Category Archives: GLBT

Hate and homophobia cannot stand

My synagogue is holding a joint vigil for the Pulse nightclub victims with our interfaith council and our local LGBT center tonight.

I could not be there in person, because I have been having some really rotten anxiety over the last few weeks that keeps me from being able to leave my home without help. Instead, I am watching the livestream, and liveblogging it here and on Facebook.

Our cantor began the song with “We Shall Overcome.” I sang along here at home.

So far, our rabbi, a local imam, another member of the interfaith council, our cantor, and several other people have spoken. There has been music and song and a defiant refusal to let this stop us and hurt us.

There have been acknowledgments of the harm that the fundamentalist and conservative wings of the Abrahamic religions have done to those who are GSM (gender and sexual minorities). There have been offerings of brotherhood from the Muslim community. There have been expressions of solidarity from the LGBT community. Our mayor is a gay Latino man and sent his well-wishes with the LGBT community center director.

There are two ASL signers at the front of the room.

The imam: “Dear brothers and sisters, they are never going to break us. Be the way you want to be. Be Christian if you want, be a Jew if you want, be a Muslim if you want, be an atheist if you want, be no religion if you want. We are the people of peace, and we’re going to keep doing it. It doesn’t matter what. Salaam aleikum.”

“Love wins when love is a verb.” – LGBT center director

Our rabbi: “We are going to show others that our diversity does not undermine our community – it is the foundation of the very strength of our community!”

The city councilwoman for the district where our temple is located said that our cantor’s voice makes her feel like, if Heaven has music, that’s the sound that pipes through the halls of Heaven.

(I can’t guarantee exact wording here. Sorry. I don’t type as fast as they’re talking.)

She’s also discussing the level of hate that exists in this country. She says, “This recent tragedy (in Orlando) is part of the culture of violence we’re witnessing. How did we get to this place where mass shootings are just another news story? They always involve someone who is ostracized from their community and feel they have to be part of something bigger.”

She says, “I’ve been a prosecutor for seventeen years and I’ve never seen a homeowner use a machine gun to protect their home. We need to talk about gun violence…. Once the grief and tears are past, we have to think about solutions.”

Our congressman’s representative speaks – he could not be here, as he was in D.C. this morning (we’re on the other side of the country). She talks about the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans, the Stonewall riots, and other examples of the fear and hate that drive these kinds of atrocities leading right up to Pulse. She also talks about how the guns are far too easily to access and obtain. And finally, she calls for equality for all Americans.

Our cantor speaks about the work that needs to be done, and mentions Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony acceptance sonnet/speech: “Nothing here is promised; not one day… and love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be swept aside; now fill the world with music, love and pride.”

She sings Daniel Nahmood’s “Last Song”:

If this is my last song / If this is my final day
If tomorrow I’ll be gone / What do I want to say
If this is my last song / If it’s my time to go
When my body’s moved on / What will I have to show
No not fortune or fame – they scatter to the wind
The things that make a name – just don’t matter in the end

(chorus)
Is the world a little more peaceful
Oceans and sky a little more blue
Is humankind a little bit wiser
About the good that we can do
Does the sun shine a little bit brighter
Where before there was only rain
If so, then I’m glad I came

If these are my last words / For all of the earth to hear
If all that I have ever been / Is about to disappear
If these are my last words / There’s nothing that I need to say
I have only tried to serve / It’s never been about talking anyway
So much hurt there is to heal – it’s hard to understand
All I can hope to feel is that I am doing what I can

(chorus)

(chorus 2)

Have I given hope to the hopeless / Has a hungry soul been fed
Has a child stood a little bit taller ’cause of something that I said
Have I left a little kindness / Have I eased a little pain
If so, then I’m glad I came
For that, I’m so glad I came

If this is my last song / What do I leave behind
What do I pass on / If I am out of time

She broke down on the last line, and I can’t blame her! Not. A. Dry. Eye.

