Close up of columns in the dome of the US national capitol building with flag waving at half-mast at sunset
Close up of columns in the dome of the US national capitol building with flag waving at half-mast at sunset
Photo by ElevenPhotographs on Unsplash

It happened the moment those four hundred lamps, representing the 400,000 American lives lost to the COVID-19 virus, illuminated the reflecting pool between the Washington monument and the Lincoln Memorial. I exhaled. I wept. I dropped my shoulders. I closed my eyes. I felt as though I had been received in a comforting hug, or been offered the gentle hand of a loving and supportive friend. Into my head popped a verse from Tehillim (Psalms): “One may lie down weeping at nightfall; but at dawn, joy” (30:6).

Don’t get me wrong: The Biden Administration’s National COVID Memorial did not solve anything. Not infection rates, not the ableism that treats people as disposable, not the refusal to wear masks, not systemic discrimination. …


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Our Sages taught: The Hanukkah lamp — it is a commandment to place it at the door of one’s house, on the outside. And if one lives in an attic, place it in a window adjoining the public area. (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 21a)

Placing a Hanukkah menorah in the front window of one’s house isn’t a way to compete with the Joneses next door and their electricity-guzzling Christmas light display. No, it is a rabbinic mandate. It is how we fulfill our obligations as members of the Jewish people celebrating an ancient, but relatively minor, holiday.

The story of Hanukkah is complex, and its central characters, the Maccabees, aren’t necessarily the benevolent heroes we make them out to be. At its core, Hanukkah is a story about the universal and the particular, and battle staged between the two. From the fundamentalist Maccabees, who criticized not only the king Antiochus and his rules, but their own Jewish neighbors who assimilated, adopting Hellenist culture and custom, to the Jews of Enlightenment-age Europe, who put their faith in lofty but ultimately flawed and exclusionary notions of “liberty, equality, and fraternity.” Perhaps the most well-known such theory is the declaration of nineteenth-century Russian Jewish thinker Judah Leib Gordon: “Be a Jew in your home and a man outside of it.” …


Queer Wisdom for Pandemic Holidays

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Photo by Fabio Sangregorioon Unsplash

In the beforetimes, we took the subway everywhere, and one day, weary from walking and playing on the HighLine, my child and I sat on a bench beneath the city, waiting for our train. Suddenly, he reached over to me, crying. “That person touched my hair,” he said, sounding scared and uncertain, pointing to a young woman sitting next to us.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Did you just touch my son’s hair?” The woman smiled and nodded, adding, “It’s gorgeous!”

Everything in my upbringing as a “polite” white Catholic girl told me to smile and brush this off. Yet, next to me, my child sat, confused and crying. This complete stranger had violated his physical boundaries. It didn’t really matter what this individual’s intentions might have been, and it certainly didn’t matter that her unsought-for opinion about my son’s hair was positive. …


tiny heart-shaped, confetti-shaped, and circular candy sprinkles in trans pride colors, including pink, blue, and white
tiny heart-shaped, confetti-shaped, and circular candy sprinkles in trans pride colors, including pink, blue, and white
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

“The future is female.” “The future is Black.” “The future is nonbinary.” “The future is queer.”

These assertions challenge the status quo by insisting that the under-valued and devalued in our society will survive and thrive. These slogans do not preach revenge or represent so-called reverse discrimination. To insist that the future will lift up female, Black, queer, nonbinary lives embodies a utopian vision that critiques the present moment. We imagine a future that is otherwise.

In many ways, imagining a utopian future where power balances among the former haves and have-nots is a deeply Jewish project, one God asserts over and over in the Torah. The Jubilee year, for example, erases debt in a 49-year cycle. The line of King David, from which tradition predicts a Messiah will arise, originates with Ruth, a member of the much-hated Moabite tribe who joins the Jewish people. Over and over again in the narrative tales in Bereshit, the book of Genesis, we read of younger sons supplanting elder sons, carrying the birthright of leadership in unexpected ways. Barrenness and disadvantage birth blessing and bounty. In this week’s portion, we read of Rebecca’s great distress as she endures difficulty in conceiving and a challenging pregnancy; yet, simultaneously, God reasserts the promise: “I will make your heirs as numerous as the stars of heaven, and assign to your heirs all these lands, so that all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your heirs” (Bereshit 26:4). …


After the elections are over, your neighbors will still be your neighbors.

