Last Sunday, our very own Lee Slobotkin, KI’s Creative Director, performed for our community in a beautiful concert filled with Broadway songs and contemporary music. (Thank you to our Women of KI and Adult Education Committee for making it happen!) It isn’t unusual for us to hear Lee singing or to have him make us laugh in the office, but what was really amazing was that he shared some of his own personal journey as a non-binary human in honor of the international week of Non-Binary Visibility (July 11-17).
He educated the audience that non-binary is an umbrella term for identities that are outside the gender binary, that are not solely male or female. Non-binary people may identify as an intermediate or separate third gender, identify with more than one gender, no gender (agender), or have a fluctuating gender identity (genderfluid). Gender identity is separate from sexual or romantic orientation. Non-binary people have a variety of sexual orientations.
In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, we learn just how important it is to speak up against the status quo, to educate, to advocate, and to be unified while doing it.
In a time when inheritance laws were all about male lineage, Zelophehad’s five daughters—Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah—decided to take the inheritance laws into their own hands. Zelophehad’s daughters took a stand, and they decided not to sit silently while their inheritance was taken away based on their gender.
“The daughters of Zelophehad, of Manassite family—son of Hepher son of Gilad son of Machir son of Manasseh son of Joseph—came forward. The names of the daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chieftains, and the whole assembly, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and they said: “Our father died in the wilderness, He was not of the faction, Korah’s faction, which banded together against God, but died for his own sins; and he left no sons. Why should our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son? Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen.” (Numbers 27:1-4)
The five sisters came forward, and stood before their leaders and were given an opportunity to plead their case. The message of this story is as relevant today as it was then. In order to make our communities more inclusive, we must empower ourselves to create change. It takes courage, energy, a sense of purpose, and more courage. Those who first forge a path for equality, like our heroes Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah, make it easier for those who come afterwards.
In this spirit of the daughters of Zelophehad, I want to thank Lee for forging a path for all of us to become open and educated. I also thank Ellen Sklaroff and our Inclusion Committee for always finding programming and more pathways to hear different voices and to be as inclusive as possible.
Lee shared with us the words of their friend Ty Deran: “We are all human and we all deserve to show up as our truest selves without pause. Embracing non-binary and trans people is not just about saying the right words or the correct pronouns. We take this deeper by seeing how this false binary lives within us and manifests in the world. Doing this work is how we see ourselves and our loved ones for who we truly are.”
Enjoy these clips from the concert! You can still purchase a ticket and stream the concert at KenesethIsrael.org/WKI
Keep an open heart to all, Shabbat Shalom
Cantor Amy E. Levy