Growing up as a Progressive Jew, I have always been part of an inclusive and welcoming community. I have never experienced tension between Judaism and a person’s sexuality, which many do in religious spaces.
The rabbis before me fought the battle to be accepted and included as Jews, Rabbis and part of the LGBTQ+ community.
As a child of the next generation, I am blessed to reap the fruits of all their hard work.
It was the late Rabbi Lionel Blue, the UK’s first openly gay male rabbi, who allowed me to understand fully that being Jewish and expressing one’s own sexuality were compatible.
In one of his books, Rabbi Blue has a chapter called ‘Unofficial Seminary Sauna in Amsterdam’. He talks of his visits to gay saunas in Amsterdam and says: “In the sauna I had a religious experience and found that God had unexpectedly followed me.” Rabbi Blue allowed me to understand that our connection to divinity/spirituality is within us at all times, waiting for us to access it.
I was taught, and now teach to others, that we are all made in the divine image (Genesis 1:27). We all have a divine spark within us and are of infinite value and worth. This is at the heart of being Jewish – seeing others as divine and working to ensure dignity and justice in the world around us.
Because of this my community, Jackson’s Row (the only synagogue in the centre of Manchester), joined Manchester Pride on the parade for the first time this year, with sister progressive Jewish communities.
It was the first time there was an explicitly Jewish bloc on the parade. For while, as progressive communities, we say we are welcoming and inclusive, we need to make sure we are shouting about it.
In the spirit of the charity We Stand Together, it is also vital for me, as a religious progressive Jew and Rabbi, to face the darkness in our sacred texts. For while the religion I ascribe to and practise is a radically inclusive one, the ancient texts, which we read in synagogue, often show their age and reflect both the good and bad of humanity.
It is for us to enter into difficult dialogues with these texts, to recog- nise ourselves in them and clearly state we choose a different path.
We enter into dialogue, not only with the texts, but also ourselves and each other, to work on creating a community in Manchester where people of the LGBTQ+ community feel safe and welcomed in religious spaces. It is not enough to simply talk – it must lead to action.
Rabbi Robyn Ashworth-Steen Trustee of #WeStandTogether
#WeStandTogether is the campaign launched following the 2017 attacks in Manchester and London as a national initiative promoting community cohesion and unity, celebrating diversity and challenging hatred. The ultimate aim is to encourage people to come together as one and celebrate their differences in order to build a safer and stronger United Kingdom. On March 21 at the Manchester Museum on Oxford Road, there is a session called “Difficult Dialogues – Importing International Conflict”. It’s between 18h30 and 20h30. RSVP to https://importingconflict.eventbrite.co.uk