Dear TEE community,

I feel enormously lucky to be alive at a time when there is so much growth and creativity in Jewish life. Within the past fifty years we have seen the ordination of women as rabbis, the creation of covenant ceremonies for girls, rituals for retirement, and other innovations which are already seen as “traditional.” More recently, Jewish life has expanded to affirm and include the diversity of our community, including Jews of Color and LGBTQ+ Jews. Our next two Shabbat services are an example of these changes in Judaism as well as the way in which American Jews interact with the larger, non-Jewish culture in which we live.

This Friday we will be observing Juneteenth, the holiday marking the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. While Black Americans have been observing Juneteenth since the end of the Civil War, it is only in recent decades that it has been an official holiday in most of the United States. In 1979, Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth a state holiday, while New York established it just last year. Including Juneteenth in our ritual calendar acknowledges that our Jewish community includes the descendants of formerly enslaved people as well as marking a significant milestone in all of our American history.

On June 25th we will have our first in person service as we observe Pride Shabbat. For me personally, Pride Shabbat is an indicator of the remarkable changes I’ve witnessed within my own lifetime. When I began rabbinical school in 1978, I believed I was going to have to choose between becoming a rabbi and living openly as a lesbian. I don’t think I could have imagined that only a single generation separated me from Jews for whom such a choice was never an issue. Let alone, that Gay Pride (as we called it then) would be celebrated in synagogues throughout the world.

Both Juneteenth and Pride Shabbat had their origins in movements which began outside of the Jewish community. Bringing these observances into the synagogue is significant because they acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of American Jewish cultures. While we are used to thinking of Jewish cultural differences as  Ashkenazi (Central and East European) or Sephardi (Mediterranean), there are equally Jewish cultures rooted in the experience of African Americans and LGBTQ+ people, as well as other marginalized groups whose presence has been invisible to many in the Jewish community.

We all need to be seen. We all deserve to be celebrated for who we are. As we expand our calendar of Jewish observance, we come closer to a time when that is true for everyone.

Rabbi Drorah Setel