Before I joined CEH, in the months after I’d moved to Arlington, but was still shul shopping, something pretty terrifying—and fortuitous—happened. I was dropping into Friday night services semi-regularly. This was back when excerpts from Rabbi David Wolpe’s Floating on Faith were used as discussion starters for the “study break.”
The fourth, or maybe fifth, time I showed up, the congregant who assigned the discussion leader asked me to perform the role, and I agreed. It went well, and I ended up being asked again a few weeks later. It was perhaps my third month of coming to services here. In kickstarting the discussion that time, I made a point about living as a queer person. Honestly, I hadn’t meant to come out in the middle of a Shabbat service at a shul where I wasn’t even a member, it just happened. I had been out to my family and most anyone who knew me for over twenty years by that point, I wasn’t used to hiding. Even so, as confident as I was in my skin, that was a moment that punched the breath out of me. I went on, acted like I was totally fine, everyone else acted normal, all was well.
Afterward, at the oneg, Rabbi Bass came up to me and said, “I’m so glad you felt safe stating your truth.”
Honestly? It wasn’t that I necessarily hadn’t felt safe, but until that moment, I hadn’t felt comfortable, and those are two very different states of existence. I started advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights in my synagogue at twelve years old. I came out there at sixteen. I never felt unsafe. The people at my shul loved me, in spite of how I identified.
The difference at CEH is that from that moment on, I’ve often been made to feel loved because of who I am, and the fact that I am multi-faceted. When I applied for and received a spot in Keshet’s synagogue leadership program, Scott Burka and Harold Dorfman were both at my side as allies and supporters to attend the kick-off and contribute to making the shul a more LGBTQIA+ inclusive space. When I brought up the concept of a Coming Out Shabbat, the Rabbi, Laura Naide, and several board members asked what they could do to help. If you missed that weekend, not only did you miss the most amazing rainbow challah in the world, made by our own CJ Burka, you missed a genuinely moving and insightful study session by Rabbi Avi Strausberg of Hadar as to why we are all just as we are meant to be.
The shul has opened its doors to work with the non-profit Veterans Against Hate, screening a documentary on trans-persons in the military. It is called Transmilitary and available on Amazon Prime: if you have access, I highly recommend it. We have hosted a trans-rights speaker from Equality Virginia, and will be hosting another come January 26, 2020.
LGBTQIA+ Jews have often been taught that either Judaism does not want us, or that it is merely willing to tolerate us. CEH is capable of embracing us, which means more to me than I will ever have the ability to communicate, and I continue to hope that other queer Jews seeking a home come through our doors.