Joy Is Essential to the Work of Resistance

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum demonstrating on behalf of the DACA Dreamers at the US Capitol on January 17, in a protest that led to her arrest among a group of 80 Jewish leaders. | COURTESY OF CBST

“Don’t postpone joy,” Edie Windsor was well known to say.

In a time in which despicable racism spews from the mouth of the occupant of the White House and motivates policies of the government of the United States, it is easy to despair and feel crushed by the ugliness of it all.

In these times joy itself is an act of political resistance!

“It is not your job to finish a task that needs doing, but that doesn’t excuse you from starting,” an ancient Jewish saying teaches us. It is too easy to allow the sense of being overwhelmed to prevent us from feeling like small actions or individual actions make a difference that matters.

PERSPECTIVE: Spiritual Activism

In these times, it is an act of spiritual resistance to not let them win by giving into despair.

On the Friday after the 2016 election, I woke up and thought to myself, “I am feeling completely distraught. As a lesbian, as a Jew, as a human being. But on Fridays, Muslims gather for communal Jumma prayers — what can it possibly feel like to be a Muslim-American today? There is now a president-elect who started his campaign with an anti-Muslim speech, and in campaign speech after campaign speech he targeted Muslims — what can it possibly feel like to be a Muslim-American in America today?”

I called some of my colleagues and told them to meet me at the mosque at NYU, with whom I had a relationship, and we stood outside and handed out red roses and held handmade signs that said, “Jewish New Yorkers support our Muslim Neighbors.” We were thanked and kissed, and many asked to take selfies with us.

We have had people from the our synagogue — the LGBTQ synagogue of New York City — standing outside the mosque every Friday since. Does it change the world? We walk away feeling like we have interrupted a narrative of hate, and we hope the Muslims come to prayer feeling the love of Jewish LGBTQ New Yorkers. It is a year later, and the relationships have deepened — and Trump brought us together.

Do something on a regular basis — every week, do something other than posting outrage on Facebook. Get out and meet others who are engaged in building a future.

In response to the most recent vile and vulgar insulting of immigrant America, there are many demanding a clean DREAM Act from Congress. For the first time, a national gathering of Jewish organizations and individuals gathered at the US Senate on January 17 to demand justice for DACA folks and to stand with immigrants. More than 80 of us, rabbis and leaders and activists in the Jewish community, were arrested demanding a DREAM Act. I am proud to stand with those of us who refuse to accept this as normal, who refuse to look the other way, who refuse to become inured to the outrage.

Our Friday night services have become a refuge. Not because we escape, but because we sing and pray and laugh and feel joy. We nourish our souls so that we have strength for the work we have to do.

“Never again” means never again for anyone. We Jews know what happens when democracies are dismantled and bigotry and hatred flourish in the silence of bystanders. Don’t be bystanders, engage, and engage with joy and determination and love.

Don’t postpone joy.

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum recently celebrated 25 years of leadership of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, New York’s LGBTQ synagogue, located at 130 W. 30th Street.