Facebook posts remind me of subway commuters. They’re crammed together, shuttling down our screens with little elbow room; yet, they don’t interact. They have nothing to do with one another.
A cat video, for example, will arrive stacked on top of a photo of a first attempt at making strudel. The cat and the strudel have nothing to say to one another. They’ve been shoved together by chance, they’re relationship of consequence to no one.
Then again, every once in a while, something magical happens. Two posts arrive on Facebook, stacked one on top the other, and though they have no intrinsic relationship, the posts' juxtaposition adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Two isolated missives blend into an accidental, beautiful message.
Earlier this week, my wife Sara posted a picture of our sukkah, which we’d put up with our kids the day before. Jewish tradition calls for families to erect a sukkah, a ritual hut, outside their homes during the week long festival of Sukkot. For one week, weather permitting, we eat our meals in the sukkah. We hang out in the sukkah. We even sleep in the sukkah (with air mattresses, of course!).
When I worked in the pulpit in Boston, Sara and I had purchased a giant, 10 by 20 foot sukkah in order to host my congregation at a Sukkot open-house. When we moved to Reston, we shlepped the sukkah with us, happily discovering that our sukkah fit perfectly on our new back porch. So Sara snapped a photo of the sukkah and posted it to Facebook. The way people do.
The same day that Sara's post appeared, I checked my Facebook again to find a new post stacked on top of her photo. The post contained an article about my colleague, teacher and friend Rabbi Gil Steinlauf, who serves as the senior rabbi of Washington D.C.’s largest Conservative synagogue - Adas Israel Congregation.
Gil had just written a beautiful letter to his congregation. In the letter, he comes out to his community - “I have come to understand that I am gay,” he writes.
“The truth is,” he continues, “that like anyone else, I have no choice but to live with the reality, or personal Torah, of my life.” The letter also shares the news that Gil and his wife have decided to divorce. “[We] can no longer remain married, despite our fidelity throughout our marriage and our abiding friendship and love,” Gil explains.
I clicked back from the article to my Facebook page. Someone had commented on Sara’s sukkah photo, placing it on top of the article about Gil. I looked from the sukkah to Gil’s picture, then back to the sukkah again.
A sukkah, with flimsy walls and a thatched roof, serves as an open tent. One doesn’t need an invitation to visit a neighbor’s sukkah. A sukkah, by design, is a structure of inclusion, openness, flexibility, friendship, and joy. Judaism even has a nightly Sukkot ritual called Ushpizin, where we welcome the spirits of our ancestors into our sukkah, along with “all other exalted guests.” Ideally, building a sukkah transforms us into consummate hosts, warm and welcoming to all.
I believe Gil was able to courageously show his cards, both to himself and to his community, because his community - Adas Israel, the D.C. Jewish community, and the greater D.C. area - provided him a sukkah. Gil had faith that we’d welcome him to our open tent, that he would always have a place at our table, regardless of his sexual orientation.
What a lovely coincidence, too, that Gil’s news arrived on the same day that Virginia, the state I now call home, struck down its ban on same-sex marriage. Clearly, our sukkah grows wider and more expansive with every passing day.
As Gil and his family wade through what must be an overwhelming amount of press and social media, I hope they will stumble upon the Facebook image that greeted me - a picture of Gil stacked together with a sukkah, a tent big enough to hold him, his family, and countless others who have taken the risk to live their Torah and their truth.