Friday, June 17, 2016

May their memories be a blessing

I went to temple tonight to say mourner's Kaddish for my grandfather - dead for two years - and the victims of the Orlando massacre. New to the Philadelphia area, I chose to attend a synagogue based on its website's proclamation that "We welcome all who wish to participate in Jewish life." I felt like after absorbing the news of last weekend - on top of recently beginning a rigorous academic program - I needed to do a centering activity in a comfortable, familiar space.

I knew I chose wisely after I was greeted by a very pregnant rabbi and every single member of the 15ish-person congregation who showed up to pray together on a lush June evening. Somebody even complimented my cat blouse, so it was clear I was in good company. The rabbi was careful to use non-gendered, non-patriarchal language to refer to G-d. She had a sweet singing voice, and invited people to check in with themselves as to how they felt about participating in the service. "Rise if you are able," she said at one point. "Stay seated if that feels better."

I expected the rabbi to at least mention the events in Orlando, and I wanted to say the Misheberach healing prayer in honor of the survivors and the larger queer community feeling quite terrorized these days. The rabbi went further, guiding us through a collective reading of two poems hopeful for a more accepting society. She then read all the names of the people who were murdered in that nightclub. Everybody rose to say the mourner's Kaddish together. I burst into tears.

After the service, the rabbi warmly asked me to share a memory about my late grandfather. I was so distraught and choked up, I could only thank her for reading the names of the people who died in Orlando. She sighed, and said how crazy it all was. I told her I didn't think it was crazy at all, that it made sense. At the time, I couldn't articulate that I meant the events were a microcosmic consequence of our country's worship of toxic masculine frameworks, ignorance of foreign experience, violence at home and at war, and straight up homophobia. I couldn't find the words to say that I was upset because I keep imagining how scared those people at the nightclub must have felt. They must have been so terribly scared. They must have been so scared. I cry again.

The rabbi encouraged us to sign a letter of support to the Jewish queer community of Orlando. I appreciated this act of solidarity, and wondered what the congregation was doing to support the queer community here in Pennsylvania. Often to cope with great loss and confusion, we both personalize and otherize tragedies. We are upset because we can relate to the trauma; we manage our feelings by focusing on the actual tragic actions, and not the everyday ways we can work to prevent them from occurring. This can help us in the short term, but it keeps our imaginations small.

I remember feeling this way when gay marriage became legal last year. So many people came out of the woodwork to say, "Love wins!" and add rainbow overlays to their Facebook profile pictures. I thought this was beautiful, and I thought this was strange. How were all these people passively supporting marriage equality - as an imperfect stand-in for human equality - when real live queers were getting bullied, beaten, killed, denied access to resources, fired, kicked out of their homes, forced to act inauthentic...all for being queer? Why are all these newly rainbow-anointed brethren so pleased with themselves when so many neglect to show real solidarity and support for queers in their communities? Don't they know that the rainbow used to be a secret code for queers to communicate and build safety with each other? Don't they know this symbol was born out of violence? And now they're using it to show, "Hey look, I'm on your side." That feels off to me.

I have always believed revolution begins in your heart. In this sometimes ugly world, it is enough to be a loving person, but it is better to actively express that love to those who need it most. Tell a queer you love them, you care for them, you are sad for the violence in their community, you want to do something about it. If you are queer, tell yourself you love yourself. Write it down if it feels weird to say out loud. Be who you are. May your life be a blessing. May their memories be a blessing. May we build a better way.