Sign In Forgot Password


06/19/2020 03:43:19 PM


Sylvana Trabout

Copy from D'var Torah 6/19/20  

Today is my father’s Yahrzeit. He died when he was the age I now am; I, his first born am the first of a generation born in the United States. My father was born and raised in North Africa, the son of Sephardic Jews from Turkey and Greece. He went as a young man to Palestine and to the birth of the State of Israel. A man of words, he was fluent in 7 languages, and a student of history, culture and justice without the benefit of formal education. My father was a complicated man impacted by the times in which he lived.

My mother accompanied her mother to Turkey in 1950 so that my grandmother could see her own mother one last time. From there, they went to Israel where my parents were casually introduced to each other at a café. After 2 weeks, my mother and grandmother came home to NY. They returned to Israel a few months later where my parents married and began the 6-month process of applying for and awaiting permission for my father to come to the US.

It was essential for my father to become a citizen of his adopted country and to “fit in” to achieve the American dream. His connection to his birthplace remained throughout his life and he reminded us every Pesach of being freed from slavery in Egypt. It was personal for him and his experiences. The re-telling of our enslavement as a people and freedom through multiple plagues during biblical times is recalled in Jewish homes annually until this day. I often heard as a child how it is important to learn about and understand history, lest we repeat the sins of the past.

For many years, I said that I would not have “come out” had my father lived. He was not accepting of LGBTQ people in his family, although he was much more open with friends and acquaintances. Throughout my childhood, I was naïve in knowing about, let alone understanding sexual orientation. I was a teenager when the Stonewall riots erupted. Information came from the evening news and the local newspapers filled with the biases of the time. In truth, the bar was a gathering place for gay people to be open and social. Many were brown and black trans people trying to escape prejudice and hatred through many layers of bias in our culture. History did not record the truth about Stonewall until years later when LGBTQ people of color with lived experience spoke up and documented the incidents. The explosions that yielded Gay rights followed the marches and protests for Civil Rights during the 1960’s which included the assassination of JFK in 1963, of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 and Robert Kennedy in 1969. None of it was pretty or easy or a matter of simply advocating for change. People put justice before comfort and protest, yes even riots and destruction of property after words and even demands were unheeded and rejected. These were the markers of my childhood.

I am so fortunate to have a loving partner for more than 25 years who makes it easy to share a home, work space and parenting during this pandemic. Many of our LGBTQ youth today are not so lucky. They face rejection from parents and family members, bullying by peers in schools and universities and difficulty accessing safe spaces to be social and out at the same time. Homosexuality was illegal when I was a teenager. While laws have changed over the years and marriage is now a civil right, acceptance is nowhere near universal and systemic bias and hatred remain.

On this date, June 19th, African Americans commemorate the approximate date when word of the Emancipation Proclamation reached the last group of Blacks enslaved in Texas. This was 2 months after the Civil War ended and 6 more months until the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution outlawed slavery in 1865. None of those events ended discrimination, inequality, bias, racism and all the forms of institutional hatred that exist today. White Supremacy is very much alive in 2020 in the USA as it was in Germany in the Weimar Republic and in the 16th Century when early explorers landed in the New World.

When my father spoke of his identity as a Sephardic Jew, he would say, “we are the Black Jews.” In his life, he was seen and treated as “other” in the Jewish community because of his olive skin, his features and his language and cultural norms that did not connect or relate to what I have come to know as “Yiddishkeit.” He never connected with institutional or Temple Judaism, even among other Sephardim. I was the first person in my family ever to join a synagogue. But my father lived a Jewish life, speaking out for justice when he heard unequal treatment in our courts, advocating for and helping new immigrants find their path to citizenship and attesting to the need for a young Green Beret to return home to his single mother when his Jewish father walked away from her and their 4 Jewish children. I remember feeling proud and surprised when after my father died, the Orthodox Rabbi through his own tears, told the congregation that my father was “the most religious man he ever knew.”

My life is hugely influenced by this man, who would have been 100 years old had he lived. Where my mother was and always will be the heart of my family and the glue that bonded us, my father remains the beacon to its soul. I have had the privilege to be present in many places where I chose to NOT be seen as who I am; a Lesbian, Sephardic Jewish, woman and mother. I can use my white skin privilege to “fit in” as my father tried to do with proper diction and suits and ties.

I can find elements of safety in a violent world most of the time, though not always. Friends and loved ones with Brown and Black skin cannot find peace, or safety, let alone preserve lives as long as racism rears its ugly head. My white skin body must be the proverbial shield until we build a society without racism. Until then, as my tall, Latino, Native, brown skinned son will tell you, Black Lives Matter. In Judaism, that is a call to action. May our community find ways to invite, welcome and support people of all races and LGBTQ individuals and families who seek a Jewish community to enter through our virtual doors until we return to the sanctuary.  Shabbat Shalom.

Thu, June 30 2022 1 Tammuz 5782