The holiday of Sukkot is rich with many rituals, but none is more symbolic than the sukkah itself, the makeshift hut we build to welcome our family, friends and other guests. Exposed to both the elements and the stars, it reminds us simultaneously of the fragile nature of our existence and the joy we find when we join together to celebrate Jewish tradition.
So perhaps it's fitting that as we approach this most welcoming of holidays, the board of directors of the Jewish Publishing Group, which oversees the Jewish Exponent, has voted unanimously to include notices of gay and lesbian unions in the publication's life-cycles section.
Contrary to some public misconceptions, the Exponent has, for many years now, published birth and adoption notices for the children of gay couples. It also notes partners of the deceased in obituaries.
It has also, particularly over the past year, devoted extensive coverage to issues related to the gay community. Recent coverage has included a cover story about a conference of young gay Jews held at the University of Pennsylvania, a profile of an author whose book explores gay themes in American Jewish culture, an opinion piece urging stronger synagogue outreach to the LGBT community and a feature about the many challenges of the gay community in Israel.
As Bennett L. Aaron, chairman of the Jewish Publishing Group board, has said: The newspaper's new policy reflects the "evolutionary process" of both the Exponent and society as a whole with regard to these issues.
Indeed, the shift in policy on gay unions and marriages illustrates the changing thinking of not just a publication, but the Jewish community as a whole.
While the issue of gay marriage continues to spark political debate throughout the country, the liberal streams of Judaism have taken significant steps to recognize gay unions. Both the Reconstructionist and Reform movements embrace gay rabbis, and Jewish commitment ceremonies and marriages. In March 2000, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Reform movement's rabbinical association, voted overwhelmingly to support colleagues who choose to perform same-sex ceremonies, stating that "the relationship of a Jewish, same-gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual."
For its part, the Conservative movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards issued a well-publicized ruling in December 2006 allowing the ordination of gay rabbis. The same committee stopped short of halachically endorsing same-sex marriage, but gave permission for Conservative rabbis to perform same-sex commitment ceremonies. The ruling stated in part that "we consider stable, committed Jewish relationships to be as necessary and beneficial for homosexuals and their families as they are for heterosexuals … The celebration of such a union is appropriate."
At the same time, we recognize that many in the Orthodox world do not accept either homosexuality or gay unions. And while we want to be sensitive to this growing and vital segment of our community, the new policy is a reflection of the Exponent's effort to be as inclusive as possible.
At a time when Jews are opting out of Jewish life in alarming numbers, the Jewish Exponent must reaffirm its commitment to be the venue where all Jews — regardless of political, religious or sexual orientation — feel welcome.
As the area's only Jewish newspaper, the role is to encourage communal conversation on issues that matter. By extension, it must also be the place where we embrace all who feel so committed to their Jewish identity that they want to share their simchas with the wider community.
Another important Sukkot tradition is to read Kohelet, which includes these eternal words of Ecclesiastes: "To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heavens." This holiday season, the time has come to take one more step to widen our communal hut, to create a place where all who wish to share in the Jewish enterprise feel welcome and validated.
Chag sameach to all!