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My Remarks from the Brooklyn Interfaith Pride Service

11 Jun

“Coming of Age” Brooklyn Pride  Celebrates 18 Years

My Remarks from the Brooklyn Interfaith Pride Service

June 9, 2014


Thank you to St. Anne and the Holy Trinity Church for hosting this year’s Interfaith Pride Service and thank you to the organizers of Brooklyn Pride. There is always an energizing feeling this time of year as the weather is warm, folks are out and about, and the sun is shining bright. And then there is the joy of seeing the city adorned with rainbow flags and all of the exciting events taking place.


Congratulations or as we say in the Jewish tradition, mazal tov to Brooklyn Pride, on 18 years of hard work and accomplishment.Over the past 18 years, not only has Brooklyn become one of the best places to live in New York City it has also become one of the best places to be out and proud. We celebrate this and offer much gratitude to all those who have worked so hard to make Brooklyn a safe and welcoming place for the LGBTQ community. Brooklyn pride has come of age and all this week we revel in that!

In preparing for this evening, I wondered, what does it mean to “come of age?” In the Jewish faith, coming of age happens at 13 years old. Our ancient rabbinic text tells us that, “at thirteen years of age, one begins to fulfill the mitzvoth.” (M.Avot 5:21). Meaning at age 13, one becomes fully obligated to observe all of the laws of the Torah. Since the Middle Ages, we have marked this moment with what is known as the Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremony.  This rite of passage usually entails a worship service where a Jewish boy or girl 13 years of age, is called to the Torah for the very first time in his or her life. Typically he or she reads from the Torah and offers his or her own interpretation of the words. The ceremony is meant to be an entry point into being a Jewish adult, where one is now obligated to fulfill all of God’s commandments.

Today many Jewish 13 year olds are not necessarily concerned about the “obligation” part of becoming bar or bat mitzvah. Most are worried about, “doing well” during the ceremony, the party afterwards, and other typical 13 year old worries. When I was becoming Bat Mitzvah I remember being worried about my dress and what I looked like. I am not quite sure what I was thinking, but I had gotten a cream colored dress made out of taffeta…it felt like I was dressed to be a flower girl at a wedding. Needless to say becoming a full fledge adult member of the Jewish people was far from my mind.

Yet during the actual ceremony, I remember knowing that I was doing something very special. As I helped to lead the service, read from the Torah, give my “mini sermon,” and receive blessings, a part of me very much understood that in the eyes of Jewish tradition I was making a transition. I had prepared very hard for that day and as a result, a part of me felt like I had “come of age.” The obligations I felt centered around continuing my Jewish journey and not letting my bat mitzvah be an exit strategy from Jewish life.

What is our obligation as Brooklyn Pride comes of age? First, is for us to keep on being proud. The second is for us to be an example to other communities that it is not just enough to make sure our laws are fair and just. We must also make sure that our values are reflected in how we treat each other and how we advertise who we are.

Brooklyn is a borough that talks the talk and walks the walk.Businesses are gay friendly, our houses of worship are welcoming, and our schools profess a no tolerance when it comes to bullying.We are obligated to continue these trends and to be a role model to other communities as our country learns more and more about how to be accepting of the LGBTQ community.

Another part of “coming of age,” is the acknowledgement of accomplishment. Traditionally a Bar or Bat mitzvah has always been followed by a festive meal. While that can look very different today as some like to have elaborate parties. The festive meal is rooted in the idea of acknowledging and celebrating the accomplishment of coming of age. I remember thinking at my own Bat Mitzvah party, “am I really here?” “Have I really made it to this moment?” And the question I think I was really asking is, “Did all of the past really just happen?” “Am I really in this new reality?”

Similarly, when I turned 18 years old during the very first month of my freshmen year of college I remember asking the same questions. I really wanted to understand and feel present to where I was. On my own, no longer in my parents house, with new friends, and a new daily schedule…mixed with shock and awe of the moment of being an 18 year old. I wondered, “am I really here?” “Did the past 18 years really happen?” “Am I now really a young adult in college?”

I have these moments of question and awe when I think about how far we have come in our fight for LGTBQ equality. A year ago, I was sitting in SaraBeth’s on the Upper East Side eating breakfast with my sister and my Mom when my phone started chiming with Facebook messages and iMessages. The Supreme Court had embraced gay rights and struck down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. Thus recognizing that all loving and committed same sex couples deserve the same rights under the law as straight couples. Overwhelmed with joy I started clapping, I wanted the whole restaurant to celebrate the moment with me. I spent the whole rest of the day in awe, beaming with excitement and pride that we had finally made it to this moment. And as more and more states this year have legalized same sex marriage I continue to sit with amazement. My partner and I have often remarked over this past year,“Wasn’t it just yesterday that Ellen came out of the closet?” “Have we really made it to this moment? Is coming out not as scary or taboo?”

In Judaism to mark a moment of “firsts” and of accomplishment we often recite the following blessing, Baruch ata adonaieloheinu melech haolam shechiyanu v’kiimanu, v’higianu lazman, hazeh. Blessed are you Adonai, our God, ruler of the universe who has helped us to reach this season. This blessing is a way of grounding us in the present. It reminds us that we have made it to this moment. Pride month has always been a way for us as an LGBTQ community to say,

“We are here.”

And this year here in Brooklyn not only are we acknowledging our presence, but we are also acknowledginghow far we have come.

The number 18, has a tremendous amount of significance in Judaism.In Hebrew, each letter has a numerical value. The number 10 is the letter yud. The number 8 is the letter chet. Chet-Yud spells the word Chai meaning “living” or “life.” As a result of this, “chai” (18) has become a good omen for life.

May this 18th year of Brooklyn Pride be an omen for much to live for in the many years to come. May it be a sign that next year we will have even more to celebrate for the LGBTQ community. May it be a sign that as we continue to live…equality will no longer be something we are amazed by because it will have be a natural  part of our reality.

And inequality will be a thing of the past.

Kein Y’hi ratzon.

Be this God’s will!