On Saturday, June 5, BJ ended Shabbat with a Pride Havdalah, where LGBTQIA+ members of the community had an opportunity to share a kavannah (intention) before the Havdalah blessings. Member Judith Trachtenberg spoke about the blessing over the spices to restore us after Shabbat, “borei minei v’sanim”.
I am a graduate school teacher of social work. So, of course, during the first few weeks of a yearlong class we begin to get to know each other—and ourselves. One way is to say aloud some key social identities we each identify as important about ourselves. For the past 10 years or so I have always begun with Jewish and Lesbian.
So my gratitude for being here now to offer a few words at the first Havdalah of Pride month 2021.
A core part of the Havdalah ritual are the spices. Conjure up for yourselves the aroma of the spices we pass around at this moment. The spices help us carry forward the gifts of Shabbat into the new week. They connect us to the sweetness that has been Shabbat—usually a combination of cinnamon, clove, orange, and much more. I bet you can smell them!
I always want a few seconds more with the spices, one sniff is never enough.
So I want to translate these spices to two identities that are part of the long and growing list of initials identifying us—LGBTQIA+.
Starting with Lesbians and Gays – we have come to a reasonably sweet space, in general, in life in the U.S. We have federal, and many state laws giving us rights, stating we are a part of the country—in general. (Perhaps they shouldn’t be needed at all, but they seem to be). We know that these laws and regulations came about only after years of ostracism, fear, illness, aloneness, and social justice work—many marches for us and for others, many bus trips to Albany, DC and elsewhere—for many years.
We also know the rights that exist can be easily erased—we see that happening too often. However, today that sweetness is appreciated.
Now, I also have another bag of spices. This is my own concoction—good in many foods but if I passed it around one whiff would be plenty—and may make you sneeze. Peppers galore and other not-sweet spices: pungent, strong, and bitter.
I have these for the second population: trans people in our set of initials, LGBTQIA+. We see dangers in this country now for people who have transitioned, are currently in that process, and for those who are not in the body, the gender, they feel is theirs.
Their rights are being taken away—they are murdered in great number, especially trans women, especially trans women of color; they cannot use their identified public bathrooms in many states, and trans women are unable to participate in group sports in a growing number of states. More restrictions are sure to be in the works.
So we celebrate this month and every month for who we all are and who we need to be. We stay alert, aware, and active with and for those in danger who cannot always celebrate their gender and sexuality as openly and sweetly as I can.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא מִינֵי בְשָׂמִים.