A pastor from the First Congregational Church of our town speaks next “When I came out, I lived in Jackson, Mississippi.” There’s an uncomfortable titter. He mentions Jack and Jill’s – a gay bar that I heard about earlier today on Facebook in a thread titled “What Was Your First Gay Bar?” He talks about how that bar was a safe place, where he could be himself. “I assure you that some of those folks who entered Pulse Nightclub last Saturday night felt the same sense of safety.”

And it was an illusion. It always is. A place that is supposed to be a sanctuary is not a safe place after all. How do we move forward when our sense of security has been taken from us? What is the antidote to fear? He says it’s love – and not just “holding hands and singing kumbayah” – but with action and with truth.

Our Rabbi speaks now, about “El Malei Rachamim” – a prayer we Jews recite when we are remembering and honoring someone who has died – and then our cantor sings it a capella.

(El malei rakhamim shokhen ba-m’romim ha-m’tzei m’nukhah n’khonah takhat kanfei ha-sh’khinah b’ma’alot k’doshim u’t’horim k’zohar ha-rakiah maz’hirim l’nishmot yakireinu u’k’dosheinu she-hal’khu l’olamam. Ana ba’al ha-rakhamim ha-s’tirem b’tzel k’nafekha l’olamim u-tz’ror bitz’ror ha-khayim et nishmatam. Adonai hu nakhalatam v’yanukhu b’shalom al mish’kabam v’nomar, amen.)

Rabbi gives a closing prayer, and the cantor closes the service with “True Colors.” Yes, that one – the one that Cyndi Lauper and Phil Collins both recorded back in the 1980s.

It’s appropriate.

I’m glad I was able to watch the livestream. I’ve been emotionally locked down and numb since I woke up on Sunday morning. But tonight, hearing my temple’s cantor sing and hearing the community’s words and views, I was finally able to cry.

Hate and homophobia cannot stand against an alliance like this, of all faiths, of all nations. It cannot stand.

For the first time in four days, I have hope again.

 

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Friday Feature: Special Edition

I am thankful.

I am thankful that I am (about to be) a Jew.

I am thankful that I am part of a liberal tradition.

I am thankful that my marriage is recognized by my family, my friends, my co-workers, my employer, my state, my religion, and now my nation.

I am thankful that five Justices of the Supreme Court chose to take the moral pathway. I am thankful that they prevailed. I am thankful that I can now go to any state in my country with my husband and that we will still be recognized as husbands to each other.

I am thankful for this: Jewish groups celebrate Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage nationwide

Oh, I don’t doubt that there will still be pitfalls. I’d rather not be in a small town hospital in Alabama or Kentucky with him if something goes wrong, for example. But for now, just knowing that he and I are equal to the rest of the people in this nation is really hitting me hard.

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melech ha’olam,
Shehecheyanu, viki’yimanu, vihigi’anu, lazman hazeh.

Shabbat Shalom, everyone. Shabbat Shalom.

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Coming Up For Air

So, a few things have happened since my last post.

1. I got legally married. My husband and I planned very carefully to make sure we could get married on a Friday without violating the Sabbath. We got married about ten minutes before sundown on October 31st, surrounded by friends. It was lovely.

2. There’s a very good chance that we will reprise the wedding next year as a religious wedding, with a huppah and everything. The other night my husband told me that there’s a 99% chance he’s going to convert with me. We’ve started attending the Taste of Judaism classes at our temple, and we’re definitely taking the Introduction to Judaism course that starts in January. There’s a very good chance we’ll take our mikveh dip at the same time.

3. I have purchased our own copy of the siddur used at our temple – the Mishkan T’Filah Reform Siddur. Last night we did Havdalah together and included a few readings from the siddur as part of it. (I wish I could find a recording of Elana Jagoda’s Havdalah song that was available as an MP3 instead of only on YouTube, though.)

4. There is no fourth thing.

5. I have been overwhelmed with work and other issues, which is why I haven’t been posting. I’m sure that “getting married” counts as something overwhelming, doesn’t it?

