God did, in fact, create Adam and Steve. I know because I saw them in person.
This Rosh Hashanah, for the second year in a row, I went to a High Holy Days service given by CBST, an independent, Reconstructionist-inspired Jewish congregation that was especially created by and for the LGBT (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender) community.
“But Jon, you’re not gay.”
“Lucky for me, neither is my girlfriend. Your point?”
Since CBST must, by definition, have an open and welcoming philosophy, it has grown to attract many straight Jews who are disaffected with the sometimes intolerant, often subtly unwelcoming attitudes of the more longstanding branches of Judaism, but who still want to maintain a tie to their religious tradition – to be out Jews, as it were.
“But Jon, you don’t believe in God.”
“Never have, never will. Your point?”
CBST, at least at its huge High Holy Days services held at Town Hall and the Javits Center in New York City, welcomes agnostics and nonbelievers. The impish Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum is a delightful cut-up, and the music is, so to speak, divine. The whole thing is radically different from the hideously bland, only glancingly Jewish Reform synagogue I grew up attending. (“Hardly distinguishable from church,” my mother used to complain.) At CBST you can sing prayers and psalms in major keys! Major keys! Mother of Samuel, do these people even know they’re Jewish?
However, just like Reform and Conservative services, CBST events include a segment in which a lay member begs the crowd for money to keep the congregation going. At my old synagogue this affair was always frightfully painful for both the beggar and the beggees, but not at CBST.
Last night the aforementioned Adam (Berger) and Steve (Frank), a committed and now married couple, did the solicitation. In the process they told the funny and touching story of the genesis of their relationship, how they came to join CBST, and what it meant to them. There they were in the flesh, the very Adam and Steve who so frighten the small-minded mushheads of the religious right – friendly, happy, to all appearances in love, and about as unthreatening as a down comforter in the wintertime.
“But Jon – you’re such a romantic, iconoclastic loner with your hair blowing in the wind that rolls over the heath like a sigh. What are you doing at Town Hall — and at the Javits Center next week for Yom Kippur — with a bunch of observant Jews?”
“Heck if I know. Your point?”
Actually, I do know: I go because my girlfriend goes, but I’m glad to. If there were no other reason, the music really is beautiful. Funnily enough, while waiting for the service to begin I was flipping through a “magazine” Michelle Shocked sent me. It’s merely an elaborate promotion for her new live CD and some reissues, but in it she writes about being inspired to get religion by attending gospel services. “If you follow the trail from rock â€™nâ€™ roll, it always leads you back to the blues, sweet soul music and finally to the churches and gospel music,” Shocked writes.
In some way that I don’t understand, tracing the roots of the music she loved brought her to the point of “living by the Good Book.” That’s just going backwards, as far as I’m concerned, but it does attest to the power and importance of music.
Sometimes, even a CBST service feels like going backwards in spite of all the social maturity, liberal attitudes, and major keys. (Spotted in the crowd: Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman.) A formative superstition still lurks in the heart of the temple. Without it, the title and first paragraph of this article would make no sense. They do not, in fact, make sense. Nobody but Adam and Steve’s parents actually “created” Adam and Steve. Nobody “created” Lucy, or the oceans, or the Earth or the Sun or the cosmos.
But people do create things, and as human creations go, CBST is a pretty nice place to hang your yarmulke.