Repair the World Baltimore, Bolton Street Synagogue, and Hinenu: the Baltimore Justice Shtiebl jointly hosted the online event Twice Blessed: Celebrating our Jewish & Queer Identities on June 18, alongside JPride Baltimore and Queer Core: Behind the Music. Taking place over Zoom, the event was an opportunity for members of the LGBTQ community to share their stories and experiences with one another during Pride Month.
The original plan was for Repair the World Baltimore and Queer Core to host a Shabbat dinner at Baltimore Center Stage on June 19, funded in part through a Neely Tal Snyder JPride grant, said Rabbi Jessy Dressin of Repair the World Baltimore. When it became clear that a large group gathering was not going to be possible and that Twice Blessed needed to be rescheduled as an online event, organizers saw an opportunity to broaden community participation. They chose to invite Hinenu and Bolton Street to participate, and to reschedule Twice Blessed for a day other than Shabbat.
“Personally, I have a dad who’s gay,” Dressin said in an interview prior to the event. “And while I myself am not an LGBTQ person, I care deeply about making sure that we are celebrating, amplifying, and engaging queer voices, and that they’re an integral part of how we gather a Jewish community.”
“There have always been transgender and queer people, there have always been trans and queer Jews,” said Rabbi Ariana Katz of Hinenu in an email. “Our tradition has an expansive understanding of gender, writing in rabbinic literature about the six different genders.”
Katz highlighted the “love stories between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish, between King David and Jonathan, between Ruth and Naomi,” and emphasized the importance of raising up the stories of today’s queer histories and futures. She stated this was particularly crucial in a day and age when the federal government is capable of both affirming queer and trans rights, as seen through the recent Supreme Court ruling, and of stripping them away, as witnessed through recent actions by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The story of Jonathan, the son of the biblical King Saul, and David, who later succeeded Saul as king, was further pursued during the event by Rabbi Andy Gordon of Bolton Street Synagogue.
“When I came out as gay, I was looking for a piece of myself in the Torah,” Gordon said, “and I didn’t find it. As you might know, there’s no out individuals in the Torah, in the Bible, no one who is proudly out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.”
However, when reading the book of Samuel during rabbinical school, he said, he noticed the particularly close relationship between Jonathan and David.
During David and Johnathan’s last meeting, Gordon said, prior to Johnathan’s death in battle, “David lies on the ground, face down. He cries. They kiss one another. They weep together. And David wept longer.” Afterward, David composes a poem in Johnathan’s honor, Gordon said, which reads, “Jonathan I grieve for you. … Your love was wonderful to me, more than the love of woman.”
Gordon concluded that, while it is unknown if David and Jonathan were gay, he nonetheless feels “a moment of joy, because I see myself in the text. I see a loving relationship between two individuals of the same gender. I see the devotion they have for each other, the emotion they have for each other, the kissing and the holding … And so that moment gives me strength, for all of us, that we can find just a piece of ourselves in our Torah, in our tradition, and give us strength, and solace, and to feel like we belong.”