From Catherine Miller
Shabbat shalom everyone. I’m excited to be on the “other side” of this Friday night shabbat stream for the first time. Now, I don’t know about you but saying HAPPY PRIDE right now feels strange. It feels inauthentic. Not only do we have a global pandemic but we also are witnessing a worldwide uprising in support of Black lives and against police brutality and white supremacy. For me, Pride taking a backseat is the much needed break for us. But that doesn’t mean the work stops.
In this week’s parsha, Moses faces an uprising led by Korach, a Levite. It would be one thing if it was just him leading this, but Korach also has the support of 250 community leaders. He accuses Moses and Aaron of placing themselves above the rest of the community stating, “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the LORD is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the LORD’s congregation?”
The first thing to note is that before this moment, the Isralites have already had to put full trust into Moses’ leadership and it has, thus far, gotten them pretty far. He got them out of Egypt. He has helped them escape slavery. All with the power of God behind him. But, the Israelites are also feeling pretty crappy at this point. They are dehydrated, hungry, sunburnt and just plain exhausted. So, of course, they’re going to argue about how the exodus wasn’t going as perfectly as they had hoped. But the thing that they are so willfully forgetting is that in questioning Moses’ leadership, they are also questioning God’s authority and confirming their lack of trust in her. Which is NOT A GOOD MOVE.
Of course, the thing I want to focus on is even smaller than that. You might be convinced that Korach has a good point with the “All of the nation is holy and G-d dwells within each of them.” comment. But Korach is being dishonest in his motives. He is not seeking equal power for the people, he is seeking power for himself. Which is why Korach and his 250 followers are ultimately swallowed by the Earth. To borrow a note from Rabbi Mike Moskowitz’s comments on the modern context of this parsha, Korach is essentially saying “All Lives Matter”. And as we can see all around us, that is simply not the case. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color are continually under the threat of racial violence. The life expectancy for a Trans Women of Color is 35 years old. Two weeks ago, The Trump administration finalized a rule that would remove nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people when it comes to health care and health insurance. I could go on and on about the injustices in our world, suffice to say that in saying “All Lives Matter”, Korach falsely proclaims that equality has already been achieved and change is unnecessary.
I come from a very queer interfaith family. It’s quite ridiculous just HOW queer we are but let me set this up for you: my aunt is gay, my uncle is trans (both of whom are pagan), my mother is asexual (who is also a recovering Catholic), and I am a Jewish non-binary femme. When I came out as queer to my family, I did so at The Call bar in Andersonville right before we watched a drag show featuring our family friends. And while this is not a competition, I am shocked my family hasn’t gotten a television deal with Bravo.
And despite all of this queerness permeating from my family, I was not familiar with the Stonewall Riots until 8 years ago. Even when I did learn about it, it was in the context of a play called HIT THE WALL by Chicago playwright Ike Holter. As incredible as that experience was, it would still take time for me to see that while Stonewall was a huge benchmark event for the LGBTQIA movement, it was not even close to the beginning of our rebellion. We have been here for a long time. Longer than you may think. You just have to look for us.
When I began my conversion process with Mishkan a year and a half ago, I began an almost identical journey to the one previously mentioned. I deep dived into a history that I had only briefly touched on in my Catholic upbringing. By doing this, not only was my personal and cultural experience of Judaism enriched but I saw my queerness reflected back in my Jewish journey. We are not only obligated to remember the bravery of our ancestors but we must trust in where we have come from but know we all still have so far to go. The first Pride was a riot and the exodus of the Israelites was a messy affair. Liberation isn’t for the faint of heart. And in learning about Stonewall and the Compton Cafeteria Riots, The Mattachine Society, I understand that as members of the LGBTQ+ community, we have a responsibility to remember that if not for the bravery of our Black and Brown, female, trans, and genderqueer ancestors, who risked their lives for our collective liberation, we would not be here today.
And furthermore, that we are all responsible for continuing and uplifting the work of Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Miss Major, Storme, and so many other BIPOC folks who were a part of this movement from the beginning and have been waiting for their own liberation for far too long.
Korach was not in a position to declare that “All Lives Matter” and neither are we. To boldly say such a thing is to be woefully ignorant to our collective histories. And until we reckon with the past to move towards the future, when the lives of every marginalized and forgotten human being have been completely re-humanized and wholly valued, we will never see collective freedom.
Let me leave you with this final thought from “Being in History”, a collective manifesto created by Trans and Non-Binary activists: “We are the embodiment of a new history— a history renewed by reclamation and documentation. We are history. By being, we manifest the impossible.”
This drash was first delivered on June 26, 2020 during Friday Night Services.
Catherine Miller (they/them) started attending Mishkan 3 years ago and has since completed the Conversion Cohort and the Adult B’nai Mitzvah class. They are a casting director for various theaters in Chicago, working for inclusion reflective of our own city and Trans/Non-Binary visibility on all stages.