Ya gotta have faith

It’s here: episode 3 of RiseUP With Dawn Ennis!

This month, yes, the TV show Transparent does figure in our various discussions, but given that season four is still several months away, that’s not all we’re talking about.

We begin this episode of RiseUP with a look at faith — not necessarily the religious kind, but if that works for you, then yes, that’s one kind of faith that we address. And I will confess to having my own crises of faith, and not just in my religion, but in my extended family, now distant friends, even strangers who judge me without knowing who I am or where I’ve been. And I feel many of us believe our elected leaders have let us down, or are not giving us a reason to have faith that our world will be better.


As Episode 3 debuts, the president of the United States has given clergy of all faiths a free pass to politicize their sermons and what they see as their holy work. No longer threatened by the tax man who warned them they might lose their tax-exempt status, every priest, reverend, minister, bishop, clergyman, rabbi, imam, shaman, and nun can now tell you that a vote for candidate A will save your soul, while a vote for candidate B will send you to eternal damnation. Political speech is to be protected, even if it’s anti-LGBTQ, says President Trump, because he believes the shepherds will say “only good things” and “what is in your heart.”

A lot of those hearts have no use for someone like me, and consider me evil, an abomination, and someone “delusional” or mentally ill who needs to be “cured.” Or told to go to hell. And they have free reign to say these things because of this executive order.

God help us all.

To fight oppression, especially faith-based oppression, we need faith in ourselves, and in our cause. Likewise to stop inequality on the job, inequity in housing, homelessness, and racial injustice. Learn more about the guests in this month’s episode, below.

First up is scholar and author Stephen Fuchs, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, Connecticut, someone I’ve known for more than a dozen years.


He’s an LGBTQ ally, a husband and grandfather, and an amazing individual who is an inspiration to many in my hometown. He has traveled the globe to educate about scripture and bring people together in love and understanding,

You can read more about Stephen on his website, rabbifuchs.com and if you’re interested in the books he discusses on the show, you can find them at that website as well as at amazon.com.



To see and purchase a copy of ToraHighlights, featuring photographs by Lena Stein, check out Amazon’s German site. 


The other incredible person we meet on RiseUp this month is Gillian Cameron, an actress, artist and educator as well as an accomplished storyteller in Southern California.


For five years, Gillian has been sharing the tales of a knight from the time of King Arthur, but no ordinary knight is he. Calogrenant is the story of a man magically transformed into a maiden, and despite the steep learning curve and oppression of the era, as well as her own human foibles, she blazes a trail for #girlslikeus long before our modern era.

Banner copyYou can find her web comic each and every Sunday night at calogrenant.com and her first two books collecting all the work she’s done so far are for sale at the Calogrenant Shoppe on her website.


Gillian also can be found on television, on the movie screen and on stage, depending on where you look.

She’s appeared on TV’s I Am Cait and Amazon’s Transparent, and is featured in The ‘Carol’ Support Group — about fans of the Oscar-winning movie Carol who love it just a little too much.

Jill in Carol Support Group


Plus you can catch her on stage with her friend Alexa Hunter in The Alexian Chronicles. That will be staged May 19th and 20th at the Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, California.

Alexian Postcard.png

11401337_10206873940867203_6109822987238053550_nContact Gillian via Twitter, or find her on Facebook. 

We’ve been friends for a long time now and remains my West Coast BFF. Even 3,000 miles apart, we find new ways to support one another and offer guidance, laughs, tears and support.

I’m so grateful that she is in my life, and I wish I could be the friend to her that she is to me.

I’m honored to share her with you this month and hope you adore her as much as I do.

If you’re someone who needs a friend, or is having a crisis of faith, or identity, or just feel like at you’re at the end of your rope, you’re in the right place.

There are resources here for you, and they won’t cost you a dime.

I know what it’s like to feel depressed, like giving up, and that no one in the world understands how much pain you are in. So many of us experience this, and it’s not uncommon that we feel that there is no fix, or solution, none that doesn’t end in death. I’m here to tell you as a survivor that it won’t necessarily get better soon, maybe not for awhile. But it will not always suck. There will be a hill after the valley, and you can take it from me that you are not alone.