I’m also working on my antipathy towards the fundamentalists in my own faith. I have to get past this; it’s making it hard for me to practice tikkun olam. Reading part of Spiritual Activism by Rabbi Avraham Weiss (an Orthodox rabbi who calls for unity among all Jews and does not judge non-Orthodox Jews – for the most part) helped. I may talk about that in a few days.

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My Jewish&

MyJewishLearning.com is a fantastic site for converts. It’s got blogs, resources, references, all kinds of stuff to help us gerim get into the swing of things in our new chosen community.

12 Tamuz 5774

A recent blog post asks: “What’s YOUR Jewish&“? This post is a simple list of people’s responses – “I’m Jewish AND (&)…” So I thought I’d just do that here for fun. (Be aware: there’s a LOT of “&” for me.)

I’m Jew-ish&…

… white.

… Scots-Irish, German, French, English, Welsh, Hungarian and Dutch.

… raised Catholic.

… queer.

… polyamorous.

… a parent of two non-Jewish kids.

… a teacher.

… a scholar.

… fat. (Yes, this is an important one for me.)

… diabetic.

… grain-allergic.

… arthritic.

… educated.

Now let’s get into some of the other stuff that MJL might not have considered. I’m also Jew-ish&…

… angry about what’s going on in Israel and the Gaza strip.

… disappointed at the state of education in the United States for many reasons.

… tired of people othering everyone. For example, on a comment on the Josh Gad interview on Kveller the other day, someone just had to self-righteously say that Gad, a descendant of Shoah survivors and the parent of two children who are being raised interfaith with his Catholic wife, is a “tragic outcome” of the American melting pot. I happen to think that’s a bigoted opinion and that it qualifies as lashon hara. (Shame on you, Pinchos Woolstone.)

… sick to death of violence, hate, bigotry, and stupidity.

… hopeful that things can change for the better.

… determined to make them so.

So what’s YOUR Jewish&?

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My Jewish Reading List: Books I’ve Read So Far, and Questions I Want To Ask

I’ve seen other Jews-by-choice make lists of the books they’ve read or are reading as part of their conversion process, and it occurs to me that it’d be a good idea if I had a booklist ready when I met with the rabbi next week – especially since there’s a very good chance I’ll actually meet him tonight at Shavuot services. So, here’s what I’ve read so far.

  1. Jewish Literacy, by Joseph Telushkin
  2. What is a Jew?, by Morris Kertzer and Lawrence Hoffman
  3. Becoming Jewish (A Handbook for Conversion), by Ronald H. Isaacs
  4. Why Be Jewish?, by David J. Wolpe
  5. The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism, by Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin
  6. To Life! by Harold S. Kushner
  7. Living a Jewish Life, by Anita Diamant
  8. The Everything Judaism Book, by Richard Bank (this is not an especially good reference, in my opinion, for converts)
  9. Choosing a Jewish Life: A Handbook for People Converting to Judaism and for Their Family and Friends, by Anita Diamant (this is an excellent book for converts!)
  10. Read Hebrew in Just 90 Minutes, by Chaim Conway (still working my way through this one)

Other books that are not about Judaism and conversion specifically, but which have informed my understanding of Jewish life and practices because they have characters or important people who are either ethnically or religiously Jewish (or both), include:

  1. The Diary of Anne Frank, by Anne Frank
  2. In The Presence of Mine Enemies, by Harry Turtledove
  3. I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, by Joanne Greenberg
  4. Just about any kids’ book by Judy Blume
  5. Any book that has a Jewish character in it

Other things that have informed my understanding of Judaism and conversion include several really excellent blogs on the topic, including Coffee Shop Rabbi and Chicago Carless.

There are other sources, mainly people, that have informed this journey as well.

I also know that if I’m going to meet with the rabbi, I should have some questions ready for him. So here’s a few that I’ve got lined up so far:

  1. What do you feel are the main requirements for a person to be a sincere convert to Judaism?
  2. What is your philosophy about converts and conversion?
  3. What is your understanding of tikkun olam?
  4. I will be in an interfaith, gay relationship. Does this pose problems for you, either personally or professionally, with taking me on as a conversion candidate?

Because, you know, I’m not asking any really risky questions or anything, right?

