Tikkun Olam at Temple Beth Am

Connecting our congregation to social action opportunities

Responding to controversy over the Israeli LGBT delegation

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This afternoon I attended a meeting of the Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee of the Seattle City Council. Along with several leaders of the Seattle Jewish and LGBT communities, I was there to give public comment about the Seattle Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Commission‘s abrupt decision to cancel a planned meeting with a visiting delegation of LGBT Israelis.

(For those of you fortunate enough to miss out on the sequence of events as they played out, suffice it to say that the cancellation was due to the protests of a vocal group who felt that the delegation – a cultural exchange supported in part by the Israeli consulate – was being used to deflect attention from Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. I say this only by way of explanation and not to invite a discussion of that entirely separate and complex issue. UPDATE: for more details of the controversy, look here.)

The meeting was videotaped and should be is available online here (I’m not sure exactly how soon). In the meantime, below is my testimony from this afternoon.

Good afternoon. My name is Shelly Cohen.

I am a Jew; I am a lesbian; I am a parent; I am an American… I could go on, but you get the idea: I have many identities. They complement and enrich each other; I cannot choose among them.

Sadly, that is what the events of the past week have forced many of us to do. It is a false choice, and one that is hurtful to us as individuals and damaging to us as a community.

I have been an activist for most of my life. Among other things, 25 years ago I was co-chair of the Mayor’s Lesbian / Gay Task Force – the predecessor to the LGBT Commission – and I helped write this city’s first domestic partner ordinance. Along the way I learned some important lessons in how to have civil conversations with people who disagreed with me. It’s not always easy, but it’s often valuable.

As an activist, I’m guided by two Jewish values. One is tikkun olam: repairing the world. The other is that no matter how hard the task, we are not required to complete it, but we cannot refuse to try.

Last week a little piece of our world here in Seattle was broken. I’m not here to rehash what happened; I’m not here to assign blame. I’m here to join with you in the task of healing these wounds. I’m here to ask, what can we do – as members of the City Council and the LGBT Commission, as residents of Seattle, as Jews and non-Jews, as queers and straights – what can we do together? What can we do to use this as an opportunity to make our community stronger, to reach across the divide and begin to understand each other?

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