If you are a transgender or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at 877-565-8860. LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 can also be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities. Please take a moment to talk to one of these fine people, who will listen without judgment, and offer an ear without telling you “what you need to do.”

And I’m here, too. Find me via the comments section here, or on Facebook or Twitter.

Lastly, a small glitch caused the audio in this month’s episode to be somewhat fuzzy, or to use a technical term, overmodulated. It cannot be corrected until Monday, and so I thank you very much for your patience and understanding.

Thank you for watching RiseUp and for reading about my lifeafterdawn. See you next time!

The War of 2016


We are at war.

Don’t believe me? Post anything involving politics, race, religion or criminal justice on social media… and count to ten.

Let me state at the start, I’m no psychologist (not yet, but that is most definitely my next career, after my kids finish college). That said, I consider myself intelligent, insightful and well-educated, and willing to put forth my own analysis with the full knowledge it is informed opinion, and not fact; I stand ready to receive criticism, commentary and challenges to my thinking.

And my thoughts of late are WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!?

In just seven months, I count 14 incidents: mass shootings, murders of police officers, police-involved deadly shootings and mass killings by terrorists and military clashes around the world. Here’s the toll since January:

  • 6 murdered in Chesapeake, VA.
  • 5 murdered in Glendale, AZ.
  • 5 murdered in Pittsburgh, PA.
  • 5 murdered in Kansas City, KS.
  • 8 murdered in Piketon, OH.
  • 5 murdered in Moultrie, GA.
  • 49 murdered in Orlando, FL.
  • 290 murdered by bombers in Baghdad, Iraq.
  • Alton Sterling killed by police in Baton Rouge, LA.
  • Philandro Castile killed by police in Falcon Heights, MN.
  • 5 police officers murdered in Dallas, TX.
  • 84 murdered in Nice, France.
  • 265 killed in failed military coup in Turkey.
  • And today, at least 3 police officers murdered in Baton Rouge, LA.

That’s at least 93 dead here in the U.S., 462 overseas, a total of 555 lives lost. The last seven of those incidents above happened all in the space of the last two weeks, and the massacre in Orlando was just a little over one month ago.

Amid all that bloodshed, we live in a world that is more divided than ever before. Isolationism is catching fire around the globe. The U.K. voted to quit the European Union, the leading Republican candidate for president in the U.S. wants to build a wall on our border with Mexico and put a halt to legal immigration by those of the Muslim faith, the Black Lives Matter movement is marching for social justice, police officers nationwide are under fire, literally, and those opposed to transgender rights have encouraged followers to oppress, restrict and even shoot to kill anyone who dares to use a bathroom matching their gender identity.

Social media right now is a cesspool of opposing views, anti-Hillary Clinton, anti-Donald Trump, antigay, anti-LGBT, anti-BLM, anti-police, anti-Obama, anti-foreigners, anti-Democrat, anti-Republican, anti-establishment, anti-Wall Street, anti-politics, anti-government, anti-white, anti-Mexican American, anti-Muslim, antisemitism, anti-Christian, anti-Catholic, anti-religion, anti-feminist, anti-men, anti-Ghostbusters… anti-anybody who doesn’t think the way I do.

Posting an opinion online is equivalent to lighting a firecracker in your hand: no matter how great an idea you think it is to do it, be aware: you’re likely to wind up hurt.

And the question I see most often asked is, “why?” Why are we like this? What is behind this spate of rudeness, disrespect, hatred, divisiveness, violence, murder?

We humans have had differences of opinion since Adam and Eve, since the first Cro Magnon man beat the shit out of the second Cro Magnon man, since Ren fought Stimpy.

The late Rodney King, the man whose beating by police was caught on video, said it best:

So it’s not new:  we don’t get along. Too many of us don’t play well together.

I believe there is no one cause, or one person to blame, but in the background of all of this divisiveness is the rising empowerment via technology of fringe or alternate opinions, outside the mainstream, which has fueled a new, unrestricted mindset. We are connected in a way with the rest of the planet that gives everyone with access to the internet an opportunity to speak our mind, no matter how arcane or antiestablishment our views are.

troll 2I see the seed in this development in the evolution of the internet troll. He or she is afforded total anonymity with which they can speak from a virtual soapbox. They are attracted to cultural icons who boast, berate and bellow via reality television, who win kudos for being rude and “speaking their mind.” I think a significant segment of our society has decided it’s okay, even better, to be divisive. Perhaps, they consider finding compromise a sign of weakness: better to “stand your ground” against “others” unlike “us.”