 

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A Talk With My Partner, and Shavuot

My partner had expressed interest in Judaism after the Seder we went to, but for him that faded, while for me it’s grown stronger. Instead, he’s renewed his interest in neopaganism and appears to be following that path as eagerly as I’m following the Judaic one. So I’ve kind of been on eggshells the last few weeks about a number of things, including my conversion and how it will affect him when he’s not going to convert as well. Today, we had a long talk – one of those ones you have every three or four years – and hashed it all out.

Although I’m not going to share the other things we talked about, because they’re not relevant, he told me, “Honey, I think that your conversion is wonderful. You’re so much happier now that you’re not hating G-d. I think this is totally the right thing for you to be doing, and I support you in it.”

He probably won’t come to most services with me, but he’s even fine with a mezuzah on the doorpost of our apartment, me saying the brachot at meals, and having Shabbat here on Friday nights. He and I are going to go shopping tomorrow to see if we can find a replacement for the broken candlestick so that I’ll have two again by the time Shavuot rolls around. (On a more pragmatic note, he also approves of my grain-free challah and hopes I make it more than once a week; I’ve ordered grain-free flour mix for that purpose and I still need to get more xantham gum.)

He works the swing shift on both days of Shavuot, so I will go to services one of the two days, probably on Wednesday morning. I’ll bake challah on Tuesday morning so I can bring a loaf of it with me to services for the Tikkun L’eil Shavuot, and I’ll attend services on either Wednesday or Thursday morning as well.

I’m trying to find dairy-heavy dishes to make for the first day of Shavuot, and I think I’ve found enough: potato kugel, cauliflower gratin, an egg-and-cheese frittata, and some hard cheeses just as they are (which tend to spike my blood sugar a lot less than dairy-with dishes, of course). I’ll leave cookie-making to those who know how to make them, however, so there won’t be rugelach or sweet kreplach on the table on Wednesday night, even though I’ve found gluten-free versions of the recipes – they intimidate me! Thursday I was planning a beef stew anyway, so the idea of “dairy on the first night and meat on the second” works out fine.

I’m just relieved that he and I had that talk. It’s going to be much less stressful now, going through my practices without thinking that he’s annoyed by them. There’s more than one way for a partner to be supportive when you convert, even if he doesn’t share your beliefs. He’s doing that, and I’m very, very lucky to have him.

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Wrestling Match #8: Sin

26 Iyyar 5774

This is one of the things I have had the most trouble with: sin.

In Christianity, sin is mainly something you do against G-d. You disobey, or you break commandments, or whatever. But you also have original sin – sin that you get because you were descended from Adam, and he sinned, so that means until you’re baptized, YOU carry ADAM’s sin.

Apparently Judaism isn’t cool with that. And there’s exactly one time per year when sins against G-d are even talked about: Yom Kippur.

Most sins are the sins you commit against other people. These may also be broken commandments/mitzvot, but the main issue is: you hurt someone else either by what you did or by what you didn’t do. Another human being. Not cool. Cut it out, apologize to the person you harmed, make amends, and don’t do it again.

However, this seems to leave out things you do that don’t actually harm anyone, but that are supposedly “morally” wrong. For example: where does consent come into play? Does consent mitigate sin? If (for example) a married couple likes to play spanking games, does the spankee’s consent mitigate or eliminate the spanker’s sin? I can’t find clear answers for this kind of thing, even in Reform Judaism writings, although there are opinions available on the web.

There does seem to be a rabbinic argument in favor of polyamory (look up Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in NYC), and the main points are listed at AhavaRaba, or “Big Love” in Hebrew (roughly), which is an email list for poly Jews. I will be adding myself to that list at some point, I’m sure.

And we’ve already discussed the homosexuality question in the drash I posted a few weeks ago (see “The Verses That Won’t Let People Live“), so I don’t need to go into that, I don’t think.

