For the Jewish community, Yom Kippur is a moment for renewal, an invitation to step forward without the weight of our transgressions following behind. This Day of Atonement challenges us to own our mistakes, acknowledging where we have fallen short in the past year and asking God for the chance to improve in the coming one. The evaluation and reimagining of oneself requires enormous personal strength, and it is therefore quite suitable that in 2016, Yom Kippur will be joined by another moment about renewal: National Coming Out Day.
Coming out is often one of the most challenging, terrifying, and life-altering experiences an LGBTQ person faces in their lifetime. Regardless of whether the process is one of pain or ease, to come out is to surrender the privilege of a heterosexual life, and for many people, that is not only difficult – it’s impossible.
On Yom Kippur, we read a passage from the book of Deuteronomy that involves choice. The Israelites are told that in order to enter the sacred land, they must keep God’s commandments and abandon all sin. If they choose to walk in God’s light, they will be blessed in the land of Israel which they are about to enter, but if they do not, they will surely perish.
“See, I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity” (Deuteronomy 30:15).
God presents the options, but encourages the Israelites to pick prosperity over adversity.
“Choose life…For thereby you shall have life and shall long endure upon the soil that the Lord your God swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give to them.” (Deuteronomy 30:20)
The Jewish Day of Atonement and National Coming Out Day both acknowledge this same choice: Move forward into a space of opportunity and growth or remain trapped within perils of the past and fears of the future? The choice seems obvious enough, but the path to renewal is far from easy. Choosing “life and prosperity” requires us to recognize our previous misgivings, but it also challenges us to accept whatever consequences lie ahead. Deciding to move into the new Jewish year through repentance and coming out of the closet are both very difficult choices, for they rely upon our faith in God and in ourselves.
As Yom Kippur and National Coming Out Day approach, we are challenged to take advantage of the opportunities they hold. We look at our past both individually and communally, and are given the chance to craft a better way. Even as we acknowledge the challenges and complexities of some of our less inclusive texts, these holidays give us the opportunity to look back at how far we have come in our journey towards acceptance and inclusion – not just as individuals, but as communities and a broader society.
As we begin the year 5777, let us commit to putting greater inclusion, equality, and acceptance of all God’s children front and center.
Check out the Religious Action Center’s transgender inclusion guide and this text study connecting civil rights with LGBTQ equality, along with High Holiday guides on the environment, criminal justice and hunger here.