Being Jewish and Gay
I remember the first time I visited the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem in 1996. I was 18. I was on my gap year in Israel. And I remember writing on a small piece of paper that note to put into the wall. My note then, as an 18 year old, was asking G-d not to make me gay and that he allowed me to live a happy life.
So I knew I was gay from an early age. Of course, at age 3 or 4, I didn’t actually know what the word gay was or that one day I would grow up and look to find a husband, but I just knew it was an innate part of who I was.
So what does it really mean to be a Jewish Gay Man in Melbourne in 2015?
Am I blessed to be someone/experience something unique, something that only 10% of us are? (Universal studies indicate that 10% of the population is gay). Or am I forever going to feel slightly disconnected from a community that favours and promotes hetero-normative families and a G-d who handed down a set of Jewish laws, which outlawed my very existence?
My personal experience with Judaism is that it never outwardly showed its homophobia, but rather, it fervently reinforces a heterosexual identity. Rabbis often talk of a man and woman, a husband and wife. They talk about what the ‘chatan’ and ‘kalah’ should be building for their future as they enter into marriage.
Our community, for thousands of years, has expressed the Jewish family as a heterosexual construct. In doing so, it removes the idea of two men or two women building a Jewish home and having a family.
When I was in the closet, and my sexuality was hidden to the world, G-d was my only companion in that closet. My struggle therefore was a constant negotiation with G-d to understand why I was gay and what purpose my life had. The understanding that Judaism declares homosexuality as an ‘abomination’ was a constant daily struggle until I came out. So when I did come out of the closet to explore life as an openly gay man, my exploration as a Jew now only existed in identity but no longer in engagement.
In 2013 I decided to move to New York and find myself a job, an apartment and a nice Jewish Husband. The apartment was easy to find. The job and husband though, was not quite as successful. But the Jewish part in my search trifecta was a surprise discovery. After coming out in 2001 at age 24, I parted ways with Judaism as it was clear that I was not welcomed, and there was no place for gay men and women in the heart of Jewish life. But when I was in New York, I found a whole community that simply showed Jewish gay men and woman working, co-existing, living in the Jewish community with ease, acceptance and with true Jewish spirit, deriving real nachas, in a truly Jewish sense, from their inclusion. I was once invited to a Shabbat lunch. It was hosted by two religious married men with their twin babies, two other Jewish men recently engaged, and another amazing incredibly handsome Jewish married couple. If vogue had a Jewish Gay magazine, this couple would have a full feature spread. (Did I mention they were both doctors?!)
This close-knit Jewish, gay, New York community, personified by this Shabbos lunch, was the first time that I felt being Jewish and gay was not only okay, but indeed, ‘normal’. On that day, I felt that each element of me co-existed beautifully with the spirit of being true to who I was and celebrating tradition and religious practice. That experience showed me what was possible and inspired me to create that same sense of belonging in my Melbourne community. It was with this inspiration that the concept of ‘JAG’ (Jewish and Gay) was born. A beautifully simple idea: A social group in Melbourne for young Jewish LGBTI adults to meet and connect in a range of different social activities.
So almost 18 months has gone by and JAG is slowly growing in its ability to build community, to educate and inspire others about maintaining a Jewish and gay identity. It’s encouraging our community to start to provide a safe space for young adults to come out of the closet and feel connected to the community and most importantly, included.
As I continue to navigate my way through life, I will always stand proud as an openly Jewish and Gay man. I will advocate and support all aspects of inclusion and diversity in our community, in our schools, in our synagogues. I no longer feel a separation between my identity as a Jew and my identity as a gay man. And I will not let hatred or ignorance or intolerance push me back into any closet.
But our work towards acceptance and equality is far from over. Homophobia, be it subtle or overt, still exists and continues to damage the self-confidence and capabilities of young men and woman and weaken the fabric of our Jewish and wider community.
I think about our history as a Jewish nation, which has been persecuted for generations. I think about the stories of the Holocaust which permeate our DNA and our understanding of what it means to be Jewish today. And I think about who spoke out when the Jews were being persecuted. Who stood up for the Jews when they were marched out of their homes into Ghettos and to concentration camps? Who stood up for the homosexuals who were murdered? And I wonder now, in 2015, when hatred still subsists against people, simply for being gay, who is going to stand up for us.