People are hard to hate up close. Move in.

It was Brené Brown who said “people are hard to hate up close. Move in.” It comes from her book Braving the Wilderness which is all about being an outlier and having the courage to be who you are and stand for what you believe to be right. I think it’s required reading for secular/cultural Jews.
 
I sometimes feel I have to “brave the wilderness” out here as a rabbi who does things just a little differently than some other rabbis. I write this on an evening after officiating a same sex wedding. The father of one of the grooms said “so, you must be a special rabbi.” I don’t know whether he was referring to the fact that I am a woman, or that I was officiating a wedding between two men, or whether I was doing secular blessings instead of the traditional ones. What is clear is that I’m unlike all the other rabbis he has ever known. I’m proud to be “special” in any/all of those ways. But my reply to him was “we are all special in our own way but I’m just a regular rabbi.” We need to start normalizing rabbis who are women, officiate at same-sex weddings, and do secular blessings. We’re here and we’ve been here a long time. Let’s get over it, already. But for now, my colleagues and I are out here “braving the wilderness” of being seen as just a little different or, perhaps, “special.” 
 
My colleagues will also feel the familiarity of the feeling that we are not accepted by other Jews/rabbis/Jewish institutions because we are secular/cultural Jews, because we are pro-intermarriage, because we will always side with science/justice/goodness over religion when they conflict. I was recently rejected from the Toronto Board of Rabbis, for example, despite meeting their stated requirements and... get this... they won’t even tell me why! Sometimes being excluded is an icky feeling. I am something of a people-pleaser, so it’s hard for me to be an outlier. But what is there to do but to be myself and to stand up for what I believe in? Ultimately, their rejection of me is much more a comment on their own fears/insecurities than anything I’m doing. That’s always the truth about those who hate or are made nervous by others. It’s not about the “others” at all. 
 
I was recently interviewed about being a rabbi who performs intermarriages and is intermarried myself. I suggested that intermarriage is a lot like gay marriage. Many people are homophobic their whole lives but then get over it when their own kid comes out. Now that it’s much more common to know folks who are gay, more people are cool with it. Intermarriage is the same dynamic. People fear it will lead to doom and gloom, the end of Jewish practice in that family, the end of Judaism as we know it. But then their kids intermarry, or their cousin, or their best friend, and the sky does not fall. Many, many people have come around on the intermarriage question simply because they now know and love people who are intermarried.
 
Brené Brown reminds us that it’s easy to hate people in the abstract. It’s harder to hate the people we know, the people we actually love. The more we lead with love, the more we widen our own understanding and ability to accept others, the less others will feel like others, like outliers. So, if there is a group of people, or someone who pushes the envelope for you, someone who makes you nervous, ask yourself, is this a reflection of them or of you? Can you open or soften or seek to know their side a little more/better? Is there room for just a little more love? People are hard to hate up close. Move in. 

Till next week,
Denise