Although the Stonewall raid took place a full decade before I was born, I only heard about June as Pride Month a couple of years ago. It certainly wasn’t on the syllabus at my yeshivah. I knew of the Pride Parade, but by a very different name. But this year, for the first time I will be marching in the NYC Pride Parade and taking part in LGBT events throughout the month. Here is why I think you should too.
When G-d liberated the Hebrews from Egypt they were immediately targeted again, chased by the Egyptians, and finally trapped against the sea. Many were ready to go back to slavery and oppression. One person, Nachshon Ben Aminadav, was driven to make sure that advances for freedom and equality were not going to be lost. He walked into the sea, guided by his faith in G-d’s supremacy, and the sea split. It is time for us to walk with faith again.
As a country, we have achieved enormous gains in the nearly 50 years since Stonewall, from embracing openly gay people in the military to marriage equality. Today, like at the sea, we are pursuing freedom.
It is time for us to walk with faith again.
However there is a referendum in Massachuchets this November, that would legalize discriminating against the 1.4 million American trans folks by denying them services in public places like restaurants, hotels, and movie theaters. This administration has tried to ban the 15,000 transgender service people in our armed forces. Adoption and foster care by some married couples is also being threatened around the country.
Do we have enough faith to walk in unity for human dignity and equality, or will we join others who are using faith to elevate themselves through oppressing and enslaving others?
Do we have enough faith to walk in unity for human dignity and equality?
This week’s Torah portion, the first of Pride Month, is called Beha’aloscha. Rashi explains that it literally means to “rise up.” Tradition teaches that the verse in this week’s parasha, “Very mighty blow against the people,” (Numbers 11:33) was actually a veiled reference to the death of Nachshon. His death came as a punishment for the nation’s desire for more privilege and entitlement.
Reb Tzadok of Lublin writes that Nachson’s name (נחשון) alludes to the original snake (נחש) nachash and the ability to defeat it. Adam and Eve had it really good in the garden, but the snake deceived them to want more. The rabbis of the talmud saw the true threat of the venomous snake as coming after the bite.
More than the evil inclination wants us to sin, it wants us to feel the toxicity of defeat, after the sin, so that we won’t rally to regain our spiritual identity ever again. So too are we most susceptible to hopelessness and paralyzing apathy after we fail to prevent unholy acts of persecution. But we must rally! We can not concede that what we see today is acceptable.
I’m marching because I grew up watching videos of my people being forced on death marches while others were silent and didn’t stop it.
I’m marching because I grew up watching videos of my people being forced on death marches while others were silent and didn’t stop it. I’m marching because in my home state of Virginia, Heather Heyer, an American woman, was murdered by a Nazi. I’m marching because the other “pride” rally for the white, straight, you-can-now-leave-your-hoods-at-home type motivates me to refocus my faith in G-d and rise up, because never again is now!
Rabbi Mike Moskowitz is the Scholar-in-Residence for Trans and Queer Jewish Studies at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah.
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