Rabbi Mike Moskowitz, 2017
I was approached last week, after a speech I delivered on transgender inclusivity, and was asked if I had transitioned from female to male.
I felt confusion, discomfort, and kinship with all of those who suffer the humiliating injustice that comes from the socially constructed entitlements of others. I wanted to stand with them in solidarity, all children of one God, and somehow help absorb this blow to human dignity.
My initial thought was to respond “Does it make a difference?” instinctively saying to myself, “All lives matter!”. Instead, I replied “No,” because it does make a difference.
“The voice of an ally isn’t the same voice as the one who’s been oppressed, marginalized, and struggled against being silenced.”
My name is Mike. I’m white, straight, and a cis-gender male. As an educator and rabbi, I have transgender students and congregants. My father is a doctor, as was my grandfather, and I grew up in the suburbs. When I get pulled over by the police, after they see my license, registration, and clergy parking, they often ask for a blessing — and never for me to step out of the vehicle. I also work full time in social justice and, yeah, sometimes it’s awkward, because the systems of oppression that are in place, that we are fighting against, are designed to benefit me, and they have.
I don’t need access to more space and to co-occupy one of vulnerability, especially with preserved asymmetry, can only be offered as an invitation that still requires consent from the one exposed.
I don’t feel rejected when I volunteer to spend May Day swiping a MetroCard for those who find it hard to pay the fare to get to work and am told that I’m not welcomed because I’m white.
However, when people have the resources, power and agency but choose not to extend, expand, and use those spaces for good, I’m offended on a soul level. I perceive it as a perversion of the Divine truth, that God is everywhere all of the time and that everything belongs to God.
“God made space for us, and it is God who asks that we echo that holiness by making space for others.”
When we see someone or a group of people who are weakened, exposed, and forced into inhumane postures of fragility, this physical weakness gives amplified expression to the screams of their soul — a soul yearning to be held with a respectful acknowledgment of its divine origin. And if we don’t protest this sacrilegious reality, what does our silence reveal about the condition of our soul?
In the Jewish tradition, we offer condolences by invoking a specific aspect of God: המקום ינחם אתכם — Hamakom yenachem etchem (“May the Omnipresent comfort you”).
Of the many different names for God, we use Hamakom (“the Omnipresent”) here as a comforting reminder that no space or circumstance is free from the Divine Presence. By preventing sanctuary, equality, or inclusion, we contribute to the denial of that comfort to humanity.
Spiritual practice demands social consciousness. If a person’s physical, emotional, or mental health is harmed through the denial of human rights or other oppression, then the soul is also limited in its expression. We thereby exclude God from God’s entitled space and ally-ship.
If we want God as our mother, father, parent, then we need to see each other as brothers, sisters, siblings. When we get hurt, we scream out. Not because it helps alleviate the pain, but because if we don’t scream when we are privileged to, then it doesn’t really hurt.
When people are suffering, it is the silence that is awkward.