While our nation celebrates the historic Supreme Court ruling embracing marriage equality nationwide for same sex couples, it is worth pausing to remember that love and community are built in many different ways and often not in marriage. This past weekend, along with about 80 others, I learned that community can be built through queerness.
My niece, Gabriella Spitzer, has had a profoundly loving relationship with the man she lives with, Sandy Johnston, for 5 years. My wife and I first met them when they were undergraduates in New York City, and quickly noted how much they loved each other. After their graduation, they moved in together where they now live in Albany. They both come from very observant Jewish families, but the concept of a traditional marriage simply did not fit their very unique personalities. As they wrote in their Siyyumfesto:
We…chose a format that doesn’t ask us to fit our…expansive selves into narrow boxes…For Sandy, that means honoring his introversion, and making a retreat that celebrates our learning with a ritual that reflects our teaching….For Gabriella, that means honoring their queer and genderqueer identities and not asking them to contort into genders or sexualities that simply do not fit well.
Instead of a wedding, they asked their families and friends to join them at a lovely camp in the Berkshire Mountains in upstate New York for a weekend long Siyyum, this past weekend, and my wife and I are were pleased to be able to join them. A siyyum typically marks the completion of a course of study or the writing of a Torah. In Gabriella and Sandy’s case, they chose to study Jewish texts together and present what they learned to their family and friends in lieu of a marriage ceremony.
But, before the siyyum’s conclusion, they created an environment which built community between and among their families and friends. They did so in many ways, from hosting communal meals together, convening Shabbat services, and organizing 16 workshops during 4 sessions, for their friends and families to learn from each other. I was honored when Gabriella asked me to teach a workshop on disability law. It was with great pleasure that I attended her sister Leora’s workshop on Theater of the Oppressed where she taught us about how she engaged in this process with students at the Ferguson High School. Sandy’s Aunt Karen led a wonderful meditation workshop which I enjoyed. Gabriella’s grandmother (my mother-in-law) Gloria Spitzer led an enlightening workshop on Volunteerism, tzedakah and philanthropy.
There was so much beauty and joy during this entire weekend. By having us share meals and learn together in a pastoral environment, we all got to know each other better, and truly built a community through queerness. As you can see, happiness enveloped both of their families.
So, thank you Gabriella and Sandy for providing us an opportunity to learn from you and with you. You opened our hearts and minds, and built community for all of us. May you be blessed with many years of love and learning together, continuing to build communities wherever you go.
For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.