Tikkun Olam at Temple Beth Am

Connecting our congregation to social action opportunities

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Freedom to Marry in Washington

[Cross-posted from the Religious Action Center blog, where you can also find posts about other Fain Award-winning programs and the work of the RAC.]

This post is part of a series highlighting the amazing work of our 2013 Irving J. Fain Award winners. Continue to check back to learn about the inspirational projects at Reform congregations across North America. 

The commandment “Justice, justice shall you pursue” wisely comes with no expectation that the results will be immediate. To the contrary, Rabbi Tarfon reminds us, “It is not incumbent on you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot 2:21)The task of achieving marriage equality nationwide is not yet complete, but at the state level there have been several hard-won victories over the past year. In Seattle, the members and clergy of Temple Beth Am (TBA) played an active role in the Jewish Marriage Equality Coalition and helped make Washington one of four states that supported marriage equality at the ballot box in November 2012.

TBA had been on the record supporting LGBT rights since 1994, when the membership voted at an annual meeting to oppose anti-gay initiatives that were then circulating in the state. Shortly after he was hired in 1995, Rabbi Jonathan Singer began performing same-sex commitment ceremonies, and over the years he spoke from the pulpit and at the state capitol in favor of LGBT rights, domestic partnership and marriage equality. By the time the freedom to marry campaign came to Washington in 2012, our congregation was on board and, frankly, wondering what was taking so long.

Outreach to faith communities was an important element of the campaign, and TBA members were involved both in interfaith efforts and also as part of the Jewish Marriage Equality Coalition. The Coalition grew to comprise 28 Jewish organizations statewide, including nine of the 17 Reform congregations and the Jewish Federation. The Orthodox community could not explicitly support marriage equality, but they were persuaded that the measure protected religious freedom by allowing individual clergy to personally decide which weddings he (or she) would perform – and therefore agreed not to publicly oppose it.

There were myriad ways for TBA members to get involved, and we leapt in with both feet. Among other things:

We fielded a contingent in the Seattle Pride March, carrying banners for marriage equality;We offered community service hours for youth group members who participated in the Pride March;

We hosted a training session for the Jewish community on “How to Have a Jewish Conversation About Marriage Equality;”

One of our members curated an exhibit of same-sex ketubot, called “Equal Vows,” which was the subject of a cover story in the JT News, our local Jewish community paper;

We hosted phone banks in the synagogue office and social hall one or two nights a week for the Washington United for Marriage campaign;

We joined with numerous other congregations and individuals for a “Faith Ballot March” to demonstrate the range of faith communities’ support for marriage equality; and

The shul was a distribution center for buttons, yard signs, and other campaign materials.

As we pursued justice together, we also learned much about each other. The campaign centered on having “courageous conversations” about what freedom to marry meant to each of us. For some, it was finally being able to say “I do” to a partner of many years; for others it was the chance to dance at a child’s wedding; and for still others it was simply being part of the civil rights struggle of our generation.

Shelly Cohen is a member of Temple Beth Am in Seattle, WA.

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A journey through the wilderness

Every Passover we relive the exodus from mitzrayim, a narrow or confining place, so that we can appreciate what it means to be free. For some it’s a history lesson; for many of us it is a powerful metaphor for the often difficult and arduous journey of self-discovery.

This month there are several opportunities to hear Yiscah Smith describe a courageous journey – one that led him away from Torah and finally led her back. Continue reading

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Marriage Equality on the Ballot this November

While we anticipated this day was coming, it is now official: marriage equality for loving, gay and lesbian couples will be on the ballot in November.

Temple Beth Am, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, and twenty-five other Jewish organizations including the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Family Service, Union for Reform Judaism, Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center and the National Council of Jewish Women, support Washington United for Marriage and the campaign to defend the marriage equality law in Washington State. We support marriage equality as a matter of basic religious liberty. Clergy should be free to decide for themselves what couples they choose to marry. Continue reading


What does the Torah really say about homosexual acts?

We’ve all heard it too many times, with varying degrees of sincerity and textual analysis: homosexual acts are an abomination; the Bible says so. Period. End of discussion.

Fortunately, Judaism thrives on discussion. In furtherance of that, I wanted to share with everyone the d’var that was presented by a bat mitzvah on our very own bima at Temple Beth Am just a couple weeks ago:

My particular Torah portion, Achre Mot – Kedoshim, includes a multitude of rules that many people follow to the letter, word for word. Many people, scholars and lay people alike, have asked, “Should every rule of the Torah be followed to the letter?” My question is this: “Are we really reading them carefully enough? Or are we just depending upon one narrow interpretation about what they mean?” Continue reading

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Responding to controversy over the Israeli LGBT delegation

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. Continue reading


Joy, gratitude, wonder, and hope

The world I live in now is not the same one I was born into. That is the only way I can describe it.

Earlier this week, when Gov. Gregoire signed this state’s marriage equality bill into law, it started to become clear to me just how much the world has changed. Attending the Marriage Equality Study and Celebration at TDHS a few days later really brought it home.

It’s not just my fight anymore. Continue reading

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“Include” is an Active Verb

When someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked in the mirror and saw nothing.

Adrienne Rich

Imagine what it’s like to look in the mirror and see nothing. For many lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people – or their children – that’s an all-too-common experience: Continue reading

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An Interfaith Pilgrimage

If you thought there were a lot of new faces in the sanctuary last Friday evening (Nov. 4), you were right! TBA was host to about 150 visitors on the second leg of an interfaith pilgrimage to houses of worship of all three Abrahamic faiths.

It started with the Interfaith Women’s Conference last spring, convened by the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center (IPJC). The conference brought together 300 women and men from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim congregations to begin a dialog that would lead to better understanding among our faith traditions. Continue reading