been led on this journey by my mentor and teacher, Rabbi Les Bronstein. His words, in that place at that moment, brought tears to our eyes. His partner in work and in life, Cantor Benjie Schiller, had composed a setting of selections from Song of Songs especially for the occasion. The ceremony was perfect.

But it was not the ceremony that led me to look over my shoulder at Rabbi Bronstein and ask the question I did. It was our friends and family, the people who stood facing us, cheering and hooting and clapping and hollering, after we had stomped on that glass. It was the love we felt from them, a love so fierce it felt like it would hold us up if we leaned forward. A love that did hold us up.

“We probably have to leave at some point, right?”

We did, of course, eventually leave the bandstand, the protection of the chuppah, the love of the community assembled that day. Within a week, we would receive news of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that granted marriage licenses to same-sex couples in every city and town throughout the country. Throughout the country, there was jubilation, celebration, and talk of rights – gay rights, marriage rights, individual rights.

But in all the talk of individual rights, something felt a bit off. Anthony and I had come together, married each other, two individuals joining together as one. It was amazing, it was miraculous, and it was legal. But what about all those people who hollered and cried and cheered along with us? Where were they in the conversation, in the celebration of same-sex marriage?

Could it be that in the struggle to achieve the right to marry, we’ve lost sight of something, something key to the redemptive power that the tradition of marriage promises?

***

Far be it from me to turn a cause for celebration into a cause for concern. A year out of that momentous moment, the fact that our marriage is legal remains a source of great joy and much appreciated reassurance. We do not have to worry about forbidding healthcare regulations, pernicious tax codes, or burdensome inheritance laws (at least any more than straight couples do).

So why not rejoice over the victory of our newly recognized rights? It is the “individual” part of these “individual rights” that gives me pause. Courts have ruled that the right to marry resides with the individual. And thank God that they have. But to define our marriage in such a way separates us as some sort of other, a lone couple protected from the larger community’s disapproval of our strangeness.

What is missing is community.

Queer folks are queer, yes, but not to each other. We belong to each other, in the same way that members of other groups similarly have in-group allegiance. While it goes without saying that courageous individuals took the lead in achieving this legal milestone, the fact that the Supreme Court decided that we are indeed included in the protections of the 14th Amendment is the result of decades of visionary struggle on the part of a community of activists.

Even for queer people who reject marriage as fundamentally heteronormative, the victory of this movement represents the successful establishment of a multi-generational community, comprised of any and all queer folks who dared to publicly demand the recognition of our full humanity. From the Mattachine Foundation to Lambda Legal, from the Daughters of Bilitis to ACT UP, from support groups to sanctuaries, from parties to prayer circles to parades, queer community had to be created for queer people by queer people. This triumph of “individual rights” is also the triumph of community, self-created and self-sustaining.

And when we were reminded that queer people remain targets of violence in this world, at a nightclub that became a crime scene, it was community that came together to mourn, to uphold, to begin to heal.

It’s obvious that Justice Kennedy’s declaration that the “right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy” could have only come about through exhaustive efforts of generations of queer activists, networked into underground community, often at great professional and personal danger.

Paradoxically, celebrating same-sex marriage as a victory for “individual autonomy” does an injustice to the power in those communities that continue to support us.

Even as a married couple, Anthony and I do not exist as a solitary unit, quietly living our private life of discreetly-exercised rights. As vital as the rights paradigm is, what it misses is the lived history of actual gay people, not just as individuals but within communities – the very real communities queer folks have had to build in the absence of a civil society or infrastructure that refused, until very recently, to acknowledge our full humanity.

***

A rights-focused discourse misses something else. For generations, Jewish communities have assumed the responsibility to support and sustain married couples – like the very real Jewish community that loves and supports our marriage to this day.

Anthony didn’t know it then, but it was in 2013 that I began planning to propose. In June of that year, the Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Windsor that the “Defense of Marriage [sic] Act” (DOMA) unconstitutionally denigrated same-sex couples; in the same session, the Court refused to uphold California’s Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that had prohibited same-sex marriage.

