Equality Forum: Q&A with Rabbi Nancy Wiener
An author and teacher on many issues within the Jewish faith, New York City-based Rabbi Nancy Wiener was instrumental in crafting a resolution on officiating ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples at the Central Conference of American Rabbis. She will be speaking at the Equality Forum’s Religious Colloquy this week and PW spoke with her about her various ventures and what she’ll bring to the EF.
PW: You’ve written books on relationship building. How do your teachings and writings correspond to the LGBTQ community?
Wiener: As I’ve written in my books, I have consciously considered the aspects of relationship building that are universal and those that are unique to different members of society. For example, learning how to effectively communicate with others is an essential building block for healthy and enduring relationships. For long-term committed relationships having friends, family and society honor the relationship and recognize it as the members of the couple do themselves can positively contribute to the strength and security the members of the couple find in each other and in their relationship. Participating in a religious ritual that is not recognized by the civil authorities is an option that straight couples consider, particularly elderly individuals who are considering the impact a change of status will have on pensions and social security benefits. A religious ritual with or without civil sanction has particular legal and social ramifications for the LGBTQ community that are explicitly outlined.
You’re also a board member of the T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. What made you get involved in human rights advocacy in North America in the first place? And where are the main areas you believe the issue of human rights could continue to use improvements in North America and beyond?
I was raised at a congregation that was outspoken and activist in the human rights arena. Taking to the streets and writing about injustices were a regular part of my childhood rabbi’s work. Attending rallies and hearing religious voices for change were a part of my formative years and led me to become involved in the anti-nuclear and anti-Apartheid movements when I was in College. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s I came out as a lesbian and became active in the gay/lesbian rights movement.
I sat on the board of an interfaith AIDS coalition in NY and volunteered as a grief counselor with the NAMES project, making myself available whenever the quilt (or part of it) was on display in the northeast. I sat on the Ad-Hoc Committee on Human Sexuality of the Reform Movement’s rabbinic organization, the CCAR, and helped draft materials and the resolution that officially allowed Reform rabbis to officiate at same-sex ceremonies. I helped write and gather materials for congregational GLBTQ inclusion and liturgies for same-sex marriage ceremonies. I wrote the first book, published by the Reform Movement, to include material specific to gay and lesbian couples in a book about Jewish marriage.
While GLBTQ issues remain near to my heart, the burning human rights issues in our country today are many: tax reform, immigration reform, fare wages, healthcare reform, prison reform. The economic disparity in our country is having a detrimental impact on the ability of the poorer sectors of our society to make their voices heard and to have their basic human rights honored.
Your group also works to preserve the human rights of Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East. How, if at all, are that conflict and the plight of LGBTQ communities related?
At the heart of both conflicts is a deep-seated fear and hatred of the other. In both situations, the fundamental humanity of an entire group is ignored, at best, or denied, at worst. Meaningful, sustained contact and communication can challenge stereotypes and result in real movement in both arenas.
The Equality Forum Summit begins tonight and goes through Sunday. Check out EqualityForum.com for information on panels and events. And be sure to pick up this week’s Philadelphia Weekly for more information, interviews and stories relating to the EF.