Rabbi Steve Greenberg came back from Israel this weekend, after a 10-day promotional tour for his book ‘Wrestling with God & Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition,’ which is now available also in Hebrew. The tour, co-sponsored by A Wider Bridge, was a wonderful success, and upon his return to America, Rabbi Steve looks back –day by day — at his experience.
The book tour was a wonderful success! I am back happy to be home with my family, bleary eyed and preparing for Shavuot teaching in Kansas City. We held ten events in with ten different organizations in the space of two weeks. Thanks go to A Wider Bridge, Jerusalem Open House, Havruta, Hod, Bat Kol, Tehila, IGGY, Hoshen, Shoval, and the Tel Aviv Pride Center. Here is the list of events:
Tues 4/30 Jerusalem: Havruta Sponsored Panel Event at Yad Ben Zvi. On the panel were Chana Pinchasi (who spoke about softening all the boundaries between men/women, Jew/Gentile, gay/straight, etc) and Ariel Picard who spoke about shifting religious culture from an authority seeking enterprise to an application of values, from fraught discussions of the past to an open invitation regarding how the future should look. Both were moving and engaging and the conversation that ensued around homosexuality, as a case in point was exciting. There were 35 people were in attendance.
Thurs 5/2 Tel Aviv: Kibbutz HaMeuchad at Book Worm Bookstore-Rabin Square. One the panel were Sarah Weil who spoke about her own path and how the book helped her; Dr. Zvi Triger who spoke powerfully about how the book can seed a rich new engagement with the tradition, not only for gay and lesbian Jews and not only for religious leaders, rabbis and educators but for ordinary secular Israelis. There were 40 people in attendance.
Friday 5/3 Beer Sheva: Beerot – The negev’s only partnership minyan. In the home of Tanya and Ehud Waldocks/Zion members of the Beerot congregation met to discuss the homosexuality and Judaism in both halakhic and pragmatic frames. It was a very engaging Friday morning breakfast meeting with over twenty participants.
Sunday 5/5 Tel Aviv: Presentation at the Pride Center at 7:30pm for IGGY, Hoshen and Shoval workers. A spirited conversation with a small group of eight local activists. Tel Aviv: The activist conversation lead directly into a broader conversation at 8:30pm. Most of the activists remained and a number of community members joined into the discussion.
Mon 5/6 Haifa: Hadar Community Center. A discussion of the book’s major goals for both gay people and the larger relgious community. A mixed group of 27 religious, masorti and secular Israelis, some GLBT and some not discussed the issues at hand for nearly two hours from 7pm till 9pm. The teacher of the Talmud class in the room across the hall announced our presentation and a number of his Talmud students slipped in to our gathering, some in the beginning and more in the middle when their shiur on Taanit was over.
Tues 5/7 Jerusalem: Panel Discussion at Jerusalem Open House: A mixed panel of the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi in Israel, Rabbi Ron Yosef, Renana Levy and Sarah Weil. This was the first conversation that addressed not only issues at hand but the complex questions of halakhic change, Orthodox identity and the limits of its ideological and halakhic flexibility. Rabbi Ron has been challenged by the gay community for supporting change therapy and sustaining the ban on sexual expression as a way to keep his credentials in place. During this conversation his position seemed to have moved to the left.
Wed 5/8 Beer Sheva: Agudah and Tehilah Parents Group. This was a highlight of the trip! An amazing gathering of teachers, students, youth workers and community members organized by Yael Agmon. Over 75 people showed up for a presentation that lasted from 6:15 till 8pm and then continued for another hour outside the meeting hall with students of the university.
Thurs 5/9 Yerucham: Leah Shakdiel, Orthodox feminist, activist (first woman on a religious council) hosted an evening for her community. Her son had come out to his family years prior, but Leah only now, shared that her son was gay to her community in the invitiation to this event. Leah was disappointed by the numbers, since only 8 people showed up. It demonstrated how much work, especially in places like Yerucham, is still needed. Still, the converation was a rich one. Among the attendees were local students and teachers as well as community members.
Friday 5/10 Modein: An book event sponsored by JOFA. Elana Sztokman added a presentation to the Limmud events taking place on Friday in Modein. It was the only English event on the book tour list and so it brought some interesting English speakers to the conversation.
Sat 5/11 Jerusalem: Members of “Moah Gavra” a gay men’s study group founded by Steve Greenberg and Amichai Lavie in 1996 and recently revived when Amichai returned to Israel last year. This event was very special because it offered a way to ask strategic questions about the Israeli society and social change, to explore what it means to remain, halakhic and/or Orthodox while the social worlds in which people lives are still so narrow and unaccomodating. It was a thrilling and challenging evening.