The “others” are not just strange or different, they are dangerous. They must be stopped. They must be defriended, denounced, denied rights, and ultimately, denied life. The world is not big enough for “others.” Their existence threatens my own, goes the thinking.

It’s reminiscent to me of survivalist mentality, as if an entire population of our nation has decided we are at war. And so we are.

The Nice, Baghdad and Turkey incidents may seem unrelated to this mindset, but to my mind, there is a connection: terrorists commit mass murder to advance a cause against “others,” military juntas overthrow governments because they see their leaders as representing views other than their own.

And Brexit was a democratic, non-violent reaction to that same principle. How far will we, as Americans, go?

clinton-trump1Will our next leader pull us out of the United Nations? Will our economy suffer because of whom we elected? Will we shutter our borders to certain foreigners who are deemed “too foreign?” Will we become the Earth’s policeman and go to war in Syria, with Korea, or China? Will a new record for low turnout be set, tainting our next presidential election, given the negative opinions we have of our leading candidates? How will whoever wins govern a country that stays home on Election Day out of disgust for the choices available?

How can any man or woman heal the rift that is now wider than at any point since our civil war? My friend Jennifer Finney Boylan — professor, writer, author, mentor and oh, she happens to be a transgender woman like me — has long advocated love as the proper response to these times. I don’t disagree, we need more love. But I believe we need something more.

I looked to the words of Abraham Lincoln, and those of John F. Kennedy, two beloved presidents separated by a century, unpopular in office but revered and hallowed following their assassinations.

Abraham Lincoln “won the presidency in 1860 with just 39.8% of the vote and was considered so offensive by half of the polity that the country split in two because of him,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” said Lincoln.

“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future,” declared Kennedy, who also said:  “If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.”

Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon in 1960 with a 0.17% margin of victory, the narrowest of the 20th century, according to the L.A. Times. And his popularity plummeted each year he was in office. But he is now revered, in part because of the stand he took for civil rights:

“Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence… those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality… A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all.”

I close with Lincoln, whose words are as timely today as when he first delivered his Lyceum address, in 1838. He’s commonly quoted as having said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” But the actual quote, far darker, is below:

“If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.”

I am taking up Jenny Boylan’s challenge to love more, and to raise my voice to call for a better way forward, for my children and yours. My hope is that we “live through all time,” even this time, and together find a way to heal the rift, and end The War of 2016.



The Worst Father of All Time

NO, the title of today’s entry does not refer to me or anyone I know. Except maybe in the “biblical sense” of the word.

Today I’m using my blog to share with you an excerpt from a book written by a friend, “What’s In It For Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives.” Now, before you roll your eyes or start thinking I now believe I’m on a mission from God, or that this is an advertisement for Christianity, bear with me: no, I’m no missionary and this is the farthest thing from an ad for the Church.

It could be construed as an ad for my rabbi.


As you may know, I’m not Jewish except for that part of me that I share with every New York native in which I know just enough Yiddish to have a conversation with my bubbe, and my license to use the word, “Oy” is still valid. I am married to a Jewish woman, 18 years next month, which is a very lucky number in Judaism. “Chai” it’s called, and that’s pronounced “ZSCHZCH-hi” as if you mean to spit, not in my direction if you don’t mind. And we are raising three beautiful children as observant Jews in the Reform tradition.

Okay, except for my daughter (whose name is of Greek origin), the boys’ names are not so much Jewish. BUT there are Irish Jews, even in Ireland, and before we had children my bride and I visited just such a synagogue and were warmly received.

I call him “my rabbi” even though I have no plans and never did to convert. I am Roman Catholic and continue to practice my faith, even if Church doctrine doesn’t recognize me as a Catholic in good faith — since I am transgender. I figure if Pope Francis can be so non-judgmental on gays and divorced Catholics, he might come around some day. Until then, my family is very active in our synagogue and have been since joining Congregation Beth Israel a decade ago.

