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Vote ‘YES’ on 3 to affirm the holy soul and equal humanity of all

On the front cover of this Bulletin you’ll see that we are dedicating this year’s Erev Sukkot program to raising awareness and attention to the needs of our friends, family members, and neighbors who are transgender. It might not be immediately apparent why we would do this on Erev Sukkot, so let me explain. For the past few years we have reshaped our evening Sukkot celebration in ways that epitomize both the cultural origins of the holiday and the lens of social justice that the Reform movement has brought to this holiday. The result is festive and joyful, with music, good food, and social time, followed by an evening program that brings our attention to a contemporary issue. Some years our focus has been specifically on Israel, where Sukkot has become a popular celebration for religious and secular Jews alike. Last year we turned our attention to the plight of refugees, remembering that we, too, were without a home of our own as we wandered in the wilderness for forty years.


This year, time is of the essence as, along with the political candidate choices we will make at the ballot box on November 6, there will be a number of ballot initiatives that are specific to Massachusetts. Initiative 3 requires our urgent attention because it has an impact on the everyday lives of our fellow citizens. In 2016, the State legislature passed a bill, signed by our Governor, that protected people who are transgender from discrimination in public accommodations — that includes restaurants, hotels, stores, movie theaters, and bathroom facilities in these and other public spaces. Those of us who live with the privilege of walking the streets, using facilities, and going about our daily business with no one ever questioning whether we have the right to be in a particular place or be served in a particular store or restaurant so often take this for granted. There are laws that protect those who are most likely to face discrimination to help level the playing field and enable all to experience these rights. Even so, a 2014 survey revealed that sixty-five percent of transgender people in Massachusetts faced discrimination in a public place in the previous twelve months. Across the nation, eighteen states, Washington, D.C. and more than two hundred cities and towns have passed laws protecting transgender people in public spaces.


So why would a group work to place an initiative on our ballots to deny these rights to people who are transgender? The group behind the initiative is the Massachusetts Family Institute who, among other things, continues to advocate that a marriage should be only between a man and a woman — in other words, a profoundly anti-LGBTQ organization. They are using fear-mongering to try and make the case that the equal protections law enables men to go into women’s bathrooms. It does no such thing — any kind of interference, intimidation, or assault in a public bathroom is already a crime and remains so. There has been absolutely no increase in such crimes since laws like the one in Massachusetts were passed in the eighteen states and two hundred cities that have passed them. What they are doing is denying people who are transgender the right to be fully present in public space as their whole and holy selves. As Reform Jews, we have long stood up to uphold that no one should be discriminated against because of the essence of who they are — not because of race, religion, gender, gender expression, or sexuality. When we are able to stand in the wholeness of our truth, to be seen for who we truly are, it is nothing less than an expression of the God-spark within, each of us made b’tzelem Elohim — in the likeness of God.


We might think that we live in a state that is progressive on these kinds of issues, but recent polls have shown that 40% believe that the law should be repealed. A few carefully placed ads that scaremonger about the red-herring issue of bathroom safety could have a devastating impact on our transgender friends, so we have to get involved, spread the word, and take action. Congregation B’nai Shalom is one of a number of congregations that have formed a Metro-West Jewish coalition and we’ll share opportunities to canvass, help at a phone bank, and more as these plans are put in place. Over seventy Jewish congregations in Massachusetts have pledged to do their part to help.


At Sukkot we welcome all who seek to celebrate with us the joyful experience of entering our temporary booths. On November 6 we need to fill the voting booths. We need to vote “YES” on 3 to affirm that we want the existing law that protects people who are transgender to be kept in place.


On September 23, I invite you all to join us for our Erev Sukkot evening program, where you will have the opportunity to hear from a transgender adult, the parents of a transgender teen, and a transgender teen who will share their truths with us. If this is new for you, come and learn with us. If you are already an ally, come and show your support. When you leave, I hope you’ll take what you’ve heard and share it with friends and neighbors so they, too, understand how important this is. RSVP at https://www.cbnaishalom.org/event/erev-sukkot-adult-dinner.html for the dinner prior to the program. You may also join us for the program at 8:15 pm if you are unable to attend the Sukkot celebrations earlier.


You can learn more at https://www.freedommassachusetts.org/ and go to https://www.keshetonline.org/ma-ballot-initiative/ for more information about ways the Jewish community is organizing. There you can also take a pledge to commit to certain actions to make a difference between now and November 6.


Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

Sun, September 23 2018 14 Tishrei 5779