Archive for the ‘Shabbat’ Category

My first attempt at a home shabbat ritual

Today was my best friend’s birthday, so I couldn’t make it to the Kabbalat Shabbat service at shul. I decided that this shabbat would be my first attempt at a home ritual, making my kitchen table the alter to focus kavanah, and bring light into the darkness and begin a celebration of life.

Over the past several months, shabbat has become an important part of my weekly routine. Most liberal Christians have de-ritualized sabbath altogether, except for going to church; and for Mormons, sabbath is a drudgery filled with lay-work at church and a lot of rules about dos and don’ts to keep the sabbath day holy. I suppose if I were becoming an orthodox, halachic Jew, I would be sliding back into those days of minuscule rules (can you buy a Twix bar out of a vending machine on Sunday without losing the spirit of god?). But that is not the direction of my practice or the purpose or spirit of shabbat for me.

The idea of celebrating the coming of the Sabbath Bride, l’cha dodi!; of laying aside the work week for a time of sanctification and relaxation and even double-mitzvah-worthy sex; of a time to recenter and seek Einheit/אחד is so different from the dreaded Sundays of my youth. I look forward to Shabbat, the singing, the Maneschewitz (shudder), the niggun, the davening. It’s a meditative practice, but a connected communal one as well.

Not being able to go to shul tonight, I wanted to make sure that I still set aside the time of shabbat for myself. I was far from halachic: cheap votives from the gay hardware store down the block; לו כשר wine, a nice chianti from southern Italy. And way past sunset when I said the prayers.

But it felt really normal and powerful to do this at home. I used the Sha’ar Zahav siddur for the prayers (and coincidentally discovered the Havdalah prayer for tomorrow as well), and said all three of the blessings for the lighting of the candles, the traditional masculine language, the beautiful feminine language praising sh’chinah for the light, and the communal call to light the candles for the One. Then the b’rachot for wine (l’chaim!) and bread.

The only thing that felt odd about it is that it feels like it should be done with loved ones around. But as a single gay guy, I suppose the solo Shabbat is what I have to work with for the moment, and it’s good enough.

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Sha’ar Zahav has added its own special high holiday to the ritual calendar, Pride Shabbat, the shabbat before Gay Pride weekend. Tonight was my first experience of this tradition, and I was moved in a way that surprised me. More than 11 years after I came out, sitting in that room, I found myself lifted up in a way that I never thought possible in my former religious life: An evening celebrating the holiness of being queer.

One of the privileges of being gay after the 1960s is that we can choose from a range of meaningful gaynesses, from a very limited and narrow gayness, perhaps where it is nothing more nor less than a sexual desire, to an expansive and thorough-going gayness, where one’s sexuality infuses every other aspect of one’s life. The work and sacrifice and toil of our post-war pioneers in the 1950s and 1960s set the stage for a world within which we could work out a meaningful queerness for ourselves.

Although I have had personal experiences of the holiness of my sexual orientation, brief moments of awareness of connection and insight, I had never expected to experience it as a communal celebration. From the reading of the blessing on queer elders; to the Communal Remembrance where we mourn the countless queer people through history who have been oppressed, driven to madness and suicide, beaten, killed, massacred; from the Queer Amidah and the Pride Shabbat Hallel; to the Adon Olam sung to the tune of “I Will Survive”, I felt like I was in world I had never known was possible.

A part of me is sheepish that I’m not out and proud enough to stand free of such outside affirmations. But the religion I was raised in would never in a million years celebrate my or any one of its children’s queerness. And the fact is, like many gay men, I still have internalized homophobia and fears and self-hatred deep down. And I really do need to be seen and understood by others, not just myself. As the rabbi said tonight at the end of service, “It’s so much easier to do it together.”

Tonight with a couple hundred fellow queers and allies, I got to recite and feel for the very first time:

God of Oneness
infinite, eternal
How queer of You to have created anything at all.
God of queerness
in whom are united all separations
we stand before You now
queer ourselves
made of heaven and earth
day and night
female and male
all of us
within Your awesome oneness
(Siddur Sha’ar Zahav, pp. 269)

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