Rabbi Stephen Fuchs officiated at our youngest son’s brit, and has taught our two oldest in Hebrew School. He’s aware of both our interfaith marriage and that I am trans, and is one of my strongest allies and supporters. Our only disagreement in a decade was over an OpEd in which he opined that Hanukkah is a minor holiday “just like St. Patrick’s Day,” which triggered a blustery letter to the editor from me defending this significant day on the calendar of my Irish heritage (and our love of Hanukkah). Out of respect for each other’s views and in keeping with the tradition of reconciliation, we have allowed this gaping wound to heal.

Now, on the Hebrew calendar we are approaching a time known to Jews as The High Holy Days, their most important and most solemn days of the year. First up is Rosh Hashanah, next week, followed by Yom Kippur, and the beginning of a New Year. It is a time of reflection for Jewish people, and since Jesus and his mom and dad here on earth were Jews, I figure it’s worth understanding even for Christians and others who revere Jesus.

Rabbi Fuchs has been blogging excerpts from his book, now on sale on Amazon, and today’s entry is about what I have called The Worst Father of All Time. That is being heavy handed, admittedly, since Abraham did not in fact murder his son, he only planned to do so, and God knows a lot of parents have muttered something like “I want to kill that kid” at one time or another. But if not Abraham, who is the Worst Father of All Time? Here’s a guy who agrees to sacrifice his only son — a boy that he and his wife struggled mightily to conceive and bring into the world. I’ve been very strict with my kids but I can’t recall ever considering human sacrifice as an appropriate punishment.

Close. But I am nothing if not a typical Irish hothead who blows her top and then cools just as quickly.

So take a few minutes as Rabbi Fuchs takes us through the Torah or Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac, and think about why something like this is even in the bible. It sounds about as relevant as the legalization of polygamy in the time of Moses. But you might see things differently after reading this excerpt which also includes the tragic story of a young British singer who fell from the height of stardom to poverty, self abuse and ultimately, death.

The rabbi begins with an introduction from Europe, where he and his lovely wife are spending ten weeks as he gives talks and tours Germany. Thanks!

As I sit here in Germany, site of the horrific human sacrifices that forever changed the course of our people’s and all of human history during the Shoah, I think of the story of the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22) that we read in a few days from the Torah on Rosh Hashanah. I feel many people completely misunderstand the story’s vital message. I hope this excerpt from my just released book, What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives enables the story to speak directly to us.

Perhaps Scripture’s most puzzling and profound stories is the near sacrifice of Isaac. How, we wonder, could God ask such a thing? How could Abraham agree? Why does Abraham, who stood up to God and protested mightily on behalf of the strangers in Sodom and Gomorrah, not object when God instructs him: “Take your son…whom you love, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice on one of the heights that I will point out to you” (Genesis 22:3).

The answer is that after his argument with God over Sodom and Gomorrah Abraham knew God was just and knew that he could trust the Almighty even when God asked him to do something seemingly unthinkable: Sacrifice his own son. Some interpreters assert that by taking Isaac to Mount Moriah, Abraham failed God’s test. Others opine that while he might have been a great religious leader, he was a failure as a father to Isaac and a husband to Sarah. How else, they ask, could a good man be willing to sacrifice his own son? I contend, respectfully, they miss the point.

Human sacrifice was the principal scourge of the pagan world to which the new covenantal religion objected. The new religion that evolved into Judaism completely rejected human sacrifice. It is that horrific practice, which, I submit, the story of the Binding of Isaac decries. In beckoning Abraham to Mount Moriah to slay his son, but staying his hand, God sends a message that humanity still struggles with today. No civilized religion can accept human sacrifice in its name. From the ancient world out of which the covenant emerged, to the Spartans of ancient Greece, the Incas, Aztecs, Mayan, and Hawaiian civilizations of other hemispheres, pagan religion has always involved human sacrifice.

Indeed, a serious student of the Bible understands that the perceived efficacy of this horrific form of human behavior was difficult to uproot from the mindset of the ancient Hebrews as well. No fewer than fifteen times does the Hebrew Bible protest human sacrifice or cast it in a shameful light. Does a parent ever tell a child not to do something fifteen times when the parent has no worry whatsoever that the child will do that thing in the first place? Of course, not!

