by Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback
I remember the first time I took my daughters to an amusement park. It was the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. My girls were about three, five, and seven years old. My wife had a work commitment so I had them all to myself. Roller coasters and ice cream seemed like a good idea.
I remember counting the girls again and again to make sure I hadn’t lost one. They each wanted to go on different rides, buy different souvenirs, and consume different forms of processed sugar. So I kept counting them. One daughter, two daughters, three daughters — we’re good. One, two — wait, where’s the third one?!?! There she is! We’re good… After a day of fun and a few moments of anxiety, we made it home — together. One, two, three — four…
The Book of Numbers, which we began last Shabbat, begins with counting. God instructs Moses:
שְׂא֗וּ אֶת־רֹאשׁ֙ כָּל־עֲדַ֣ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל…
“Take a census of the whole Israelite community…” (Numbers 1:2)
But the truth is, not everyone is counted. This Biblical census is only for men age twenty and up, those who can bear arms. My three daughters wouldn’t have been included.
Three millennia later, our Jewish community is much more inclusive, especially in congregations like ours. Men and women read from Torah and wear kippot and tallitot (and t’fillin sometimes, too). Women and men lead our community as cantors and rabbis, heads of school, executive directors, and educators. Men and women serve on our Board and lead us as our Board Presidents. Here, women and men count.
But counting is not only a matter of gender — and gender is not only binary. Here at Stephen Wise, we want everyone to feel counted–no matter whom they love or how they identify. We welcome and celebrate LGBTQ+ people as leaders, members, staff, and guests. We tell their stories amongst the myriad stories of Wise.
Still – there is much more to be done to ensure that “the whole Israelite community” is counted. It’s work we need to do together: clergy, educators, lay leaders, and members working in partnership to think about how we can live our core value of inclusivity in the most elevated way so that Stephen Wise Temple will be a place where everyone (regardless of gender, sexuality, economic status, physical, emotional, or mental ability) feels like she/he/they count. If you’d like to help or if you have suggestions you wish to share, email us at Inclusivity@WiseLA.org.
One, two, three — we can’t lose a single soul. We won’t leave anyone behind.
June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Month, officially commemorating the 1969 Stonewall uprising in Manhattan. Learn more here.