Posts filed under ‘Personal Stories’
The following is a guest post by Amalya- the teenage daughter of an Orthodox Lesbian mother.
“Which eye should I look in?”
It was not the first time I had been asked that question. My eyes are crossed and one tends to wander off while the other is focused. People often cannot tell if I am looking at them or the person behind them. Sometimes someone will ask me which eye they should focus on, which one I use primarily. The truth is that I use them both, just not at the same time.
Sometimes I use my right eye, and I see myself in shul, surrounded by people who share a large part of my life with me. People that dress the way I dress and eat the food that I eat. We have been raised the same way and understand what it is like to live the unique lifestyle of an Orthodox Jew. We can whine together about the difficulties of a selective diet and obligations that feel trivial or outdated. Here I am supported for my belief and dedication.
But there is something they can’t identify with. Because sometimes I use my left eye and I see something that my Jewish community does not understand. I see Provincetown , MA where hundreds of children of LGBT parents gather for one week every summer. These people understand what it is like to live with a secret, or to live in fear of prejudice and bigotry. And we gather to support and learn from one another. This is one place where I don’t feel like I have a secret. But still, out of the hundreds of families who congregate on the tip of Cape Cod every year, I have yet to find a Jew like me.
I use both my eyes, but I have not been able to make them work together.
“Please,” I responded, “look in them both.”
Video of segments from “Being Gay in The Orthodox World: A conversation with Members of the YU Community”
YU has not released an official transcript of it’s event this week in order to protect the privacy of participants. Several participants, however, have allowed footage of their comments to be shared on Youtube, and we are including these videos here. If others who were at the event are willing to share their comments, we will be sharing them as well.
View of the Audience:
Rabbi Blau’s Intro (we are waiting for permission to publish this)
1st Panelist: (pending permission)
Closing Remarks: Dr. Pelcovitz:
View of the Crowd at the end:
Memorial and Solidarity Tehillim Service
for the Victims of the Attack on the Tel Aviv gay and lesbian Jewish Youth Group
Last Saturday night, an unknown assailant opened fire on a Jewish support group for gay and lesbian youth, killing three and injuring ten minors. Join us for a community-wide memorial service as we stand in solidarity with the victims and renounce violence in the Jewish community. Speakers will include Rabbi Yosef Blau (Mashgiach Ruchani of Yeshiva University), Rabbi Dov Linzer (Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah), Mrs. Elana Stein Hain (Lincoln Square Synagogue clergy), Rabbis from local Jewish synagogues and schools, Benjamin Fink (NFTY-NAR regional advisor) representing Jewish youth across the nation, as well as members of Jewish GLBT Youth groups. The service will include Rabbinic messages, the reading of tehillim (psalms) and personal accounts of what its like growing up gay and Jewish.
Where: JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam ave. @ 76th st. New York, NY 10023
When: Monday, August 10th 8:00pm – 9:00pm
Co-sponsored by NY based organizations offering support for LGBT Jews: JCC in Manhattan, JQYouth, GLYDSA, Tirtzah, CBST, Nehirim, and Hebro.
The following is a guest post by Tirtzah member Aviva Yael:
I spent about 15 years in the ultra frum community out to myself and the man I was married to, but no one else in the frum world. At that point I didn’t see any reason to be out to anyone… I decided that since I had decided to marry a man and live as if I was straight… there was no point to bothering with that level of honesty… even to my closest friends who would have understood. I always felt like this was a little bit wrong. People who loved me and thought they knew everything about who I am, were missing a huge chunk of what makes me… me. There was always this slight buzzing in my head of cognitive dissonance within my own life. I am no longer married and I am now out in every aspect of my life.
For me… (not necessarily for everyone) being out (didn’t say coming out) has been a gigantic breath of fresh air. I no longer feel a constant dissonance buzzing in the background of my life. When I walk down the street, go to work, take my kids to the park, sit at a shabbos table or daven in shule… I know who I am and am who I am… from the inside… all the way to the outside, top of my head to the tips of my toes… and I love that.
I also love the fact that by being out, I’m making the world a better place for others who are yet to come. Today, my wife and I had the women from our shule over for a women’s Rosh Chodesh Shalosh Seudos. We are out in the shule and pretty much everyone knows about us. It is a modern orthodox shule and a particularly warm and accepting community. I’m convinced that two of the women who came for shalosh seudos who come very rarely to our shule or are new to coming to our shule just got introduced to the idea that women can be orthodox and lesbian and choose to build a home together. They were lovely guests and now are more sensitive and aware that this can exist and be ok.