No biblical story illustrates how difficult it was to convince our ancestors that human sacrifice was an abomination better than the story of Mesha, King of Moab (ca. 850 BCE). Mesha had paid tribute to King Ahab of Israel, but rebelled after Ahab’s death. In the ensuing battle, the Israelites were routing the Moabite forces until (in the words of the Israelite biblical author), “Seeing that the battle was going against him, the King of Moab…took his firstborn son and offered him up on the wall as a burnt offering. A great wrath came upon Israel, so they withdrew from him and went back to their own land” (2 Kings 3:25-27). The point of this amazing story is that the biblical author clearly believed that Mesha’s act of human sacrifice is what turned the tide of battle in his favor.

When we evaluate the revolution in human thought that the God of the Hebrew Bible represents, I contend that the absolute rejection of human sacrifice is even more significant than the insistence on one God as opposed to many gods and the rejection of idol worship!

Critics of Abraham’s behavior in the story of the Binding of Isaac point out that God never again addressed Abraham directly after the incident. So what? This does not change the reality that Abraham remained God’s active covenantal partner until the end of his days. His acts of covenantal responsibility at the end of hislife were every bit as significant as those earlier in his covenantal career.

Why did God ask such a thing of Abraham? And why was Abraham willing to do it? God and Abraham had a unique relationship, which illustrated a brand new way of experiencing God to the world. Unlike the pagan gods, God in the Torah is not simply a force to appease. Rather, God is the source of moral and ethical values that brought a much higher level of civil thinking to the world. One of the vilest aspects of the pagan world was human sacrifice. It is befitting, then, that God and God’s unique covenantal partner, Abraham, should present a dramatic demonstration to the world that human sacrifice should never occur. That is why God could ask Abraham to do the unthinkable. That is why Abraham, who protested so forcefully for the sake of strangers in Sodom and Gomorrah, so willingly complied with God’s request.

Suppose for a moment a parent called me and said, “Rabbi, you will not be seeing Petunia in religious school anymore because this morning, God told me to take her to the mountains and offer her as a sacrifice.” Naturally, I would do everything possible to convince the parent that the voice he or she heard was not that of God. Moreover, I would do everything, including notifying the police, to stop him or her from doing this.

Of course, the scenario I just proposed is absurd. Nevertheless, we have yet to learn not to sacrifice our children. It happens all the time. It happens each time we send our children to fight wars over conflicts that could better be settled by negotiation. It happens each time we force our children into pursuits or professions to satisfy our own ego’s needs. It happens every time we overwhelm our children with pressure to succeed, never letting them feel that they are good enough.

The great British entertainer Lena Zavaroni (1963-1999) is a case in point. Born on the tiny Scottish Isle of Bute, Lena Zavaroni was an amazing musical talent with a magnificent voice and boundless charisma and charm. As a little girl, her aunt whisked her off to London to pursue fame and fortune. She achieved both in spades. By the time she was ten years old, she had appeared on The Johnny Carson Show, toured Japan, and sung for Queen Elizabeth and President Gerald Ford. By the end of her teenage years, she had starred in three successful British TV variety series. She was the highest-paid entertainer in the United Kingdom. View her YouTube video clips. She was amazing.

Ah, but when she was still a young girl, people began to tell her that she looked a bit pudgy. To make a long, sad story short, Lena Zavaroni⎯once the richest teenager in the world, adored by millions⎯died broke and penniless from complications of anorexia at age thirty-five.

Beautiful, precious Lena Zavaroni was every bit as much a human sacrifice as Jephtha’s daughter (and the rabbis of the Midrash condemn Jephtha as a fool) in Chapter 11 of the book of Judges. Every time I watch her sing, I want to reach into the computer screen, hug her and promise, “I won’t let anyone hurt you!” But it is a promise I could never make, let alone keep. And Lena Zavaroni, who appeared thinner and thinner with each passing year of her young life, is just one of millions of examples of horrific human sacrifice we have offered throughout the centuries and continue to offer today.

Yet many contemporary rabbis and others bemoan the fact that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son. They just don’t get it! They just don’t get that God and Abraham tried to teach the world a vital lesson⎯a lesson we still have not learned.