This weekend is the annual Pride celebration in Olympia. Earlier this week at Temple Beth Hatfiloh I hung the rainbow pride flag above our main entryway. I will be preparing remarks and readings for our weekly Shabbat service. TBH is one of the faith community sponsors of the weekend’ events. We will be reaffirming our commitment to the full inclusion of the LGBTQ community within our congregation.
But there is one thing we won’t be doing as a community this year. We will not be marching in the Pride parade.
This year the organizers of Capital City Pride moved the parade from Sunday to Saturday. And while I am sure the organizers had good reasons to do so, as a myriad of factors go into planning such a big event, it did put the parade on Shabbat, and specifically in the middle of our communal Shabbat worship and study time. (And this weekend too we will be celebrating a bar mitzvah on Shabbat morning.) Because of this conflict, TBH will not be participating in the parade.
And while I fully recognize that there are Jews for whom this is not a conflict, and that the participation in the parade and the festival following is important regardless of the day, and even an important part of their Jewish identity—as an institution whose mission is not only educational, cultural and social but also spiritual, our participation as a congregation is precluded.
I’m saddened by this, but the conflict is nothing new. As a minority faith tradition, our rhythm of sacred time is not in alignment with that of the majority culture which, even if not overtly religious, is built around a Christian calendar. Jews for whom spiritual observance is important have always wrestled with having to make choices, of absenting themselves from communal events or making accommodations for alternate participation. To ArtsWalk falling on the first night of Passover last spring, to my son’s high school open house and picture day falling on Rosh Hashanah this coming fall (yes, I already checked), the Jewish spiritual calendar is generally overlooked.
This then requires compromise, both as individuals and as a congregation. As individuals we all make our choices, and I honor these. As a congregation we must make choices too, and perhaps even harder as we balance different viewpoints and values. We as a congregation uphold the Jewish values of tikkun olam (repair of the world) and the pursuit of tzedek, or justice. We are also the inheritors of a ritual tradition that involves observance of Shabbat, the day of rest set aside for study, prayer, refraining from work and the embrace of leisure. The challenge comes when an opportunity to pursue justice falls on Shabbat.
Last year as a congregation we wrestled with this question as we discussed how we wish to observe Shabbat in community. The idea of Shabbat was determined to be important. So was the idea of time set aside for prayer and study. And also deemed important was the fact that Shabbat is Jewish time, a time to come together as a Jewish community and connect with each other and our traditions. It’s why we decided to not rent the building to outside groups on Shabbat as we do other times during the week. It is also why we decided not to participate as a congregation in community-wide events that fall on Shabbat. (An exception was made to respond to emergencies—an act of vandalism or violence—that demanded our presence as an organized Jewish community.)
Since the Pride parade is a community-wide event that falls on Shabbat, TBH will not participate this year. There are other times and ways to observe and honor Pride and the community it celebrates, and I look forward to marking those. While during the parade my heart and mind will turn to those marching, I will not be physically present.
My fear is that our absence from the Pride parade will send the (erroneous) signal that the Jewish community centered around TBH is not supportive of Pride or the LGBTQ community. That is one reason why I feel compelled to write this blog post to explain our absence. Our commitment to social justice, to full inclusion, to equality across gender expressions and sexual orientations remains resolute.
While the Pride parade is happening a block away, I will be standing on the bimah of our sanctuary welcoming another one of our youth into Jewish adulthood, celebrating this milestone with him, his family and friends, and our Jewish community. And I hope that he will come to understand the importance of both our Jewish spiritual practices and our Jewish commitment to justice, and that he will strive to integrate both into his life.
Sometimes this is not easy. Sometimes this requires compromise. Sometime this involves having to choose between being present for the greater community and being present for the Jewish community. And while we may have to choose when and how we are present, we can hold multiple commitments and communities in our hearts.
Happy Pride. And Shabbat shalom.