Throwing Myself Into the Arms of Shabbat

Early this morning, after staying up to hear the news about the UK voting to leave the European Union, I posted this message to friends on Facebook:

This (Brexit, Trump) is what comes of the obsession with deficits post-2008 and the growing disparity in incomes. The 90% feel enraged and abandoned, looking for someone to blame, voting their fears.

I don’t know when I have felt so pessimistic. Time for Shabbat.

Then I did a bit of housework, always good therapy. I saw messages from friends, including an exhortation to “Look for the good, it’s still there” from a friend who sees much more of the trouble in the world close up than I do, a nurse who spent much of the last week watching over the victims of Orlando.  These good angels made me rethink my bad mood.

This is not the time to succumb to the blues. There is important work to do in this world. There are things that CAN be made right. We can fix our broken institutions here in the U.S. It isn’t too late to have a functioning Supreme Court, a Congress where they actually vote on bills that matter, and an economic system that brings a decent life to everyone, not just to the wealthy. 

I am tired right now. That SCOTUS non-result that has hurt immigrants hurt my heart. Brexit hurts people for whom I care very much. The reaction of those well-meaning people at the local Republican HQ – “Trump isn’t ours, please go away” – chilled me. Orlando shocked me to my bones.

And yet:

Last weekend I saw my youngest married to a good woman. I saw a new generation of my family begin. I saw that my sons are grown and they are good men. So I refuse to give up hope in the world.

Last weekend I was reminded what a precious and wonderful “family of choice” I have. The people who have chosen to love me and my children are a tribe of our own, built from what seemed, 30 years ago, to be the wreckage of my life. I have children of my body and adopted children, a brother I adore and adopted siblings who would walk through fire for me, ex-in-laws who have been dear to me ever since I met them in the fall of 1973. I have my beloved and beshert, Linda, and to our mutual amazement, we are legally married! So I refuse to give up on the world.

Last week I saw an outpouring of support for the gay men and other Q people and allies murdered in Orlando. There were a few haters. There were people who used it as another opportunity to demonize Muslims. But the vast majority of people saw those gay men as human beings, and saw the shooter as what he was: a hate filled individual who used Daesh/ISIS as his excuse. Even ten years ago, the reaction would have been quite different. So I refuse to give up hope in the world.

Last Monday night I was the guest of Muslim neighbors at their iftar. I saw the earnest seeking after true spiritual growth. I felt the welcome of generous spirits, and I listened to fears and worries that were very much like my own. I am convinced that the Holy One at the center of our attention is the same One. Their love for our country is the same as mine. I refuse to give up hope in the world.

I’m going to keep Shabbat, and let Shabbat keep me this week. Shabbat shalom, my friends. We will still do good in this world, whatever happens.

You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done. Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination. But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period—I am addressing myself to the School—surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. –Winston Churchill, October 29, 1941

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Some Queer Thoughts after Orlando

Image: Rainbow flag, tattered, from Pixabay.com.

I wrote a post about the Orlando massacre (Stop the Hateful Cycle.)But I have to say that when I first heard the news about the shooting I wasn’t thinking about Torah. I heard the news as a person who’s been out as a lesbian since 1987, and it kicked me in my LBGTQ kishkes [Yiddish for “gut.”]

I heard the the news just as I went to bed. I deliberately switched off the radio and went to bed because I could not bear to hear about another shooting in a gay club. I knew that if I listened for even one moment I’d be up all night at the television, identifying with the people in the club and the people who love them. It was Shavuot; I had no business at the TV. It was Shavuot, and anyway I could not bear it.

I came out as a lesbian after I had children, so I was never much of a partier at clubs. But I knew the power of those places in the gay rights movement, how none of us were taken seriously until a riot at the Stonewall club in NYC, how many of the lesbian leaders in San Francisco met at Maud’s back in the day. I knew that the clubs had bulletin boards long before the Internet. They had a long history as places where lesbians, gay men, and everyone under the umbrella of “queer” could come to organize or just try to figure things out.

Bars and clubs have always been a hunting ground for the people who hate us. Watch the film Before Stonewall for more about that, or read Let the Faggots Burn: The Upstairs Lounge Fire by Johnny Townsend. My reaction last night came from a sick feeling that I’d seen this movie so many times, so many times that it would break my heart to hear it again. Usually the victims were “just” one or two individuals leaving a club, murdered by some coward in the bushes who’d decided he go get some of us because he thought the Bible said we deserved to die. Usually those murders didn’t make the broadcast news, and I heard about them much later from the LGBTQ press.

I could not bear to hear about one once again, and I couldn’t do anything about it anyway, so I went to bed.

The first good thing I heard the next day was in President Obama’s speech from the White House:

“This is an especially heartbreaking day for all our friends — our fellow Americans — who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live. The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub — it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.” – From President Obama’s speech, 6/12/16

I love that the President gets it that a “gay nightclub” is not just a place to drink and dance. I love that he or someone in his Administration knows our community and its history that well, and that he’s willing to talk about it on a day when the news media seems obsessed with ISIS.

Most of all, I love that with his speech the President reminded me that this is not the same old horrible movie once again. The FBI is investigating. The news organizations are reporting. No one is publicly crowing that the victims deserved it. (Well, nobody except Daesh/ISIS, who are busy trying to take credit, they who are in the business of hate.)

My rabbi and mentor once told me that the real test of whether to worry about local acts of antisemitism was to watch for the response from local law enforcement: did they show up? Did they take it seriously? Did any local politicians dogwhistle about the Jews bringing it on themselves? He said that if the cops responded, if they took it seriously, if the politicians talked solidarity and walked their talk, then it was upsetting but not to panic.

Now there has been an awful event – a mass murder at a gay nightclub – and I see the responders. CNN and all the news services are covering it. I see local law enforcement showing up promptly and taking risks to save gay lives. The FBI is on it. Political leaders (yes, even Senator Ted Cruz!) are taking it seriously. The President gives a speech in which he clearly cares, clearly understands the context that makes this especially horrifying and triggering to the victims’ community.

We have come a long way. We have a long road ahead.

This week, we mourn our dead.