The Jewish Federation of Edmonton hosted a Pride Shabbat Picnic on Friday, June 23. As part of the event, Cas Allen, who was a summer student at the Federation in 2022, presented a D’Var Torah. It was so well received that we asked Cas if we could share it as this week’s Shabbat message since it is the last Friday of Pride Month. The following is what Cas said:
Shabbat Shalom everyone!
In this evening’s kabbalah Shabbat program, there is a poem called Twilight People; an ode to transgender Jews, especially to those who may not see their inherent worthiness as persons at the intersection of both a Jewish and queer identity. “May the sacred in-between of this evening suspend our certainties, soften our judgments, and widen our vision.” I want to highlight clearly the first part of this sentence because I believe it captures such a foundational concept that connects both Judaism and queer histories: the sacred in-between. The holy half-way. The beauty of finding shades of gray within blacks and whites. Some people may be afraid of these in-between because they have programmed us to view the world in binaries. Of course, this might make life easier, but it also enslaves us to a life so narrow in our own perceptions that we lose sight of the beauty in exploring uncharted territory. Rather than shy away from what is foreign, we should ask ourselves, “What can the in-between do to expand my world?” and, “How can these unanswered questions liberate my judgements?”
For me, this being queer is about and this makes Judaism such a uniquely special religion. As Jews, we allow ourselves to dip our toes into the unknown, to peek under the covers of supposed truths, and to ask ourselves the questions that may be harder to answer. We find worthiness in nuance and we seek relief in the existence of thousands of interpretations by thousands of different people. Even as Jewish youth, we sat in circles and listened as an elder recounted the many ways a passage could be interpreted; what this scholar says is not the same as what this scholar says, but here is where they overlap and here is where they separate and here is where you can decide on what YOU think is right.
As a queer person, I am in constant refuge from the binaries imposed on me. It does not constrain this to just gender; there are plenty of areas within life that go unnoticed as strictly separated and unquestioned. But I choose every day to push those aside. I stand firmly at the in-between–at the cross-section of known and unknown–and I embrace what this space has granted me. My vision is less tunneled and my mind remains open to the thousands of possibilities that life offers. I accept and welcome my devout rejection of a singular definition. I allow myself to enter the world with curiosity rather than judgement. How freeing it is to enjoy life without constantly adhering to the ‘supposed’ and the ‘should.’ I see the beauty in an identity that cannot be constrained by a word or categorized by another, and I thank God for placing me in-between. The in-between adds beauty to my life. I would see fewer colours. I would be numb to the joys of a life without constraint. I would imagine fewer possibilities. I would view people with less empathy. This is what the in-between opens up to me.
Jewish people, queer people, and every person must ask themselves what the in-between can do for them. What could happen if, even for one second, we embraced the worthiness of each other as complicated, complex, messy, and nonbinary beings? What could we achieve within these in-betweens as they bind us together through their ability to expand and open our minds to the wondrous nuances of the world? “We cannot always define; we can always say a blessing.” To me, this is the most important message from the poem. While we may not always be able to categorize, to label, to position perfectly at the centre of the line, we will always be able to bless each other with prayer. At the in-between, there is community and where there is community, there is worthiness. As groups of people who know the pain in marginalization, oppression, and ostracization, we understand the importance of finding safety and belonging. Living in a world where you are told you are wrong, where you are condemned for deficiencies that do not exist, where you are not only left out but completely cut off, this moment right here–this act of joining under one goal of inclusivity–is what community is about. We are not wrong. We are not to blame. Each of us is worthy and capable and beautiful, just as we are. As we sit here now, at the intersection of Judaism and pride, some of us both, some of us neither, we can find strength through the in-between. Here, as we honour those at the transcendence of category, we can find hope. Here, as Shabbat wraps her warm embrace over this community, perhaps we can look at each other in a new light and accept how wonderfully beautiful our in-betweens are.