A Long Jewish Goodbye for Rabbi Lisa and Lezbtzn Tracy

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Larry Nathenson

How do you say “goodbye” and “thank you” and “we love you” to two amazing people who have served this community in so many ways for a quarter century? Even if they aren’t leaving town, and will be back soon as Rabbi and Lezbtzn Emeritae, you spend a whole month honoring and celebrating them. That’s what BCC did in June, 2019.

Sunday, June 2 was the date of our annual awards brunch, now known as the Vision Awards, at the lovely Guerin Pavilion of the Skirball Cultural Center. We had a record attendance (about 300), an impressive revenue total, and our thickest ever tribute journal at over 100 pages!

We usually give two or three awards each year, but this year Rabbi Lisa and Tracy were the only honorees. While Lisa has been our spiritual leader and a public face of BCC for 25 years, Tracy has had a profound impact largely behind the scenes — as an extraordinary fundraiser and event organizer, as a greeter and welcoming presence at so many BCC services and events, and as a photographer and archivist. We really did get a package deal when we chose Lisa as our rabbi 25 years ago!

Following a reception and silent auction full of temptations, the program centered around an interview of Lisa and Tracy by BCC member Jack Kelly. Jack’s incisive questions pried open secrets of Lisa’s and Tracy’s past, some embarrassing, some humorous, some enlightening. You can read excerpts from the interview elsewhere in this issue.

To keep us in suspense, the interview was interrupted periodically by other elements of the program, including special guest video tributes by former BCC Executive Director Felicia Park-Rogers, LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and Tori Osborn, Rabbis Janet and Sheldon Marder, and Lisa’s brother Rabbi Laurence Edwards. A compelling in-person tribute was the keynote address by Rabbi Benay Lappe. Rabbi Lappe thanked Lisa, Tracy, and the BCC community for inspiring and supporting her on her journey toward becoming an out queer rabbi in the Conservative movement and toward founding her own “queer yeshiva,” Svara. She also presented a case that the future of queer Judaism is the future of Judaism itself! You’ll want to read her address below, even if you were there to hear it in person.

There was also entertainment, headlined by our own Cantor Juval Porat with his original song “For the Better,” produced by Robb Torres with video created and edited by Pam Postrel. A music and dance tribute to Lisa and Tracy was performed by “Sister Schmaltz,” an ensemble of Tamara Kline, Cantorial Emerita Fran Chalin, Lauren Schlau, Pam Postrel, Estaire Press, and Davi Cheng, with artistic assistance by Pam Postrel and Kenna Love. Their numbers included “The Sound of Torah” (to the tune of “The Sound of Music”), “Make Every Meeting” (to the tune of “Climb Every Mountain”), and “We are BCC” (to the tune of “We are Family”). The BCC choir closed the event with Debbie Friedman and Savina Teubal’s “Lechi Lach,” accompanied by Cantor Porat, Tamara Kline, and Jeanelle LaMance.

The BCC members who worked hard to make this event a rousing success are too numerous to mention, but special thanks for creative effort go to the following (in addition to those mentioned above): Adam Kulbersh, emcee by video from Florida; Jonathan Dalin, designer of the tribute journal and event themes; Mark Farber, stage manager of the event and co-producer of the interview by Jack Kelly; and Rabbi Jonathan Klein, BCC’s executive director, who spent countless hours diligently organizing, coordinating, and managing the entire event.

The City of West Hollywood also joined in honoring Rabbi Lisa on Wednesday, June 12, when the city council bestowed upon her the Rainbow Key Award for her unique contributions to LGBT life in Southern California. In her acceptance speech, Rabbi Lisa reviewed the history of the past 25 years in the LGBT community, from mourning the losses from AIDS and anti-LGBT violence and legal defeats (Propositions 22 and 8) to celebrating numerous Pride parades and the legal victories of the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the joyous advent of marriage equality.

