Adi Alouf, Director of Student and Jewish Life

The Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) is hosting JCHS Pride Week, starting this coming Monday. The purpose of Pride Week is to celebrate, learn, advocate, and connect in community around LGBTQ+ identities and topics. Throughout the week, there will be opportunities to celebrate – through a Pride party with rainbow snacks and various arts and crafts activities. There will be opportunities for learning – discussions about LGBTQ+ issues and current events, as well as milk and cookies to complement a screening of the movie Milk. There will be opportunities for community and connection – Queer Mornings Tefillah will be open to all for the week, and there will be a ProCom panel where LGBTQ+ faculty and staff will share. 

I draw inspiration and intention for JCHS Pride Week as I read this week’s double Torah Portion, Behar/Bechukotai. Behar features the laws of shmita, one of the systemic, robust, and rather radical models for the equitable redistribution of power that the Torah outlines.

In the first five verses of Behar, God tells Moses to instruct Bnei Israel to observe shmita – a Sabbath for the land every seventh year. For six years, Bnei Israel may sow their fields, prune their vineyards, and gather in the yield. But in the seventh year, the sowing, pruning, reaping, and gathering shall cease. In the sixth verse of the parsha, though, we are told, “But you may eat whatever the land during its sabbath will produce—you, your male and female slaves, the hired and bound laborers who live with you, and your cattle and the beasts in your land may eat all its yield” (Leviticus 25:6).

I am struck by the fact that we can’t reap and gather, but can still eat the fruit that the land produces during the shmita year. And not only are we able to eat the fruit, but the text clarifies that everyone should have access to the fruit. Why is eating the fruit the land produces in its year of rest so different from human beings gathering and reaping in that same year? Shouldn’t we also be prohibited from eating the fruit?

In his commentary on Leviticus 25:6, the medieval Spanish scholar Ramban implies that we are allowed to eat the fruit of the land because we need it to sustain ourselves. ALL of us. Makes sense. Ramban explains that we may eat the fruit that “תוציא הארץ מעצמה בשביתתה,” or “she (the land) brings forth from herself, in her resting state.” What a beautiful image! 

This language helps me reconcile the subtle contradiction I sensed between the prohibition against reaping/gathering and the explicit permission to eat the fruits. When we sow, prune, reap, gather – we are the actors, the ones manipulating the land in order to produce something. In the shmita year, the land is resting from human hands. Thus, we are allowed to eat the fruit because it is something the land brings forth from herself, in her rest. 

What emerges when we remove our own means of control, and let something rest and truly flourish?

As we celebrate Pride at JCHS, let’s uplift and commit to the value of honoring the flourishing of individuals and communities without inserting ourselves and our judgments. Behar highlights the significance of and responsibility we have to let something truly be for itself. This week, and all weeks, let’s internalize this message of creating the conditions that allow people to “bring forth their fruits from themselves” in their moments of rest, in their moments of just being and existing.

Let us be inspired by this parsha to see and celebrate and honor what is already here, blooming. Instead of pursuing our natural drive to manipulate, add, or change, I am excited to just celebrate what and who is here – and what and who emerges when we are allowed to just be. 

When I was a student at JCHS, there was a GSA, but we didn’t have a Pride week, and I remember only one student being out. I myself was not out in high school. So this week, I look forward to taking a step back and celebrating JCHS’s “fruit” – its growth as a school community, as well as my own growth in relation to the JCHS community. 

I’m grateful to the student-led GSA that already exists in our school for planning Pride Week. I’m grateful that we have a Queer Mornings Tefillah, which will be open to all this coming week. I look forward to honoring the ProCom representation and pride that already is part of the fabric of our school in the panel, and to celebrating the LGBTQ+ students and their allies in this building. 

This week, let’s appreciate the opportunities and people around us – the fruit that emerges when we take a step back, let be, and celebrate. I am excited to see what we as a community bring forth from ourselves as we celebrate Pride.