Posts filed under ‘Personal Stories’

The Rebbetzin

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.

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October 3, 2008 at 3:14 am 3 comments

An Article on Judaism, Art and Identity

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.

September 7, 2008 at 10:59 am 2 comments

Thousands of Years of Tradition

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

June 22, 2008 at 11:54 am 1 comment

Creating a Queer Frum Jewish Home

My partner and I are moving in together in less than a week. I am very excited, a little nervous, and very hopeful. I have lived with partners before but this is different. This is my first time creating an observant, frum Jewish home with someone. How do two lesbian, bisexual and/or queer women create an observant Jewish household together? I don’t know the answer to that yet. But I have some thoughts on my mind about this topic.

I’ve been thinking a lot about tables, and what takes place around them. When we can afford it, we want to buy a big table. As my partner said, a table big enough to have a bunch of people sitting around it and room for food in the middle. Why a big table? Because having people over to our home for Shabbos and yuntif meals will be a big way for us to feel like we are a family (yes, two people can be a family!) and to be able to have our community of friends and family be part of our lives in a different way. Right now we go over to other peoples’ houses for most Shabbos meals. Now we will be able to have people come to us. We will be able to have a bunch of people sitting around our table eating my our home-cooked food and singing Shabbos zmiros with us. A table is more than just furniture! In a Jewish home, it is a symbol of family and community and joyful celebrations.

We have fallen into certain roles in our relationship when it comes to Jewish ritual. I’m sure not all “orthodykes” and other Jewish same-sex couples do this – Some couples are more egalitarian than others and switch off more than we do. But I’ve just naturally fallen into doing kiddush and the brachos for havdalah every week. It just feels right. She davens more regularly than I do, and her doing so wordlessly reminds me to pick up my siddur. I wonder how this will unfold as we live together and (G-d willing) have children. There are no written rules for how to divide Jewish ritual (or household labor, or parenting) when you are a same-sex couple.

Another issue that comes up when a queer frum couple move in together is how to fuse two peoples’ personal hashkafas (outlooks on Judaism). Disagreements about kashrus can be fraught with tension. My love tells me I’m too machmir sometimes, which makes me laugh. I didn’t grow up kosher so I’m still learning the ropes. We have had some back and forth about whether to have a dairy kitchen or both meat an dairy. We are two different people, and compromise is the name of the game. Of course there is also always the question of which of our friends will eat at our home and who won’t. Yes, ultimately we are dealing with the same issues as most frum couples… except there is no rule about whose minhagim (customs) we will defer to. What it comes down to is that most of the eternal Jewish questions and issues faced by newly married and/or newly cohabitating couples don’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation!

Posted by queerbasyisroel.

June 17, 2008 at 8:50 pm 4 comments

Od Yishama*

My friends just got engaged- after about two decades together. They have grown together, learned together, built a Jewish home together and served their jewish community- passionately. They have taught me alot about what it means to be in relationship- to each other and to the Jewish people. But legally, they are two single women who happen to live together- for a really long time.

So when the state of California ruled that gay people had a right to marriage along with their straight counterparts, my friends got engaged. When they told me, I wondered a little why it mattered. I knew it was not about the benefits. They would go back afterwards to their home state, where no benefits are extended to lesbian couples. It wasn’t for a sense of commitment, or seriousness, either, they already have that. Tonight, when I was thinking about it, I understood that this was about being heard. I began to understand a song I had sung many times:

“It will still be heard in the cities of Judah and in the outskirts of Jerusalem- The sound of joy and the sound of happiness, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride”

The song expresses happiness- not only with the marriage of the couple, but with the presence of so many members of the community, who hear and recognize their joy. For my friends, that recognition and celebration are long overdue. I am happy to have had the privilege to hear their joy and to see the commitment and love- for each other and for judaism that they bring into their relationship.

I hope the state of California will have the courage to hear them soon.

Posted by queeryeshivameidel

* I hope to post later- and separately, on the subject of lesbian marriage in halacha, both civil and religious.

May 29, 2008 at 11:08 pm 1 comment

Eshes Chayil (Woman of Valor)

Grace is elusive and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears G-d — she shall be praised.
Give her credit for the fruit of her labors, and let her achievements praise her at the gates.
-Eshes Chayil

I. AUTUMN

She girds her loins in strength, and makes her arms strong.

