We moved to Illinois after my father completed his residency in California. California was a godless state, according to my mother, and she couldn’t wait to move back to Chicago. I was 5 years old when we joined the conservative synagogue where we would celebrate holidays and attend Shabbat services and where my brother, sister and I would become B’nai Mitzvah. While I don’t remember much about that synagogue, I do remember the kiddush table that seemed to go on for days, 6 days of salads and bagels and pastas and on the 7th day it rested with rugelach and double chocolate brownies.
Aside from the food, I found nothing there of support or community. When I came out to my parents, my mother and father shut the door on our relationship, and they attributed their decision to cut all ties with their amoral daughter to the teachings of Judaism. I knew that Judaism was not entirely to blame for my parents’ rejection, but I blamed Conservative Judaism for enabling their misguided righteousness.
Gabriella and I pretended to shop for a synagogue when we landed in South Orange. Truth be told, joining a congregation was low down on my priority list. Almost 7 months pregnant, a toddler stuck to my side at all times and a kitchen that was unusable and needed to be gutted – or set aflame, I needed to find a preschool. We placed Asher in the preschool at a conservative synagogue that happened to have a spot for him, but I knew without question that we would not be members of a conservative synagogue, no matter how friendly they seemed.
When the president of that synagogue first called us to talk about membership, I remember standing in my living room as straight as I could, hoisting up my distended uterus and rejecting him with pride. My Jew-by-choice lady-partner, our children and I would no doubt be more comfortable at a synagogue that embraced our family. I selected my words carefully and respectfully, but in my mind I was flipping off the Conservative Movement for its rigidity and for enabling my parents to turn their backs on my family, never having met their grandchildren.
Much like my parents, I was quick to judge.
We found a home at that very conservative synagogue, Congregation Beth El, and no one could have been more shocked than I. I learned every synagogue is different even within each sect. I learned to look past the label and consider the heart of the congregation and clergy. I learned that a gourmet kiddush spread does not a loving
This past Saturday, our rabbi, Rabbi Francine Roston, and many beautiful members of our synagogue hosted Rainbow Shabbat to celebrate the couples that had been or about to be wed now that marriage equality had arrived in New Jersey. Troy Stevenson of Garden State Equality presented an equality update and news of next steps. As a child in Oklahoma raised in an Evangelical household, he never knew that religious based faith and homosexuality could coexist, and he never knew the love that our congregation demonstrated by celebrating all its families and the value of every individual.
At the end of the service, all of the recently married families were invited to stand under the chuppah while the rabbi delivered a heartfelt blessing. We were grateful for her words and touched by the love and affirmation of our community. There were tears of sadness for all that has come before and tears of joy for the story we were rewriting as a congregation. And then there was a cake decorated with rainbow colors … and Scotch.
|Rabbi Francine Roston NOT during Rainbow Shabbat. She just loves rainbows and gays!|
This was not my parents’ conservative synagogue, and I could not feel more at home there. It’s an amazing feeling to live through such happy change, and it will be even more amazing when we’re on the other side and our children don’t remember what it was like before our communities and our country chose love over fear.