CBS Does Jewish Heritage Night

Nathaniel&SamTeitelbaumEllaLaelSturm_SFGiantsJewishHeritageNight_August2016Every year, sometime in late July or August, Bay Area Jews from all walks of life descend on AT&T Park for what just might become our fourth Pilgrimage Festival. The annual ingathering of the Jews known as San Francisco Giants Jewish Heritage Night is always a great deal of fun, and last night was no exception.

Over 70 CBS congregants and friends participated in the 2016 Jewish Heritage Night (Tuesday, August 30), and many came well before the first pitch to check out the pregame celebration at the north end of Terry Francois Boulevard, just across McCovey Cove (best known for kayakers retrieving "splash hits," home runs hit over the right field wall into the water). Some stalwart Jewish organizations working in the Bay Area, including PJ Library, the Jewish Community Federation, Reboot, and Keshet, set up information tables at the party, and, as always, our Chabadnik brothers patrolled the crowd looking for Jews – all men, per their take on halacha (Jewish law) – to lay tefillin. The popular Rally Rabbi blew the shofar to announce Rosh Hashanah's approach (it may be a month away, but it's always good for the soul to hear the blast of "Tekiah"!), and a handful of bands performed for all assembled.

Sadly, our Giants fell to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a close game (4-3). Still, any evening at the ballpark is a treat, and knowing that a good segment of the crowd is composed of fellow yidden and their family and friends is a great reason to smile, as so many of us did.

Thanks to all who participated this year and to the Giants for putting the event on. Next year, at AT&T Park again...and may we win!

A selection of photographs snapped during the event are included below. Visit our Facebook page for more photos.
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TDoR & Our Androgynous Creation

JLGBT_TDOR1It's Transgender Awareness Week (November 14 - 20), and people and organizations around the country are participating in events and outreach campaigns designed to raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people. The week culminates this Friday, November 20, the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR), an annual memorial to those who have been murdered as a result of transphobia.

Congregation Beth Sholom invites you to connect with Keshet, a national organization working for the full equality and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Jews in Jewish life, to learn more about Transgender Awareness Week events and programming in the Bay Area. Also, mark your calendars for this Friday’s San Francisco Trans Day of Remembrance community gathering at the LGBT Community Center in San Francisco.

We at CBS feel strongly that LGBT and transgender causes are also Jewish issues. Our Jewish history is our Jewish present, and we know firsthand the challenges, suffering, and tragedy experienced by “the other,” the “stranger.” Year after year, we’re reminded that “the strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19: 33-34) A few short decades ago, American Jews were on the front line of the Civil Rights Movement, but as we’ve grown more comfortable with our (much improved) social station, we’ve grown somewhat complacent. Many of us struggle to live out the Leviticus mandate; it’s been reduced to a platitude, albeit one we take pride in even as we (too often) willfully insulate ourselves from or deny the suffering of so many “others” in our midst. Sadly, the transgender community is an excellent case in point.

In a short video produced by I AM: Trans People Speak, a project to raise awareness about the diversity that exists within transgender communities, a rabbinical student observes,

As a Jewish educator, I am passionate about creating spaces for trans and queer Jews, if that’s in prayer, or educational spaces, or community. I think that right now, Jewish community is not a safe space, and there’s a lot of work we need to do. I am really looking forward to the day when a Jewish community does not need to create a safe space, it is a safe space; that Judaism in itself is a safe space for queer and gender-variant folks.

Indeed, there are few "safe spaces" for transgender people today. Joanna Ware, Keshet's Boston Regional Director and the Lead organizer of Keshet's Jewish Guide to Marking Transgender Day of Remembrance, writes that transgender people face “cutting words, cold shoulders, exclusion, and discrimination, and sometimes…violence.”

With this daunting reality in mind, CBS encourages our Jewish community to do two things. First, learn more about transgender and gender non-conforming people and how synagogues and other Jewish institutions can take steps to make our Jewish communities more welcoming — indeed, embracing — of genderqueer identities. Second, turn to our tradition for insight about the complications of gender. The rabbis responsible for compiling the Mishnah identified not two, but six different gender categories, described in brief here.

Zachar: This term is derived from the word for a pointy sword and refers to a phallus. It is usually translated as "male” in English.

Nekevah: This term is derived from the word for a crevice and probably refers to a vaginal opening. It is usually translated as “female” in English.

Androgynos: A person who has both “male” and “female” sexual characteristics.

Tumtum: A person whose sexual characteristics are indeterminate or obscured.

Ay’lonit: A person who is identified as “female” at birth, but develops “male” characteristics at puberty and is infertile.

Saris: A person who is identified as “male” at birth, but develops “female” characteristics as puberty and/or is lacking a penis. A saris can be “naturally” a saris (saris hamah), or become one through human intervention (saris adam).

Gender-Symbol_Transident-300x300 Although it’s undeniable that the rabbis privileged the zachar, the conventional male identity, over all others, it’s instructive to acknowledge that non-reproductive, ambiguous, and hybrid gender categories were not considered degenerate. They were merely less common. Additionally, one Mishnahic rabbi interpreted the foundational text of Torah in an especially compelling way.

G-d created the adam [the first human being] in G-d’s own image; in the image of G-d He created him – male and female [G-d] created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

"Said Rabbi Jeremiah ben Elazar: 'When the Holy One, blessed be the One, created the first adam [human being],
[G-d] created him [an] ‘androgynos.’
” (Midrash Rabbah 8:1)

While it may raise a few eyebrows among biblical literalists, Rabbi ben Elazar’s interpretation is in keeping with contemporary sociological notions of gender and sexuality. One’s sex refers to the individual’s biological and physiological characteristics, whereas gender refers to the behaviors, roles, expectations, and activities of that individual. Framed another way, sex refers to male and female, while gender refers to masculine and feminine. And sexuality is a continuum of attraction and behavior, not a binary, gay/straight assignment. In other words, we’re born with our sex, but our gender and sexuality are yet to be defined.

CBS embraces Rabbi ben Elazar's freeing, beautiful take on Bereshit -- G-d created us androgynous. Together, let us toast our multifaceted creation and celebrate gender difference and genderqueer identities in our community.