While I understand the impulse to soothe our election anxiety with the notion of “getting along” with our neighbors, ultimately his vapid, “tolerant middle” sentimentality ignores and erases the real problems our country is facing, and must solve. Why? Because some of my neighbors do not believe I have the right to be married to my wife, or legal parent to my children. And by “some of my neighbors” I actually mean “some members of my family of origin.” These same neighbors and family members, people who “love” me, do not see the connection between voting for Trump and leaving my family structurally and legally vulnerable. …


Close up of a wrist wearing a read thread bracelet with beach pebbles in the background
Close up of a wrist wearing a read thread bracelet with beach pebbles in the background

This sermon was inspired by the 2007 lecture “The Margarine and the Herring: Jewish Conceptions of Hope” by my teacher and colleague, Rabbi Michael Marmur, PhD., and was delivered as part of Rosh Hashanah Reform Morning Services at New York University, 5780 (2019). I post it here without revision.

Like many Jewish homes, our apartment has lots of mezuzahs: A hand-inked scroll with the words of the Shema prayer rolled tightly and tucked into decorative cases affixed to every doorway (except the bathrooms). The one in our living room archway is white, with one red slash of paint running down its length. …


two word bubbles on a blue background, one with a bird and one with a bee
two word bubbles on a blue background, one with a bird and one with a bee

The Birds, the Bees, the Ark, and Why Noah Needed to Have “The Talk”

“Don’t let boys touch you down there” is what I remember of “The Talk” with my mother. Dad never, ever got involved in that conversation. I got most of my information about sex, pleasure, and relationships from pop culture (the film Ghost and the song “Darling Nikki” figure heavily in my memory). …


White circle surrounded by concentric circles in increasingly darker shades of gay fading to black
White circle surrounded by concentric circles in increasingly darker shades of gay fading to black

Adapted from my sermon for Congregation B’nai Israel, Little Rock, Arkansas, Shabbat Bereshit 5781

וַיַּ֧רְא אֱלֹהִ֛ים אֶת־הָא֖וֹר כִּי־ט֑וֹב […]׃

And God saw that the light was good […] (Bereshit 1:4).

Throughout the story of the beginning of everything, we hear those words repeated, וַיַּ֧רְא אֱלֹהִ֛ים […] כִּי־ט֑וֹב, Va’yar Elohim […] ki tov, “And God saw […] that it was good.”

As it does in English, the Hebrew verb “to see” also means “to recognize,” “to realize.” In order to see, in order to recognize, in order to realize, we have to notice.

And so, God takes a moment to notice, every once in a while. Of course, God doesn’t take an official break until Shabbat, but throughout the process of creation, God takes a moment each day to breathe, metaphorically, and to notice. …


Roiling waves of ocean water with superimposed text reading “feel your feelings”
Roiling waves of ocean water with superimposed text reading “feel your feelings”

“Well, I woke up this morning.”

My beloved friend and colleague often offered this response to whatever version of “How are you?” anyone ever presented. Healthy perspective, a gratitude developed in part through his time as a US Army Captain, serving tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He knows too many people who no longer wake up each morning. His reply was completely reasonable, even admirable, and yet it used to send me into a rage, one that I recognize now was rooted in self-judgment and social stigmas surrounding mental health challenges.

What about people who are depressed? What about people in mourning? What about victims of trauma, both acute and the ongoing kind that results from systemic racism, or sexism, or homophobia, or transphobia? What about healthcare workers, including cleaning staff and chaplains and security guards, who go to work every day knowing that far too many people in their communities refuse to take precautions against COVID? What if I wake up in the morning dreading making it through the rest of the day? Does that make me a bad person? …


Rainbow flag with star of David in center
Rainbow flag with star of David in center

“I'm watching the Yom Kippur hillel live stream and a queer rabbi just said we were loved pls lmk why I wanted to cry”

This tweet fills my heart and nourishes my soul. Partly because I was the Prayer Weaver (yes, that’s the title on my actual contract) for the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Jewish services this young college student describes. Partly because it was my beloved friend and colleague who offered this message of love. Partly because queer inclusion matters to me, as a human being and as a rabbi.

But mostly because it affirms that at least one more person in this world knows they belong.

My favorite definition of “belonging” comes from queer theorist Elizabeth Freeman: “the longing to ‘belong,’ […] to long to be bigger not only spatially, but also temporally.” …

About

Rabbi Nikki DeBlosi (she/her)

queer belonging. sex positivity. progressive lifecycle. inclusive judaism. weekly wednesday 8 am edt meditative jewish practice on insta live @ravnikkid

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