Our marriage would thus be fully legal under both California and federal law. I began to make plans to propose. In a beautiful June afternoon, on the bow of a sailboat in San Francisco Bay, I gave Anthony a filigree gold hamsa pendant with a tiny diamond in the center. I asked him if he would marry me. He said, “Of course.” We hugged and kissed, two figures finally legally permitted to one another, blissfully floating in solitude.

We wouldn’t stay that way for long.

Only one year prior to U.S. v. Windsor, the Conservative movement of Judaism had formally sanctioned same-sex marriage, and created ritual language sanctifying those relationships. Yet, from the response to our engagement by our community, Congregation Netivot Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Berkeley, you would not have known that this was in any way new or novel. Love poured in from all quarters. People interrupted their davvening (and sometimes ours) to wish us the best, to inquire about plans, to pour out their support and joy and blessings. It was so sweet. And pleasantly surprising.

But in planning the wedding itself, we awoke to the stark reality of making a big gay American Jewish wedding. Catering, music, clothes, flowers, linens, not to mention the chuppah and ketubah and (of course!) the rabbi and cantor – there were dozens of details to arrange, each seemingly comprised of a dozen more. (Let me publicly apologize, here, to all the couples at whose marriages I officiated: I’m so sorry. I had no idea.) We were baffled. We were exhausted. We were short-tempered, with the process and with each other.

It quickly became clear that the individual autonomy championed by Justice Kennedy is refracted through the lens of a wedding industry that sees autonomous couples as autonomous consumers, celebrating their private rights in the private sector. Having once snickered at the idea of a professional wedding planner, we soon came to understand why couples hand over hard-earned money to someone hired to handle the details. Two individuals come together as an individual couple to make an individual celebration. Why not hire another individual to make that celebration happen?

Little did we know that as our anxieties began to mount, help was already on its way. The wedding industry was telling us that the way to celebrate a wedding was by creating a moneyed extravaganza, our love measured by the heft of the price tag. Our community told us otherwise. All the people who offered their love when we announced our engagement were now offering their assistance. Friends (and, to be honest, people we didn’t realize were friends) offered assistance with logistics, ritual, emotional support. “Can we help you with the chuppah?” “Do you need help with place settings?” “Do you need help with food?” “Do you need a coordinator for the big day?” It was completely overwhelming. And completely wonderful.

And so it was when our shul friends danced around us at our aufruf, we were encircled by the people who had helped prep our place cards and table signs, by the people who would transport our chuppah, by the people who picked up our ketubah, by the people who had fed us the night before at a Shabbat dinner for dozens of out-of-town guests, by the people who would bake ten challahs for the wedding.

It was our friends who took Anthony and me to our respective mikvehs. It was those friends who helped us with clothes and shoes and kittels. It was those friends who led the dancing and the entertainment at the reception, and it was those friends who calmed and soothed my tears and trembling on the big day. It was those friends who, directly following our ceremony, guarded our holy space in our first moments of married life. It was those friends who would host us, in homes across the Bay Area, for sheva brachot celebrations the week following our wedding day. And today, it is those friends we count on to help us through the vicissitudes of married life.

Some question the logic of going through any of the “typical” wedding rituals. Why follow convention at all? Certainly, in the Bay Area, many couples reject entirely the trappings that accompany modern wedding. Anthony and I both harbor traditionalist tendencies; we knew that wouldn’t be our path. What we didn’t know, however, was how much love and sweetness would come through to us through those old words and rites. Even me! Even a rabbi who has led countless couples on this journey, I didn’t fully understand the deep wisdom in the wedding rituals of Jewish that evoke the love and support of those around us.

In short, we have been held and sustained by community before, during, and after our wedding. This community is not our “right.” It is our blessing. And our wedding could not have happened – not in any way resembling the awesome, precious way that it did – without the blessed love of that community.

