Matt Davis, Forum for Equality Foundation Board Member and Co-Chair of the Acclaim Awards Committee, gave the introduction for the Acclaim Award winner for Faith and Equality:
Rabbi Alexis Berk accepted the position of Rabbi of Touro Synagogue in the summer of 2008. Since then, Rabbi Berk has been a leading voice in the New Orleans area for human rights and social justice for all people.
Rabbi Berk has cultivated a welcoming and inclusive community at Touro Synagogue, demonstrating that the religious community and the LGBTQ community can exist in harmonious unity.
Under Rabbi Berk’s leadership, Touro Synagogue hosts an LGBTQ and allies group. Membership forms have been updated to include people of all genders and same-sex couples. The synagogue also established an all-gender bathroom, and participates in the New Orleans Pride and NO/AIDS walks.
An award-winning orator, Rabbi Berk has spoken eloquently about many social justice issues, ranging from war abroad, to mental illness, to feminism, to the acceptance of mixed-faith families. This year Rabbi Berk included a call for empathy for trans people in her Yom Kippur speech. On Yom Kippur in 2012, Rabbi Berk spoke powerfully from the pulpit in favor of marriage equality. Anyone who was there remembers the electric effect Rabbi Berk’s words had. When I mentioned that speech to my dad earlier this week, it moved him to tears. Rabbi Berk is that effective and strong an advocate.
As a lifelong member of Touro Synagogue, I am proud to have such an astonishing and progressive rabbi at the congregation’s helm, who uses her pulpit to address topics that are sometimes uncomfortable but always important and just.
Rabbi Berk, I am honored to present you with your Acclaim Award for Faith and Equality. Please come to the stage!
I profess the religion of love,
Love is my religion and my faith…
My prophet is love
My God is love…
I have come only to speak of love.
So said Rumi, the 13th century Sufi mystic and poet.
To me, tonight’s celebration is all about love.
When I was 17, I met my spouse, Bob Berk who taught me everything I know about love.
When my checking account in college got stuck for too long at zero, and I panicked – he took me out to a fancy dinner – and then bought me groceries. Bob taught me that night, for only the first of many times, that love is generous and patient and imperfect and messy and funny and enduring. I hoped to marry him, as many dream about their beloveds – because every human soul deserves to be known and cherished and nourished by another. Every one needs and merits this kind of devotion.
When I was 37, I met Touro Synagogue, which taught me everything I know about being a rabbi. This community is filled with infinitely talented and loving individuals, and yet the whole still manages to be greater than the sum of the parts. They also took me out to a fancy dinner. This may be a pattern. At Touro Synagogue, every dream is met with ambitious energy; every idea is met with respect and inquiry; every challenge is met with rolled up sleeves and unrelenting commitment. I have great love and affection for our professional team, and all of you. Thank you all so much for coming tonight; you always show up. Because you have created Touro Synagogue to be a place where a human soul can be known and cherished and nourished by another. Everyone needs and merits this kind of devotion.
So, I’d like to thank the Forum for Equality for this fancy dinner. I’m hooked. For me, this award is about love. Universal love for humanity – a love that requires constant tending and mending. A love that extends the basic rights and concomitant sacred struggles to everyone. And, I celebrate and deeply appreciate the implied and explicit pledge from everyone in this room to secure a world where any and every human soul can be known cherished and nourished by another. Everyone needs and merits this devotion.
Thank you so much for this.