Obligated to Change
OpinionsRosh Hashanah 5779

Obligated to Change

Rebecca Stapel-Wax is the executive director of SOJOURN: Souther Jewish Resource Network for Gender & Sexual Diversity.

Rebecca Stapel-Wax is the executive director of SOJOURN.

Rebecca Stapel-Wax
Rebecca Stapel-Wax

We, at SOJOURN, are often asked, what does GSD mean? We reply that it’s an acronym for Gender & Sexual Diversity and explain we prefer it to LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) because we find it to be more inclusive.

Sometimes a person will look at us and say, “I’m never going to be able to learn all of these new terms.” We say, “Join the club!”

At this time of year, we are all instructed to humble ourselves, acknowledge we have “missed the mark,” that we are not perfect, and that we have room to grow. We all have different experiences, so we don’t automatically understand another person’s life. But what we can, should, and are mandated to do, is to try.

When we strive to move forward, we often look back.

SOJOURN’s work started in 2001, as The Rainbow Center, after the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta put out a request for proposals to serve a new demographic. However, at the time when they meant demographic, they really meant geographic. It took a second round of proposals to address the urgency our community’s needs.

Back then, the reaction to our services was tepid at best. There was no marriage equality – anywhere in the world. Hate crimes legislation and LGBT people serving in the military were a long way off. And the Conservative movement was five years away from accepting those who are openly gay and lesbians to be ordained. In Atlanta, we were still trying to be visible.

We’ve come a long way since then. Politics, the internet, the media, and our family and friends coming out have forced change. As SOJOURN, we now consult with schools, camps and work places on how to best support their children, faculty, parents, employees. There are 54 Jewish organizations that will march in the Atlanta Pride Parade on October 14 while also honoring SOJOURN’s founder, Rabbi Joshua Lesser, as a grand marshal. We speak to mental health clinicians and child advocates and ultimately serve thousands of people every year.

In addition to offering artist-in-residence Chana Rothman on November 10 and author/poet/Yeshiva University professor Joy Ladin on January 15, we will be honoring Bex Taylor-Klaus at SOJOURN’s 13th annual Purim off Ponce fundraiser on March 9.

Bex, who uses the pronouns she and they, is an actor and is an Atlanta native. At the age of 24, Bex has made a tremendous impact on youth and the adults that care about them. Bex has introduced characters that are gender fluid and non-binary. Bex has brought language into homes that weren’t familiar with these identities and has normalized them. Bex is living the life that we have all worked to support. And SOJOURN and many, many others have made Bex’s opportunities possible. Bex is using their platform to take us to the next level of societal change.

At this time of year, we are especially obligated to expand our thinking about what is true and right for other people. We are being judged on how we judge others. We may need to change our long-standing attitudes in order to give others the freedom to share their authentic selves. We don’t have to worry about our own redemption if we see people before us as they choose to express themselves.

The theme for Purim off Ponce’s 13th year is “Get Lucky.” Luck can be interchanged with being blessed. Our hope is that in 5779 we are all blessed with peace, love, and freedom of all kinds.

With our Purim off Ponce theme, this year we will embody the lyrics from the Daft Punk song, “Get Lucky:”

“Like the legend of the phoenix
All ends with beginnings
What keeps the planet spinning
The force of love beginning
We’ve come too far to give up who we are
So let’s raise the bar and our cups
to the stars.”

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