The days between the High Holidays are a time of reflection, apology, prayer and introspection for the Jewish people. While Shabbat affords us this opportunity each week, I feel like the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Shabbat Shuvah, is all the more special and powerful. So last Friday night I joined more than 100 young adults (both in age and in spirit) at Temple Shaarey Tefila for Shabbat Unplugged. This service is a celebration of Shabbat, bringing together people of different backgrounds, creeds and orientations to sing, celebrate and be together as a community to welcome the Sabbath bride.
I take the community aspect of this service very seriously and feel it is perhaps the most important aspect of my Shabbat. That is why I got up early on Saturday morning to travel to Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope to help this community—a community of people from different backgrounds, creeds and orientations—enjoy and sanctify the Shabbat.
Unfortunately the Westboro Baptist Church, the infamous hate group, was outside of Beth Elohim trying to deny this community of its Shabbat Shalom, its peaceful and meaningful Shabbat. Hatred needs to be combated with love and support, so I went to stand in solidarity with this community as it celebrated a young girl becoming a woman in the eyes of the Jewish people, to sit together with members and guests to learn some Torah portion and to take action in the face of injustice and hate.
It was a pretty sad showing from the Westboro contingent; no more than six or seven people with disgusting signs that will not get air time on this blog. But on the good guys’ side, there were more like 150 people from all walks of life. There were rabbis, priests and pastors. There were gay, straight and bisexuals community members (I know because the good guys had signs explaining these things). But the thing that was best about this was the positive message of the good guys’ counter demonstration.
Rabbi Andy Bachman, who is the spiritual leader of CBE, took a strong stand against a counter-protest but was open to the peaceful show of communal support that was emanating from the crowd last Shabbat. He lead this group from different backgrounds, creeds and orientations in a Shofar service, using the ancient horn of the Jewish people to shock us awake from the indifference that allows the Westboro brand of hate to flourish. He also called upon us to, in the tradition of the God of compassion to welcome the stranger, to accept all human beings as God’s creation and to never allow hate to triumph over tolerance.
He also called upon us to act in the tradition of the God of Groucho Marx and stick our thumbs on our noses and wave our hands at the protestors…you can’t be serious all the time (even in Park Slope).
But all this show of hate and counter-tolerance was not the most important aspect of this day. After the visitors from Kansas left, we all went inside to services. A young woman became Bat Mitzvah. A rabbi celebrated his 50th anniversary of his Bar Mitzvah. A member of the congregation gave a d’var Torah that dug deeper than most sermons and a guest from the Upper East Side took part in a beautiful Shabbat Morning experience.
People told me I was doing a great thing and I happen to agree. But the singing and dancing in the face of the hatemongering anti-Semitic homophobes was nothing important. The real power and meaning, a place where we found true Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of return to the community and people of Israel, was that this group of people from different backgrounds, creeds and orientations, joined together in what we were going to do anyway. The evil of those Wichita base bigots changed nothing. Together this community stood strong in the face of injustice, stuck our tongues out at hatred and joined together in a joyous celebration of the Jewish people.