Storytelling is Fundamental
It has been said by those wiser than I that stories tell us who we are. Every culture has stories: fairy tales, old wives’ tales, tall tales, shaggy dog stories, urban legends, religious stories — even television shows and movies, the modern equivalent of the campfire storytelling circle. The human mind itself works in narrative. We tell ourselves stories all day long: about what’s happening to us, about the way people are treating us, about what we want to do over the weekend. It logically follows that stories carry our culture’s values. They tell us about who we were, they reflect our lives as they are now, and they tell us who we can be in the future. To locate ourselves within the world, we put ourselves into the great ongoing story of our culture and the world at large, playing out our own tiny character within the larger narrative. If we aren’t reflected in our culture’s stories, we are unmoored in very fundamental ways.
Another way to put it is this: representation matters. Without seeing our whole selves reflected in our culture, our religion, our country, how can we be sure we’re a part of the story at all? Who will tell us we belong and that we’re important to the great story of this Earth?
Rewriting the Narrative
For way too long, the outcasts among us have been largely missing in the great cultural narrative of Judaism. Women, queer Jews, trans Jews, people of color: many of us have been left behind by the mainstream of Jewish text and tradition. The People of the Book we may be, but many of our people’s stories were never written down. Whether because they had to remain hidden on pain of death, or because they were enslaved and traded like chattel, or simply because there was little time to write anything apart from a shopping list and recite a quick, muttered prayer over challah, a multitude of voices have been silenced through the generations, even to this day.
My goal as a maggid is to tell those stories, as much as I can and is appropriate for me to do so. When I can’t, or it’s not my story to tell, I strive to lift up others and help amplify their voices so they may tell their own stories.
Finding Meaning in Who We Are
It is a fact that American Jews are becoming less affiliated with synagogues every year. The traditional synagogue model, while a necessary mainstay of Judaism, is unable to keep up with the rapid changes happening in this new millennium. As a queer Jew, and especially as a trans man of the generation sandwiched between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials, I consider it my calling to reach out to Jews who have fallen through the cracks of the more traditional synagogue culture.
I especially focus on working with queer and transgender Jews of all backgrounds. I lead Torah study with an eye toward how our queer community can find ourselves in our primal narrative. I tell traditional Jewish stories and thoughtfully update them as necessary to make every Jew who hears them feel as if they, too, can come into Abraham’s tent. I create original Jewish stories, reinterpret midrash, and do my best to add my own voice to the millions of viewpoints and ideas we as Jews have brought to the world.
We are at a crucial juncture, both in the Jewish community and the queer community. As a maggid, the deepest desire of my heart is to be a voice telling queer Jews this simple truth: You and I, we belong. We are a vital, important part of our Jewish community and without us, the light of the Jewish people would be so much dimmer.