A harsh wind blew early the morning of Friday, Oct. 21, as SOJOURN welcomed approximately 50 Jewish community leaders and members of the LGBTQ community and their parents, allies and friends for breakfast and a program in the Congregation Shearith Israel sukkah.
Shearith Israel Rabbi Ari Kaiman welcomed the crowd and spoke of the significance of meeting in the sukkah that day, with the wind causing it to shake, creating a feeling of vulnerability and danger reminiscent of what the Jews experienced while wandering in the desert. He also talked about the word sojourn, meaning to dwell and to be.
Congregation Bet Haverim Rabbi Joshua Lesser, founder of the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity, spoke of the feeling of tikkun (healing) from being at Shearith, the synagogue of his youth, where he “experienced the joy of his Jewish identity and learning and living.”
He said he couldn’t fully be who he was in that building as a child, “but now to be able to be whole in this moment here is truly a blessing.”
As the group began an exercise to heighten sensitivity to issues faced by the LGBTQ community, SOJOURN President Leanne Rubenstein rose to acknowledge a sense of weather-induced anxiety and asked the group to relocate to the Shearith social hall so no one would experience fear or a threat to personal safety. That move proved to be wise when the wind toppled the sukkah a few minutes later.
Inside, supportive parents told how SOJOURN had helped their families and enriched their lives. One mother said, “He threw this on me the day he left for college, and I didn’t have time to process it.”
She added that she adores her son, and she is proud of him as he works to figure things out and move forward.
The mother of a 16-year-old gay son said she is grateful for the support from the SOJOURN Parents Group, and she said that help is in line with Jewish values and universal rights.
The event emphasized the importance of bringing the community together to provide a support system through SOJOURN, especially in relation to the high rate of suicide. Rubenstein said the suicide rate in the lesbian and gay community is four times the rate among the general population, and the rate among transgender people is eight times the general rate.
One parent wrote a letter saying that “SOJOURN saved my child,” and Rubenstein added a reminder: “To have saved a life is to have saved the world.”
All were asked to support the work SOJOURN does in the region and to help expand continuing professional education, as well as LGBTQ youth programming and leadership retreats.
Photos by Leah R. Harrison