THE BLOG
01/06/2015 10:53 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Revolt and Unity Under the Chuppah

When DOMA went down Rabbi David Wolpe took a giant step forward. He unilaterally began wedding gay men and lesbian women under the chuppah despite disrupting a large faction of the tradition bound Persian congregation.

Rabbi Wolpe's declaration to wed same-sex couples in the sanctuary inspired a front-page article in the New York Times, citing a "revolt," from his community.

Despite possible financial repercussions, his conscience determined his decision.

In the article, Wolpe explained; "The Persian community is pretty heavily weighted against the idea of same-sex marriage."

Coming from a Middle Eastern Orthodox heritage, and insulated from lesbian and gay communities, it takes a rebellion to change age-old customs.

Rabbi Wolpe took the chance. He risked losing up to half of his Persian congregants. The financial loss would have been substantial, and the split painful.

I imagine however that most of the congregants who threatened to leave, who felt they had to leave, stayed.

I imagine the younger generation of Persian Jews helped their elders move forward.

Challenging discrimination is not new to me.

I come from a family of Egyptian and Iraqi Jews who had their share of persecution and being tolerated as second-class citizens.

So when I came out, I didn't expect them to give me as much trouble as they did. They revolted. They told me I had left the tribe. My mother said we could never be close again.

I expected my parents who were persecuted for being Jews to understand. I didn't understand.
Especially since my lover was a nice Jewish girl.

"What? You are choosing to be a second-class citizen?"

My Iraqi mother was in agony when I came out as a lesbian-feminist in the mid-seventies, two years before the Iranian Revolution and exodus of Iran's Jews.

"Mom, this is not Iraq. This is America. I am living my life," I told her.

"No! You can't!" She screamed.

She came from a community in Baghdad where she as a woman and a Jew could not "live (her) life" anymore than a rabbi could marry gay and lesbian Jews in a "proper" synagogue.

Like so many gay and lesbians Jews and non-Jews, I didn't give up on my family, my government, or my Synagogue.

It took a lot of screaming, tears, fears, and struggle.

It took a few years. What was once frightening and repulsive to my parents became normal. First an uncomfortable tolerance, then acceptance, and eventually love took over.

Their hearts opened their minds.

Several years before she died, my mother told my nice Jewish girl, "I love you, I was so backwards, I didn't know..."

"There are gays everywhere, my father said, remembering his synagogue in Mansoura, Egypt.

He spoke of a young man his age who davenned with him every Shabbat.

"He was gay for sure, but we acted as if such things did not exist..." my father said. "Today here in our (Orthodox) synagogue in San Francisco there are gays but they have to hide it... it is sad, it should not be that way."

There was a time in Persia where it was permitted to kill a Jew who dared stand in the rain (and thereby pollute and desecrate the land).

Imagine, if you can, terrified Jewish merchants cowering and shuttering their shops before a raindrop landed on their wretched heads.

Historically the Jews of Persia suffered greatly to hold on to being Jews.

Gay men and lesbians like Jews all over the Middle East and North Africa (and Europe of course), are familiar with histories of deeply humiliating discriminatory laws over many centuries. We were tolerated as long as we kept quiet.

Rabbi Wolpe's understanding of the suffering and marginalization of gay Jews in his synagogue led to his determination to include same-sex marriages within a traditional Conservative synagogue.

Yes, it stirred a "rebellion," but it was time to go beyond tolerance. And he did.