On a more personal level, she related an event from the previous weekend: “This past Sunday, as I have so many times over the past 25 years, I took part in that pre-parade Interfaith service, next to the CVS that always lets us plug in our speaker system so we might drown out the protesters with our messages of love and pride; and then I helped carry the BCC banner in the JQ Jewish contingent of the Pride Parade. The next day a mother posted on BCC’s Facebook page that her 10 year old daughter had recently came out as gender fluid, and they had attended Pride Shabbat at BCC this past Friday, and then at her daughter’s request, the Interfaith service on Sunday where I invited them to come join BCC in the Parade and where, she wrote, ‘you all made my daughter’s year!’” How very Rabbi Lisa!

As the month progressed, Rabbi Lisa was on the bimah as service leader or darshanit (sermon giver) at every Shabbat evening service and at the combined celebrations of Pride month and Shavuot on the weekend of June 7-9. And Tracy made her debut as a service leader on June 21.

On Sunday, June 23, thanks to the generosity of Stephen Sass and Steven Hochstadt, BCC rented the Laemmle Music Hall Theater in Beverly Hills for a private screening of Barbra Streisand’s 1983 film “Yentl.” With its portrayal of a young woman’s desire to engage in the study of Jewish texts alongside men, and her need to remain closeted as a man at the time (1904 in Eastern Europe), the film spoke to Lisa as a young Jewish woman and lesbian and helped to inspire her to pursue a career as a rabbi. And we are all so glad she did!!

The final weekend of June was filled with events honoring Rabbi Lisa and Tracy. The Ruach Chayim musical Shabbat service on June 28 featured Cantor Juval Porat and guest musicians Janice Markham on violin and JJ Ross on percussion, with 130 congregants in attendance. We were also treated to our final “nostalgic look back” talk by Stephen Sass, who movingly traced the history of BCC’s survivor Torah scroll and its reunion in 2005 with honorary BCC member Olga Grilli, z’l, who came from the same Czech town of Chotebor. Beginning in March, we heard a series of these thumbnail sketches of BCC’s history at Shabbat services, and you can read more about them (and excerpts from some of them) later in this issue.

Rabbi Lisa’s drash on June 28 combined the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in New York, often considered the beginning of the modern LGBT liberation movement (though there were earlier events in Los Angeles), with an interpretation of the week’s Torah portion, Shelach-lecha (from the Book of Numbers). This is the portion in which ten of the twelve spies returning from the Land of Israel report that the inhabitants are giants who live in fortified cities, and the spies must have seemed as grasshoppers in their eyes. The people’s reaction of fear and depression and longing for the security of Egypt condemns them to perish in the desert. Only the two optimistic spies, Joshua and Caleb, have sufficient faith that they will enter the Land with the younger generation. Rabbi Lisa skillfully compared this story to the LGBT pioneers of the Stonewall era who had the faith to resist police oppression and stand up for their rights. And speaking of the younger generation, Lydia Katz closed the service with a touching impromptu tribute to Lisa and Tracy on behalf of the first generation of children who grew up in BCC.

On Saturday, June 29, BCC held a “rabbis’ tisch” with Rabbi Lisa and her brother, Rabbi Laurence (Larry) Edwards, who was visiting from Chicago. Rabbi Larry taught about the reasons for some of the differences in the “canons” of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament, especially the different ordering of the books and the omission of some “apocryphal” books from Jewish and Protestant Bibles (including the Books of Maccabees, the story of Hanukkah).

Sunday, June 30, the final day of Rabbi Lisa’s and Lezbtzn Tracy’s extraordinary 25 years of service to our community, was marked by a picnic at the home of BCC member Dean Hansell and Eric Kugler in Hancock Park. Our interim rabbi for the next year, Alyson Solomon, was also introduced at this event (read her introductory column in this issue). After a brief program, there was an “open mic” for members to offer their gratitude and often tearful tributes to both Lisa and Tracy. It was a fitting conclusion to a month of celebration and a long Jewish goodbye. We look forward to their return, after a brief sabbatical, in their new emerita roles.

This article was taken from G’vanim Issue 47 vol 6, July/August 2019 Check out the full issue

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