I was very lucky- and when I first came out, I was a member of a wonderful congregation that made welcoming all people a priority. That communal support has made it possible for me, as a lesbian, to feel supported in my choice to live as an Orthodox Jew. But many queer Orthodox Jews are not as lucky as I was, and do not find themselves supported and welcomed in their congregations. Some are even actively excluded, making it extremely difficult to remain observant of the mitzvot and strong in the beliefs of Orthodox Judaism.
Recently the Welcoming Synagogues Project surveyed Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal, Secular Humanist and Unaffiliated Synagogues about the degree to which they welcomed queer members. They found that among the Synagogues surveyed ” The majority of rabbis in congregations across denominations think their synagogues are already welcoming of lesbians and gays, but could do better. The majority of Orthodox respondents do not perceive their congregations to be welcoming.”
I do not know whether the Orthodox Rabbis surveyed considered this state of affairs to be a positive one. I hope they understand, that it is an area where there is much work to be done- and that as leaders of Congregations it is the job of Rabbis to create spaces that are conducive to the spiritual and religious development of every Jew- regardless of sexual or gender orientation.
Rabbi Steve Greenberg, in an article in the Forward, suggests that the fact that Orthodox Rabbis responded to the survey at all showed a “willingness to engage the question”. I hope that is the case, and that as a result, Orthoodox shul Rabbis will find themselves delving more deeply into the the Jewish tradition, and coming to a greater understanding of the needs of all of their congregants.
This is a guest post from Bas Avraham- a member of the Tirtzah community:
I don’t know how to tell people I am queer.
Not that it’s so hard, mind you. In fact, maybe it would be better to write that a different way: I don’t know how to tell people *how* I’m queer. It’s not simple, and it doesn’t have very much to do with identity politics, with my gender, or even with the biological sex of the people I want to have relationships with. At least, not right now.
I could try to explain everything, but in the end, I realized I can’t fit
all of that into something suitable for internet consumption. Instead, I am writing from where I am.
Where I am is in the middle of trying to find a chasan, a
groom, a partner in life. As anyone can tell you, it’s hard work. As a
convert in my late twenties who doesn’t have a lot of experience dating, it’s also a bit scary for me. I am new to dating, new to the frum world, and not exactly sure where I fit. Right now, I am spending a lot of energy trying to figure out whether I want to be in a more “yeshivish” community or in a more modern orthodox community. Truthfully, I don’t really understand why I have to make that choice, but it seems like it is important to most of the men out there, at least the ones I seem to be meeting.
In order to find people to date, well. At first, I didn’t have to find people. I dated the same person for a year and a half – a man, who was my first love and also the first experience I ever had dating an orthodox person. We met by accident, at a shul, and one of the first things I asked him was “how would you react, if you had a gay kid?” His reaction was interesting; not extreme, not scared. It made me more or less happy – the truth is, I was happy enough that he didn’t run away.
At the time when I met him, what I wanted was to find someone who would join me in trying to find halakhically (that is, legally, according to Torah law) viable ways to advocate for the queer frum community at large. At the bare minimum, I was looking for someone who would support my pursuit of that work. The substance of that work has already changed, as I learn more about the Torah and the obligations and ideas it has on the subject, but my committment to the work itself, to partnering with other Jews to try to be a community where all of us can try to serve Hashem “b’chol levavcha, u’v’chol nafshecha” – with all our heart and blood – is non-negotiable.
The truth is, he was dedicated to that work too. To this day, I don’t know what really went wrong in that relationship. But his horror at learning that I was interested in actually introducing queer frum Jews to one another, for the purposes of matchmaking, served, in an ironic twist, to hasten the end of my own match. To me, my dedication to that type of advocacy ought to have been a conversation. Instead, it was a shouting match, taking place over the course of two days. The temptation to “give in” was very strong.
But ultimately, the result of the argument – which side won – wasn’t what disturbed me. What disturbed me was that he was willing to ignore parts of reality in order to try to uphold a “Torah law”. And to me, since I believe that the Torah deals in the ultimate reality, enacting it and its laws in the world really do have to take all of that world into account. Whether there are good halakhic
arguments for queer matchmaking or not is really not the point. The point is that in considering the question, the people doing the considering need to include things like the following realities:
1. The existence of frum people who have feeling exclusively for people of
“non-halakhically optimal” genders – i.e., the continued existence of queer
frum people, whether they are interested in identifying as queer in a political way or not.
