Dear Friends, 

Last night I had the privilege of speaking during the special "South Orange Transgender Flag Raising." While specifically in response to the announcement last week that transgender persons will no longer be permitted to serve in the US Military in any capacity, the event was also an opportunity to see and celebrate the incredible diversity in our two towns. 

Here is what I shared last night: 

I am honored to be here this evening representing the South Orange-Maplewood Clergy Association. Now, more than ever, it is important for us to stand together and make our voices heard. 

We are here this evening to state unequivocally that we, the residents of South Orange and Maplewood, reject the politics of exclusion. We denounce the hateful rhetoric coming from too many in our nation. And we will not tolerate anyone using our nation's laws to undermine the advances we have made toward equality for all people. We have made great strides in recent years but there is still much work to do. We cannot, and we will not, go backwards. 

We are here to affirm the worth of each and every person and their right to be who they are and to love who they choose to love. 

The Bible teaches — And God created humanity in the Divine image.

But the Hebrew word that is used in that sacred text is a singular word- adam- a human being. And the ancient teachers of my tradition asked why the text is specific in stating that it was a singular individual who was first created. Their answer was that the word adam- a human- was used so that no one might think that they are any more or any less worthy in the eyes of God. Each individual, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity was created in the same Divine image. And we are all stronger when we affirm and celebrate this fundamental truth.

We are here, as well, to express our gratitude to each and every individual who has chosen to serve in the defense of these United States. This is especially true this evening as we recognize the service of the thousands of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals who currently serve in the US military. These individuals have volunteered to commit themselves to the defense of our nation and they deserve our appreciation and our support. The hateful, discriminatory ban that was announced last week insults their service, is a step backward in our country's progress toward full equality for LGBTQ people and it diminishes us all.

So this evening we stand together as a diverse community that reflects the more perfect union we seek to create. Because in the current environment, the statement "all people are created equal" is not only a fact… it is a call to action.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Dan Cohen