In my community, there is a there is a Friday night minyan* that meets monthly in different people’s apartments. Dozens of people come together to pray and eat as a community. This month, the minyan met in my neighborhood, and I was able to attend.
I squeezed my way into a small, overheated apartment, packed wall to wall with people. The living room was full, so I stood in the kitchen doorway, the sweat pouring down my face, and joined in the joyous, song-filled prayer.
In the middle of services, as is traditional in this group, we went around the room to introduce ourselves. In the past, the facilitator has asked each of us to list one thing that we are grateful for. This week, in light of recent Supreme Court decision to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, we were each asked to share one reason that we are proud to be Americans.
I listened as the people in the living room shared their answers one by one. I had plenty of time to plan my own answer. I decided to speak about Wendy Davis, who stood up for women’s reproductive rights in Texas. (And did so literally, and for many hours.) I was going to speak about how I’m proud of the way word of her cause spread via social media, and of all the people who stand up for equal rights.
I was going to, but I didn’t.
Partway through the living room introductions, those of us in the kitchen were called upon to take our turn. We had managed to arrange ourselves in a rough semicircle, and we took turns stepping into the doorway to speak our piece. I was the last one in our semicircle.
People took their turns. One mentioned Wendy Davis, and I began to tweak my own response in my mind. A woman named Naomi introduced herself. Her husband, Jimmy, spoke next. He said that he was proud to live in a country where everyone’s marriages could now be recognized just like his. **
Someone in the kitchen pointed out that Jimmy and Naomi had just gotten married, and the entire room broke into spontaneous song. “Siman tov u’mazal tov, yehei lanu” over and over.
June is a prime time for weddings in the Jewish world. In my community, there have been many couples celebrating marriages. Two weeks in a row, I’ve been able to share in these celebrations as we recited sheva brachot** for newly married couples at communal meals. Two weeks in a row, some small part of me has ached to be the focus of such a celebration, to finally be getting married myself.
Not this time.
This time, as I listened to the singing and joined in myself, a swell of emotion overcame me, one I couldn’t quite put into words. Something along the lines of, “this could be me. This *really* could be me.”
The ruling was issued on Wednesday, but the reality of it didn’t hit me until just that moment.
As the singing drew to a close, I composed my thoughts, and stepped into the kitchen doorway. I introduced myself, and there was a brief giggle as the room transitioned from boisterous song back into the routine of introductions. I can’t remember my exact words, but what I said was something like this:
“I want to build on what was just said. Right now, I’m really grateful to be an American because just now, when we were singing, it was the first time I’ve heard that song that I could think, that could be me. I can get married, and have it be recognized.”
My voice caught. A pair of tears slid down my sweaty cheeks. I almost never get choked up like that, but this time, I did. For that one brief moment, I felt the true, deeper meaning of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
The end of DOMA means so many things to so many people, from shared benefits to green cards to adoption rights. But for me, as a single woman, those legal changes feel distant and abstract. For me, what the decision really means is something much deeper and much more basic. For me, the end of DOMA means that for the first time ever, I can look to my future and I can truly say, “me too.”
* technically, a prayer quorum of ten; in this case, it could be translated more loosely as “congregation”
** I tried so hard to hold onto the details of last night, but it’s possible I got them wrong. Maybe Jimmy went first, and Naomi said those words. Maybe different words were used, but it’s the message that matters the most to the story, and the words don’t need to be exact to convey it.
*** Literally, “seven blessings” – a set of blessings said at the end of the prayer after meals when a newly married couple (in their first week of marriage) is eating a meal with a set of ten or more people. Many married couples try to eat a meal in such a setting for the entire week after their marriage so that these blessings can be said each day. Two weeks ago, a newly married couple attended a communal potluck that was happening anyway; last week, a married couple invited the community to join in a potluck picnic. I attended both.