2. A concern that as many Jews as possible do as many mitzvot as possible.
3. A concern that Jews remain affiliated with other Jews.
4. A concern that we as a Jewish community give one another permission to
live our lives according to as many Jewish values as possible – this
includes the value of tznius (modesty/humility) which problematizes many
things that go along with secular dating.
5. A concern that people who are not permitted to get what they need openly
often do so in ways that are risky or life-threatening, and are almost always dishonest to someone, somewhere along the way.
6. A concern for the high suicide rate among all queer youth.
Since I believe that at least one act potentially involved in queer male relations is an issur d’oraisa (a Torah prohibition), and all bets are off as to the halakhic status of various things we women might do or relationships we might be in, the violation of a Torah prohibition is also one of these considerations – and obviously it is extremely weighty. Probably more weighty than most of the other considerations. But the other considerations are still there. They don’t simply disappear. The Torah is not an arbitrary document. It represents the will of G-d, and the last time I checked, G-d made the universe, with all the statistics and considerations and queer people in it.
After man no. 1 and I broke up, I joined a dating website - the kind where you hire a shadchan (a matchmaker), and the shadchanim match you up. I got matched after a good long while, and recently went on a first date with a new man. He seemed pretty interesting, so we went out again. Finally, on the third date, I asked him my killer question: “what would you do if you had a child who told you he was gay?”
Afterward, he told me his first thought was “what kind
of orthodox Jewish conversation is this?”
And I thought to myself, that’s just the trouble. Why isn’t this an
orthodox Jewish conversation? Is being orthodox really about being in denial?
I hope not.
Chanukah celebrates small things- a tiny leftover jug of oil, a small army, a slim chance. We celebrate the survival of Judaism and the Jewish people- who have always been vastly outnumbered by the nations of the world. We celebrate a world in which the importance of things is not measured by their size or their power- but by their righteousness.
As an Orthodox Lesbian I am part of a minority within a minority. The majority of people I meet, inevitably, find my experience to be different from theirs. Some of them wonder why I continue to live as I do. Wouldn’t it be easier, they suggest, to closet my identity as a queer person- or to abandon religion and live in a secular world that (they imagine) would better embrace me? Can’t I find a way to be less different- less of a minority?
I’m sure I could. But Judaism has taught me to celebrate the survival of a small minority, despite many difficulties, in a large world. In the time of the Macabees- the Jewish people could have chosen to disappear and become a part of the many. Instead- they resisted, maintained their integrity and identity as a small nation of jews, and persevered.
Sometimes it is hard for me to live as a minority in a world that does not always accept me. In the Orthodox Jewish world, it can be hard for people to understand my choice to live as an out lesbian woman, and sometimes those people make my life difficult. I have had to hear comments from people that I have found hurtful. I’ve had to worry that my family would reject me, and I find it hard to visit the neighborhood I grew up in- because I don’t know whether the community that nurtured my childhood and adolescence would continue to support me now. I know that there are places where I am not welcome to learn Torah, Daven, eat a Shabbat Meal, or set up a household. It is possible that it would be easier if I was in the closet, married to a man I did not love and could not love, and appearing as though I was like everybody else. I would blend in, perhaps- but it would be the wrong thing for me to do.
There are also communities, Jewish and otherwise, who are able to accept me as a lesbian, but who cannot respect my religious convictions or my Orthodox Jewish lifestyle. There are people who would love to “cure” me of my “oppressive” religion, which they imagine is at the root of all my problems- or who hope that one day I will “loosen up” and keep less of the Mitzvot. They find it difficult to believe that I have faith in a g-d who hears my prayers, gave my people the Torah, and sustains the world each and every day. Perhaps I could be more quiet about my frumkiet. I could live in a way that would make it less obvious- or abandon it altogether. I could become more similar to the people around me, stick out less, and find a place where it is always safe to be queer. But that also would be the wrong thing for me to do.
Fortunately, I haven’t had to make either choice. I have found small parts of the jewish world where I can feel fully comfortable and accepted as a queer person, while working to live my life according to the Torah I believe in. I have found a minority of people who would support me in living as my full self, and a few special rabbis and religious teachers who have supported me in seeking to understand how to live my life in a way that would be most consistent with my deeply held beliefs.
