I spend a lot of time riding the bus. I prefer it to the subway, because you can see the city, and because it’s easier to read on the bus-it’s slower. So I am unhurried in getting to my destinations in the city, but impatient about the snail’s pace of making change in the world and in my communities. As one of my favorite students, as well as Walt Whitman, is fond of saying, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”
Doing any kind of social change work requires a certain level of optimism. It’s often hard to find reasons for it, and even hard to maintain those reasons when things get worse, or when it never stays good for very long. Optimism is not innate to my personality, but it has become essential to my activist life.
Two years ago, I attended a three day long training for Jewish educators with Keshet, a Boston based organization that works for the inclusion of LGBTQ Jews is all aspects of Jewish life. It was truly a restorative experience for me, to see folks from so many different Jewish organizations being challenged and given impactful tools to challenge others. The fact that I was encouraged to attend the training by Hillel was a source of great relief and pride for the organization I have worked for for years.
There are a lot of reasons to feel positive about change in the Jewish community: The ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis, the establishment of robust Jewish feminist spaces, the creation of new ritual, the funding and nurturing of organizations that work for real inclusion. The question remains as to the depth of the change we will be able to make, and what the cost of addressing change on a level of pure lip service will be. It’s not simply a matter of giving folks permission, of tolerance (oh, how I hate that word), it’s about changing a culture. We have to bring what is considered marginal into the mainstream, to take this as seriously as the charge to learn Torah, defend Israel and grow ourselves as a people.
The potential for change, when we are empowered to ask honest and provocative questions about the present and future state of our
communties, is truly stupendous. We have to be optimistic enough to believe that such a thing is possible.