At Bet Mishpocha in Washington DC, and all LGBT friendly synagogues, everyone is as an integral part of Shabbat and the Jewish community.
Several months ago, on a very cold Shabbat evening, my husband and I attended Washington DC’s gay synagogue, Bet Mishpocha with some friends, including Evan, who is deaf.
Washington DC is the home of Gallaudet University, the most prominent deaf university in the United States and probably the world. In 2010, Gallaudet inaugurated its 10th University President, Dr. T. Alan Hurwitz, who is deaf and also the first Jewish President of Gallaudet. Because of Gallaudet being close to my home in DC, it gives me the opportunity to know and socialize with the deaf community and even have a few deaf friends.
We arrived at Bet Mishpocha, and were welcomed. Since it was one of the most brutal winter evenings of 2015, attendance was smaller than usual. Yet everyone brought warmth to the beautiful Shabbat service and to each other. At public events in DC, it is common to see sign language interpreters because our city has this dynamic deaf population that is an engaged and an active part of all DC communities. Bet Mishpocha is no exception.
Bet Mishpocha is accessible to the deaf community — and everyone — no matter their abilities or how they identify. Everyone is accommodated whether a congregant needs sign language interpretation (but it needs to be requested in advance) or the congregant is in a wheelchair. There are no communication barriers – or any other barriers — for anyone.
When the service began, Evan watched the interpreter and was as much a part of the service as we were. When there were moments to respond or join in a prayer, we would speak or sing and Evan participated through sign.
Near us was a man whose hand was held by another man. The man, Steven, whose hand was being held, was both deaf and blind (the accepted term is deafblind). Another deaf man, was watching the interpretation and signing in Steven’s hand. This is called tactile signing. Tactile signing was how Anne Sullivan taught and communicated with her deafblind student and friend Helen Keller.
During the service, Steven’s face glowed the same joy that we all had as we celebrated Shabbat. He was an equal part of the community, celebrating the warmth and love of Shabbat with everyone else. After the service Evan introduced himself to Steven and they had a conversation using tactile signing.
Shabbat is the gift to the Jewish people, and it is our gift to the world. Shabbat is a key element of what it means to be a Jew. At Bet Mishpocha, and all LGBT friendly synagogues, everyone is as an integral part of Shabbat and the Jewish community.
Last year, I saw Rabbi Lazer Brody, a Breslov Rabbi from Jerusalem, speak. He made this profound statement: “If you are on Earth, you have a purpose. The world cannot exist without you. You have a soul, you have a purpose.” My interpretation of this is everyone has value and everyone is important. When we do good deeds, we make our soul shine and improve the world.
That Shabbat and every service or event at Bet Mishpocha every person is equal and valued. There are no barriers of gender, sexuality, self-identity, skin color, or abilities. Everyone is welcome; everyone has purpose. Even our larger Jewish community is making incredible progress in the belief and actions of valuing every Jew. We see this in synagogues and Jewish organizations all over our region, and throughout the world. The cold evenings are over, and now it is a hot summer. This is when LGBT Pride is globally celebrated. From Tel Aviv to San Francisco, to Washington DC, to Mexico City,the LGBT community celebrates. This year we have an extra celebration for the Supreme Court decision recognizing marriage equality throughout the United States. A Pride parade and street festival is entertaining, and I enjoy those moments. They make me smile running into friends and seeing everyone out being happy and free.
But my ‘Gay Pride’ lies somewhere deeper than a big parade or celebration. I am most proud when I see LGBT Jews of different abilities equally valued and treated as an equally important part of our Jewish LGBT community. I am extremely proud seeing the greater Jewish community welcome and accept Jewish LGBT members, after years of rejection.
Today the Jewish community – our Jewish community – works hard to promote an inclusive future for all Jews – gay and straight alike. These actions of inclusiveness are from where my pride emanates. Seeing people respected and welcomed as they are, fills my heart with joy.