This post was written by Rabbi Michael Bernstein, rabbi of Gesher L'Torah, and sent as a message to his congregation to commemorate National Coming Out Day, which coincided this year with Sukkot.
Leaving what is familiar. Putting yourself in a place that is vulnerable. Proudly displaying the symbols of who you are. Coming out. These are the key elements of the celebration of Sukkot, the annual festival during which the Israelites were commanded to dwell in outdoor booths sheltered by roofs made from branches and leaves. On Sukkot, we build these special shelters right outside our homes, decorate them with pride, and joyfully eat our meals and say our prayers in this spaces that generally is in the public view. In this way Sukkot is the perfect backdrop to another annual tradition, National Coming Out Day, a day to celebrate being open about sexual orientation and gender identity as well as to promote a society of safety and dignity for all people whomever they love and however they experience and express themselves.
Already this week has made clear the power and profundity of making oneself known to others and being unafraid to be open and honest about oneself. Most impactfully, the Supreme Court waived an opportunity to weigh in against rulings allowing same sex marriage in several states, bringing at the time the number of states recognizing these marriages to thirty and pointing the way toward even more states legislating marriage equality. Earlier this week news broke on a smaller scale when a friend and colleague named Gil Steinlauf revealed to his prominent synagogue in Washington D.C. that he identified as a gay man and, with full support of his congregational leadership was continuing as spiritual leader even as he would be divorcing his wife after 20 years of marriage. Rabbi Steinlauf's courageous disclosure was heartbreaking in a personal way and the road ahead of him is not easy. However, his honesty to himself and his community may pave the way for many more to grapple appropriately with both the challenges of societal assumptions in general and the unique blessings of each person's own identity.
The Sukkot festival teaches us many lessons, but what they have in common, as emphasized in the language used in Leviticus 23:43, is bringing awareness, lmaan yeidu , that in being brought out from Egypt we were caused to dwell in shelters. The very fact that we celebrate in the fall and not as part of the spring celebration of the Exodus is a way of drawing attention to something out of the ordinary. And yet even though we only pay such attention to the lessons of Sukkot on these days, these lessons about faith, vulnerability and pride in who we are apply throughout the year. So too with National Coming Out Day. What is brought to the fore on October 11th - a focus on the significance of being out and proud of who each of us is and how each of us loves - should be a source of inspiration on any day, wherever we find ourselves.