Today, as Chanukah is about to end- I look at my life and see that what has allowed me to survive thus far, has been the ability to celebrate these small things. My Jewish tradition, whose bearers have always been a small minority among the world religions, has taught me to celebrate the light that comes from a small jug of oil so small that it seemed, at first glance, inadequate to the task it was given.
Posted by queeryeshivameidel.
I go to the shtiebel because it reminds me a bit of the places I grew up around, little storefront shuls where the men wear black hats and shtreimels and the women sit around a small table together and talk in a mixture of Yiddish, heavily accented English and Hebrew.
The Rebbetzin always says hello and asks how I’m doing, what I’m up to. One day she asked, inexplicably:
“How tall are you?”
“Why?” I asked- and then the other questions burst forward. Will I cover my hair? (Yes, if I married a man, I would). Am I more modern or more yeshivish? ( Both- but I’m not looking right now) Someone who works or someone who learns?
I didn’t know how to explain that I hope to build a Jewish home with a woman.
I don’t come to the Shtiebel as often as I used to. Most of the time, I daven in more modern shuls, where there is more English, more Hebrew, and less Yiddish, women sit in rows, and I can be open about my identity. When I do go to the Shtiebel, the Rebbetzin is always friendly to me, and asks me where I have been. But the thing that I haven’t said, the reasons I had for not saying it, construct a wall between us. I can’t talk to her about my life.
As long as I have not said something, I can imagine that it is possible that she would understand, that there is still a place for me at that table with the women who talk among themselves in Yiddish and Hebrew and heavily accented English.
I hope there is.
Posted by queeryeshivameidel.
The Detroit Free Press recently published an article about a young Jewish Artist named Naomi Zaslow. She grew up Orthodox, and kept her Gay identity secret for a long time before finally coming out, to her friends and family, and recently, through her art, constructing an identity for herself. In the article, she asks: “Which is more important: being queer, a woman or Jewish? None can be. There are so many facets of identity that come into play. It’s a sum of all those parts.” Zaslow, who has chosen to identify as “Post-denominational” and Queer, has remained involved in her Orthodox Jewish community.
It sounds like she has faced many challenges, and still manages to be hopeful and courageous. As she says: “It feels trite, but you’re not alone. Because people do feel alone. It’s scary. If you reach out, bad things can happen, do happen, But sometimes you do need to take the risk. There are places where you can find support. Things do get better.”
Posted by queeryeshivameidel.
This shabbos was a long one, and I got to sit and learn for much of the afternoon. I learned some Aruch Hashulchan and a bit of Masechet Ketubot, and of course, much of that was about jewish marriage. As I read, I could see how my married sisters had ceremonies that were remarkably similar to those described in the Talmud Bavli. There were differences. My sisters opted to include the RCA pre-nuptual agreement (and I hope more and more people will follow their example) . One of them gave her husband a ring as a gift (but was careful to wait until they were married to do so). But for the most part, much of the ceremony was the same.
Sometimes I feel lucky that, as a lesbian, I have the opportunity to take part in developing my own ritual. It’s not something we do all the time in the Orthodox community. Some people who choose to marry according to the traditional framework have deep difficulties with it. They worry, as I often do, that the ceremony is unbalanced, and structures the relationship along gender lines in ways that are disturbing. The man is the only one who can initiate the marriage, and, g-d forbid, a divorce.
But this shabbos, when I was looking at the tradition from up close, at all the different components of it, and the deep meanings behind them, I could not bring myself to celebrate my exclusion from this ceremony. I love the chuppah, the badeikin, the blessings, the communal celebration.
On some level, I just love that a jewish wedding is such an old tradition. We don’t just wake up one morning and recreate everything that it means to be in a committed loving relationship. Instead, we enter into the sort of agreement that we have watched our mothers and their mothers enter with their spouses. It is holy, reflective of the couple’s relationship to one another, their people, and g-d. They hardly even need to be conscious of it.
Personally, I feel a little bit lost, trying to figure out a way to navigate a queer wedding that is faithful to the tradition and able to create and describe the sort of relationship I want to enter into. I know that for me as a queer person, along with the usual questions of “who to marry” or “when to marry”, I must add “whether to marry” and “how to marry”.
I’m not the first to ask these questions, and I hope I will not be the last. I know that I have a lot of learning to do.
Posted by queeryeshivameidel