By Rabbi Alana Alpert
One of the most fundamental, vital practices in our faith tradition of Judaism is the act of listening.
As a religious Jew, I am called to listen each and every day. It’s a calling I am reminded of when I recite the Shema, a central prayer in the Jewish tradition. We recite it multiple times a day. Its essence is wonderfully clear: Pay attention. Understand. Internalize. Listen.
This year, I’ve been fortunate enough to have many opportunities to take a step back, listen and learn from people across Michigan. Recently, I attended a roundtable discussion at the Ruth Ellis Center in Detroit with Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib that centered on the experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer young people.
Several youth from the center shared their personal experiences of harassment, abuse and discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. They discussed painful challenges with their parents rejecting their identities and leaving them feeling like they had nowhere to turn. They recalled being bullied and attacked at school or in public because of the way they dress or the way they speak. Most importantly, they shared fears about growing up in a world where LGBTQ people are evicted, fired or denied service simply because of who they are.
At this discussion the older people in the room, including Congresswoman Tlaib, me, other community members and other members of the clergy from varying faith traditions received a tremendous gift. The gift was the opportunity to hear and to understand more about the challenges and triumphs of being a young LGBTQ person in Michigan.
In Michigan and a majority of states in our country, LGBTQ people are not explicitly protected from discrimination in employment, housing, public spaces, and so much more. We’ve seen positive steps forward from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and a growing sense of momentum that it’s well past time for change — but the fact is that in our state and at the federal level, these young people, as well as LGBTQ adults, are left vulnerable to mistreatment and discrimination.
The question for us, then, comes back to the teachings of the Shema. Are lawmakers in Lansing listening? Are clergy, privileged with access to these stories, outraged into action?
At the roundtable gathering, I saw people from across faith traditions coming together for something important. Christian leaders wearing clerical clothing sitting side by side with me, a Jewish leader, and Congresswoman Tlaib, who shared her experiences as a Muslim woman trying to do what’s best for her constituents.
Our faiths may be different, but our calling is the same: To awake to the brokenness in our society and to do whatever we can to act toward wholeness.
We must all commit to changing our policies in Michigan and at the federal level so that no LGBTQ person faces discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
It begins with the sacred practice of listening.
Rabbi Alpert is spiritual leader for Detroit Jews for Justice and Congregation T’chiyah.