***

In his decision affirming the legitimacy of same-sex marriage, Justice Kennedy utilized particularly majestic language. His words are beautiful. Marriage, he argued, is a response to “the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there.”

In doing so, it promises “the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.”

Like I said, beautiful. But Anthony and I have learned that the marriage is not just the response to a call from one “lonely person” to another. It also a response to the anxious call of a “lonely couple,” afraid they might call out only to find no kinship there. It holds out the promise that this loving couple will become part of a loving community, an entire collective that cares for each other.

Our marriage, we continue to discover, is more than a mere two-person union. It is two people held in communion, sacred and spiritual association, by their community.

The rituals of Jewish marriage attest to its communal nature. Numerous Jewish commentators have noted that the chuppah is open on all sides, a paradigm of the welcoming home the couple is expected to create. Jewish texts instruct that the ketubah is signed by witnesses unrelated to the couple, and read before the community. The wedding blessings praise God not for the couple, but for all couples, for all the house of Israel, for all of creation.

A wedding in any religious tradition, if done right, is not just a moment or space for a couple. It’s not just an opportunity to drop a load of cash on a personal dream of a lavish party. Our celebration was not just a celebration for us, just as our wedding day was not just a day for us. It brought everyone together; queer couples forced to marry several times in various jurisdictions; straight people who only had to marry once; single people who hadn’t yet married; and single people, gay and straight, partnered and uncoupled, who had no interest in marriage. They all elevated us in celebration. And we found that our celebration, in turn, elevated them.

Early on in our planning, Anthony told me that his ideal Jewish wedding was the wedding in Fiddler on the Roof. I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t. “The walls of the wedding were the walls of the community,” he told me, in that way he has of making me wonder if he should have been the rabbi rather than me. “The trappings of that wedding were the joy in other people’s faces.”

Anthony and I belong to each other. We declared as much under the chuppah. But now, as a couple, we belong to our community. And our community belongs to us.

***

County clerk Kim Davis briefly achieved notoriety last summer when she went to an honest-to-goodness jail cell in rural Kentucky rather than grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It was, she said, “a matter of religious liberty.” A judge ruled that Kim Davis has the right to hate gay people, to refuse to sign those licenses, as long as she doesn’t interfere with the ability of her deputies to issue them.

Some people hate her for hating us, but I’m not sure I begrudge her that right. We still have the right to be married. And as long as Davis can’t interfere with that right, she has the right to not want to take part in it.

Judges speak in the language of legal rights and liberties. That’s their job. Like same-sex couples throughout the country, we now have the right to a marriage license. But just as it’s the job of judges to speak in the language of rights, it’s the job of religion to speak in the language of communal responsibility and connection and love. And it’s the job of sacred community to cultivate sacred space around married couples, supporting and sustaining them on their journey.

Al tifrosh min ha-tzibur, Rabbi Hillel teaches in the Talmud. “Don’t separate yourself from the community.” More than a set of legal rights – even the most crucial of rights – marriage opens a couple to a constellation of love, within them and surrounding them. Having dwelled within the awesome miracle of our wedding, it is plainly obvious that individual marriage rights and sacred community move in concert, two newlyweds dancing in counterpoint, held in holy embrace.

For us, Anthony’s vision came to life, the walls of our blessed community containing and defining our wedding. It was the joy in their faces that embraced us, inviting us to embrace them. We did ultimately have to leave the chuppah, to walk off the bandstand and walk into the unknown of our married life together. But the chuppah didn’t leave us, just as our friends and family didn’t leave us. They continue to sustain and support us, defining marriage not merely as a legal contract, but as an integration of souls – with each other, and within a holy community.

Rabbi Michael Rothbaum speaks, teaches, and writes about the intersection of culture, politics, justice, and Jewish choices. He serves as Co-chair of the Bay Area Regional Council of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, and lives with his husband, Yiddish singer Anthony Russell, in Oakland. Photo credit: Clara Rice.