The Rebbetzin of my local small-town Chabad House holds a Women’s Shabbos on a weekend when the Rabbi is away. As the only traditional Jewish community in my area, Chabad House has become a slightly uncomfortable yet welcoming place for me to spend Shabbos. Just as men sing Eshes Chayil even when there are no women around, women sing Eshes Chayil even when there are no men around. So tonight around the table 15 women sing the ancient words. I wonder if I am the only one who feels the power of a group of women singing this song together with no men around, singing this song to ourselves and to one another. I am sure I must be the only one who replaces the word “husband” with a gender-neutral concept in my mind while we sing. If I am lucky enough to share a home and a life one day with the woman I have been dating, I wonder if we will sing this song together on Shabbos. Will we replace a few of the words to better reflect our own realities? Or will we scrap this part of the Shabbos meal (it is only a custom rather than halacha, after all) because of its focus on the heterosexual marriage neither of us will ever be part of?

II. SPRING

Many women have done worthily, but you surpass them all.

My partner and I are standing around the Shabbos table with the ultra-Orthodox family who is hosting us, and their other guests. My relationship with her has grown ever more serious as we begin to plan for our future together. Everyone has just finished singing an especially spirited Shalom Aleichem, welcoming the angels of the sabbath. As usual, we begin singing Eshes Chayil, a section of Proverbs that is one of our tradition’s most beautiful odes to women. “Eshes chayil mi yimtza ve-rachok mi-peninim michrah…” (A woman of valor, who can find? She is more precious than pearls…) This is a tradition that was not part of the Shabbos rituals of my childhood, and I love watching the men in the families I spend Shabbos with singing this song of admiration to their wives.

Tonight I want so badly to turn towards my own partner and look her straight in the eye as I sing this song directly to her. I hope she knows that as I sing, struggling with the words as our host sings faster than I can possibly read the Hebrew, I am thinking of her alone. We are in a warm Hasidic household where my partner is a beloved member of the extended mishpacha and where we are accepted as a couple, but where also make sure to keep physical space between us. We do this not just because we don’t want to make our hosts uncomfortable with our queerness, but because in this home couples of any orientation just don’t touch. This is a space where even holding this beautiful woman’s gaze for too long in front of everyone else would feel like too much intimacy to be appropriate. So I keep my eyes to myself, but I imagine that we are standing alone together in our own kitchen, where I could hold her hands in mine and look at her while I sing, and where I could tell her that this song is for her, that she is my Woman of Valor.

Her valor is the bravery to be who she is and her refusal to compromise her yiddishkeit or her ability to love and be loved. Her valor is her hard-won sense of self-worth and self-respect. Her valor is her refusal to internalize shame, and her outspoken defense of those who are vulnerable. Her valor is her love for children and her sense of ethics. In the coming years, G-d willing, her valor as an amazing wife and mother will have the opportunity to shine. Unlike in the words of the song, no husband is required for this particular Eshes Chayil’s strength, beauty and faith to illuminate the world.

Posted by queerbasyisroel.

May 29, 2008 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Think of the Children [A Guest Post by Rochel]

This is our first guest post, written by Rochel, a member of Tirtzah.

When I started coming out at shul, I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t naïve enough to hope that everyone would be supportive or understanding but at the same time I did try to be optimistic. After attending this shul for over four years, I had developed many close friendships and in fact considered many of the members more like family than friends. These were the people who had celebrated with me when I finished grad school, cried with me when my father was battling cancer, opened their homes to me week after week so that I could experience what it is like to have shabbos with family… this community taught me about the value of chesed (loving kindness) and I desperately hoped that they would respond to me with kindness when I opened up to them about my sexuality.

I chose different approaches to coming out to the people that I was closest with at shul. Some people I spoke with in person or on the phone, and cases where I was most nervous I wrote an email. While in the end, people have had different responses and offered varying degrees of support, initially there did seem to be one theme.

“Think of the children!”, everyone seemed to be saying…
(more…)

May 28, 2008 at 11:46 pm 2 comments

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About Tirtzah

We are a community of frum queer women who gather to celebrate and study our yiddishkeit. We are committed to the value of shleimut (wholeness) and to supporting one another in observing a meaningful, integrated, honest and joyful Jewish life.

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