Why all the rainbow flags? I wondered innocently, as we meandered through the Farmers’ Market in City Hall Park and then up Church Street, bumping into seemingly every gay friend I have, one after another, somehow unaware that today was the Vermont Pride Festival.
She took my hand and asked, “Is this ok?” I told her yes. The weird part for me was less about holding a woman’s hand and more that I was holding anyone but Greg’s hand.
Jump out of a plane, then move very, very slowly.
So we were just in time to stand among the fabulously gay masses in downtown Burlington–if a small city in Northern Vermont can have masses–and watch as drag queens and Bread and Puppet flamingos on crazy-tall stilts and friends from local churches paraded by. We caught lollipops and gave the free condoms to the young guys standing by our side.
A lone heckler with her young daughter stood to our left, shouting out one-liners: “If you’re a gay woman, then why would you want to be with a woman who looks like a man?” And later, leaning down to her kid: “No matter what they tell you, a boy is always a boy and a girl is always a girl.” At one point, I couldn’t help myself. I turned to her and said, “You know what? I think today it’s all about celebrating.” In other words, if you hate it here, then leave.
A little over eleven years ago, I moved to Burlington and quickly became immersed in my new role as director of UVM Hillel. I befriended a new colleague, a openly gay woman named Chris Leslie, a campus chaplain whose office was, like mine, housed in the Center for Cultural Pluralism. Vermont was in the throes of fighting for (and against) Civil Unions, and Chris asked me if I’d be willing to read something during Pride weekend, as a representative of the Jewish community, at an interfaith service at the Congregational Church. I said yes. And instead of searching for something relevant to read, I wrote something new for the occasion, a poem in the first-person plural.
I went on to spend the next decade identifying as an “ally” and friend of the LGBT community. Little did I know. So many kinds of family.
I revisited this poem today–and share it here with gratitude for so many friends in a community that has always welcomed me and made me feel safe and treasured.
Pink and yellow, shapes and stars,
in a land of stars and stripes, sister,
how can I make you whole?
Children’s games and hands through bars—
Earth is the place our Heaven goes.
Display your stars proudly, tear away the armbands now,
band together—our time keeps coming
and we’re bound to so many kinds of family.
We are out-Jews in a town of steeples,
out-lesbians in a sea of supporters,
all dressed up at the prom with the wrong date,
and I am a daughter of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.
Our children will know how
their mothers and fathers wore pink triangles
and yellow stars, played children’s games,
reached hands through bars,
they’ll know the stories of the shape we chose—
a circle expanding, breathing.
The breath of us goes up
and feeds the universe,
the breath of us is a yellow star,
the breath of us is a living hand,
and the homes they ransacked are filled with treasures again.
So tell me, brother, how to make you whole.
Tell me, sister, can we finally embrace?
Let me sing you Yiddish songs from my childhood,
let me give you this ring and yes,
call it a marriage, kiddushin,
holy, beautiful women—
our sons will be mensches, not martyrs.
Hold my hands through the bars and watch the bars disappear
and breathe with me the shapes in the air, the colors
in the sky, in our pink and yellow memories
of the setting sun and the rising sun,
and let us pray:
ברוך אתה ה’ א‑לוהינו מלך העולם, שהחינו וקימנו והגענו לזמן הזה
Blessed art Thou, Creator of the Universe,
For giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this day.