Remarks at the "Grieving Orlando" Interfaith Memorial Service, sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Sonoma County and the "Of One Soul" Campaign.
I am Reb Irwin Keller, and I serve as rabbi here at Congregation Ner Shalom. It was expected that I would bring you some Jewish angle, or a Jewish container, to hold the difficult-to-absorb-and-sort-through events of Saturday night in Orlando.
But this week it hasn't been the Jewish part of my neshomeh, of my soul, that has been grieving the hardest, but the queer part.
And it hasn't come from the place you might expect: the "it could've been me" place or the "my community under attack" place.
It's this. These 49 who were killed and the 50-plus who were injured and the hundreds who were traumatized, they were, they are, so young, and they are, in a way, our children. They belong, of course, to their parents and their families. But they are ours too.
Because I think about my generation and the generations of queer people on either side. I think of our years of struggling and marching and coming out and rallying and dancing and civil disobediencing. I think of the mind-numbing number of deaths we suffered in an epidemic. And through all of that, we believed that by our labor and our suffering and our defiance we would make a better world for the young people who would come after us. That one day young people would be able to come out without fear of rejection; they'd be able to work in their chosen professions; they'd be able to live where they want and love who they want and be who they want. They could find love and even get married. And above all, they'd be safe. All of this was meant to be our legacy to them; our gift to the young people who would follow. Yes, we were doing those things for ourselves too, but also for them.
And now, we find we can't protect our children. We changed the world or at least the country but we didn't change it enough. Not yet at least. We didn't root out homophobia. Not really. We got laws. And we got television shows. But we failed to make the world safe for these kids. And this has pained me all week.
Each one of these young people - the ones who died and the ones who survived - is, was, a light. A star. Each one is, was, tzelem Elohim - the image of God, in God's most fabulous, beautiful, unexpected, queer aspect. Each of them was, is, a nitzotz, a spark of light, a blaze of color, carefully placed glitter on the Divine countenance and the Divine countenance underneath it.
May the Shekhinah gently hold these 49 precious souls in the shelter of Her wings. May all who were harmed be healed. May all who grieve find comfort. And may those of us who remain prepare a better future, where all of our young people will shine like stars — bright and inextinguishable.