The Orthodox Community at Penn (OCP) has developed a sort-of ritual for gay Jews coming out. People who have been living in the closet, perhaps out to a few friends and family members, will invite the ~200 person community over for a Friday night tisch. Tisches and onegs usually involve food and singing, but these consist of someone telling their personal story in a speech about their decision to reconcile being observant and being gay. People are met with overwhelming support, there are lots of hugs and accolades, some tears are shed, and the conversations continue into the evening and throughout the weekend.
Two people at Penn came out in this way before I did. Their stories are not mine to tell, but I’ll talk a little about the decisions I went through as I tried to figure out if I needed to come out in the same way.
Two weekends ago, I went to Yale for the Ivy League LGBT conference, IvyQ. It was a fun weekend, great especially for meeting people in the Penn queer community. I discovered a long time ago that the best way to get to know new people at Penn is to leave campus with them, which held true. However, I had just as interesting and meaningful of a time at Yale doing Jewish things as gay things.
On Friday night, there was a Shabbat dinner for conference attendees, but I welcomed Shabbat not really knowing what I was doing for lunch. I found Egalitarian/Conservative services on Friday night, and was then excited to hear that minyan was davening in the morning as well.
There was a huge blizzard along the East coast that weekend, happening Friday night into Saturday morning, which actually worked out well because I didn’t feel like I was missing out on much by staying inside on Friday night and reading a book. Saturday morning, I woke up and trekked through the completely snowed-in campus to Hillel, where I joined the six people who had already arrived at the Egal minyan during psukei d’zimra.
On Christmas morning, 2012, I woke up to an email from a friend, responding to an email I had sent in June. In that June coming-out email, I had announced my intention to live as an Orthodox Jew and a gay man. It’s amazing how much things can change in six months, as one way that I make sense of Fall 2012 is as an extended break-up with Orthodoxy.
But my first thought on reading that second email was “hmm, maybe this is not an entirely hopeless enterprise.” It’s taken two months (or six months, or eight months…) to finally start the blog because I’ve been busy having life experiences to write about.
There’s a repeating pattern with Jewish rituals and identifications in my life. I gave a sermon in my Reform congregation during high school in which I discussed why I always remembered, but never expected to keep, Shabbat. Three years later, I was keeping Shabbat in college. When I started constantly wearing a baseball cap, in order to cover my head without wearing a kippah, I said “I would never wear a kippah under the baseball cap. That seems like overdoing it.” One week later I was doing just that, and two months later the baseball cap came off. When I came out to my parents in June and they expressed concern not for my sexuality, but for the difficulties I was sure to face in my adopted denomination, I told my mom “I am gay, and I am Orthodox, and that’s not going to change.” In November, I told them at Thanksgiving “I doubt that Orthodoxy will become gay-positive enough in the next 50 years that I’ll feel comfortable raising kids with that label, but I’m comfortable with this level of observance and I’m working on finding halakhic egalitarian spaces.”
I want observant Judaism in my life, and I look forward to finding the spaces that I’ll feel comfortable. If those spaces don’t yet exist, I look forward to building them. I’m starting this blog in order to join the conversation about Judaism and homosexuality on the internet and to share my experiences. Welcome!
I delivered this Dvar Torah at Saturday morning services during this past weekend’s KOACH Kallah at the University of Pennsylvania.
In this week’s parsha, Terumah, some of the details we read about the construction of the mishkan deal with the adornments on ארון העדות. Specifically, there are instructions about the figured to be placed on top of the ark: two כרובים, cherubim, commonly understood to be creatures which possess human heads and animal bodies.
“Make two cherubim of gold,” we read. “They shall confront each other, the faces of the cherubim being turned toward the cover. Place the cover on top of the Ark, after depositing inside the Ark the Pact that I will give you. There I will meet with you, and I will impart to you—from above the cover, from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark of the Pact—all that I will command you concerning the Israelite people.”
So you have the image in your head. Two sphinx-like figures face each otherin hebrew, “ופניהם These statues are on top of the ark in which the Torah is held. And when God .”איש אל אחיו speaks to Moses, his revelation emanates from between these two figures.
What’s going on here?