Q&A with Letitia Gomez-Bet Mishpachah Congregant
This Q&A was conducted by Aryn Fields, HRC Foundation Press Secretary (She/Her), and Letitia Gomez, Congregant of Bet Mishpachah Synagogue (She/Her).
Another month, another holiday celebrated in isolation. For the Jewish community, this is the second Passover Seder separated from family, friends and loved ones. It was around exactly one year ago that the nation was locked down due to COVID-19 and a year later, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. The Human Rights Campaign’s annual Rainbow Seder's theme is "Resilience and Renewal: A Journey Towards Liberation," which is incredibly poignant given the political and cultural climate we experienced in 2020.
Aryn Fields (she/her), Press Secretary for the HRC Foundation, talked with Letitia Gomez (she/her), a Congregant of Bet Mishpachah Synagogue, about her experience as a Chicana, Jewish queer woman, what 2020 has been like and what the idea of liberation signifies in the lead-up to Passover.
Aryn: What has it been like growing up as a queer Jewish Chicana?
Letitia: Well, I’m a Jew by choice. I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and was raised Catholic. I decided to become Jewish in 2000, so I approached a rabbi and, as is custom, she turned me away three times. After the third time, she agreed to guide me, so I studied with the rabbi for four years and in 2006 went through the conversion process — so it was later in my life. I will say, though, in the early 1990s, I became familiar with the congregation in Washington, D.C., Bet Mishpachah, and visited the community through an invitation from a co-worker. Though I didn’t grow up Jewish, I found it felt like a home to me.
The challenge, in the early days, was that many Jews in this part of the world are of Ashkenazi Jewish descent and white. When I would visit the Synagogue some people would ask me, “Why are you here?” My community has come a long way in becoming more accepting of Jews of color. I’m connected with a network of Jews of color, and I’ve learned it’s a common experience, it’s a common feeling, to encounter questions about why we’re there.
Aryn: What brought you to Judaism?
Letitia: Well, San Antonio is a predominantly Catholic community and majority Mexican-American. As a child, I remember always being interested in the Jewish faith, the community and over the years, I always thought of it but never quite knew how to make my way toward the faith on my own.
That’s part of how I came to it, that there was just a part of my heart that was curious, but also, even though I was raised in the Catholic faith, it never really spoke to me. That’s the only way I can put it. In the Jewish faith, we have direct communication with God. I’ve always spoken directly to God, so that practice and faith seemed more in line with me — it just spoke to me more.
Aryn: Over the last year, as a nation, we’ve seen that LGBTQ people are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and a significant dialogue about systematic racism has been forming. What has it been like watching this all unfold?
Letitia: For me, I entered this year as middle-class and having a stable job that I can do from home and what I’ve watched is that there are large segments of our community, people of color especially, and those in the LGBTQ community who have jobs they cannot do from home. In order to survive, they’ve had to go to jobs that put them in daily direct contact with others and in danger.
As Jews, our mission that we believe in is to repair the world, so I think what we’ve done as a congregation is check in on people, try to maintain a sense of community — even virtually over the past year — and support organizations that help those who are the most vulnerable and impacted by the virus.
Aryn: As you enter into Passover, thinking of Exodus and the theme of liberation, how are you reflecting on its significance this year?
Letitia: This has been a difficult year for so many and as I think about getting the vaccine, and people trying to access the vaccine, it’s going to be a liberation for many of us. It’s going to be a liberation from isolation, we will finally be able to hug another person, have close contact with our loved ones. That’s the liberation I think we are all looking the most forward to.
Aryn: Over the past four years, there has been a dramatic resurgence of anti-Semitism. With attacks on synogogues and harmful anti-Semitic rhetoric, what has the political climate of the last four years been like for you?
Letitia: It’s been heartbreaking to watch — heartbreaking and scary — that there are people who can so easily show hatred because of another person’s religion, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation.
Anti-Semitism isn’t isolated to certain parts of the country; it’s everywhere. I live in Adams Morgan in Washington, D.C., and I saw a swastika on a parking sign the other day, so it’s all around us. It rears its ugly head, especially since Charlottesville, we’ve seen a lot of signs of it. The hatred of Jews throughout the centuries is well documented because we’re the scape-goats. We have a history of thousands of years of persecution, which is why it’s important for us to remember Passover. To be reminded of our exodus, our liberation and the importance of working to repair the world.
Aryn: As a proud Queer Jew, what has it meant for you to have a supportive synagogue?
Letitia: Bet Mishpachah is the official LGBTQ synogogue, so we’re all queer! We do have some non-queer members, but it has meant the world to me to have a space to be Jewish and queer. Bet Mishpachah just celebrated our 40th anniversary a couple years ago and in that time, there have been so many synagogues that have come to accept LGBTQ members and it’s commonplace now. It’s not just the reform synagogues or the reconstruction synagogues, but also the conservative synagogues that have opened their doors and have accepted the LGBTQ community. It’s been a beautiful thing to witness this change.
The 13th Annual National Rainbow Seder was held on the Sunday before Passover, March 21 at 5:00 PM (ET) and was co-hosted by the Edlavitch D.C. Jewish Community Center, the Israeli Embassy Office of Public Affairs and Bet Mishpachah. You can watch the Rainbow Seder here.