Part of what I’m wrestling with here is just the idea that some of the things I do or like might be things that HaShem really doesn’t care about. As someone raised in several faith traditions where even my thoughts (never mind my actions) could be sinful, this is hard to wrap my head around. In Catholicism, you confess everything, even if it was only a thought. In Judaism, it seems, your confessions are mostly to the people who were harmed by your action or inaction, and a once-a-year apology to G-d for the mistakes you’ve made and the offenses you’ve made against him alone.

Any thoughts? This is one place I can’t seem to find a lot of guidance.

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Ch-ch-ch-changes… and an appeal to my readers.

24 Iyyar 5774

So my partner told me today that he’s a little worried about my conversion changing me or making me want to leave him.

It’s a normal fear, I suppose. I just don’t quite know how to address it. And this isn’t the usual fear that converts face: my partner and I are queer. That does make it different, because there’s so few resources out there for people like us.

Now, I can’t imagine a future where I would leave him, for any reason. From my conversations with the people at the local temple yesterday, I don’t think that they would make him uncomfortable, or me either, just for being GLBT or for being an interfaith couple. When I brought it up last night, the rabbinical student said, “You will not be the first ones here.”

He was also worried that I was going to start keeping kosher, but I reassured him that that’s not going to happen, because of my own current dietary restrictions. But I can see his point. I will be praying a lot more than I have been, which up until I decided that conversion was right for me, was zero times per day.  I’ll be wearing a kippah most of the time, so it will change how I look. And those are mostly just surface changes.

Frankly, I think that he will enjoy some of the other changes – like the fact that I won’t feel the need to talk religious people down (although I still reserve the right to call certain religious people out on their bad behavior, but that’s a different thing). I’m already calmer than I was, and I think I’m happier. And I think he sees that. He’s already said he thinks this is a positive change for me.

I’m sure that part of his worry is: what will me being Jewish do to our sex life? And I’ve been wrestling with that in my own time, with a few trusted correspondents. Let me put it this way: I’m not going to let it damage our sex life.

But I think most of what he’s worried about is just the changes he can’t predict. The unknowns. And I can understand that.

So, since there are so few resources out there for queer people in this situation, I could use some help from my readership. Is there anything that you can think of that might make him really uncomfortable, that I can address now, to make it less scary? Any ways in which I can help him so that he doesn’t feel so threatened? Any heads-ups I should be giving him now?

And, while I’m at it: does anyone have any advice for me? I don’t mean just about my partner’s worries, but about my own coming out process as I begin to tell friends and family members what I’ve chosen to do. Really, I think one of the things that is stressing me out the most is that so few people that I care about know that I am moving towards conversion to a religious path, after being so vehemently atheist for so many years. When I came out as queer, there was one friend who was very dear to me that completely rejected me and never spoke to me again. That still hurts, and it’s been 14 years since it happened. And just in the last week, reading Facebook and another blog site that I’m part of, I see my atheist friends running down religious people simply because they’re religious, making really nasty and hurtful comments, and just generally being as intolerant as fundamentalist religionists are of anyone who isn’t exactly like them.

It took me over 20 years to understand that I can’t measure spirituality using the same tool as I used and still do use for the material world. I can’t expect my atheist friends to make the same shift as I have.

But it occurs to me I should probably document why I have.

I’ve mentioned the helicopters before. One of them was an article about near death experiences. What convinced me that they have to be the real thing – which means there has to be a soul or something beyond what our material self produces by electrical flashes in the brain – was that the people who went through the NDE could independently verify things that happened while they had absolutely no brain activity. Their lack of brain activity is a matter of medical record, and yet they knew things that they could not possibly know, if the “personality and self are entirely made up of electrical flashes in the brain” school of thought is true.

I am a scientist. At this point, the only explanation that fits the evidence is: there is a soul.  It is independent of the body. And we don’t understand anything about it.

Another helicopter is one I’ve talked about at length here: the fact that I equated my mother’s abuse with how G-d operates. When I realized that my view of G-d was based largely on a faulty filter system, that changed everything for me.

But do I expect these helicopters to mean anything to my friends who are atheist? No. I will be pleased and surprised if they do, but I expect to lose quite a few friends when I come out and say, “Hey, guess what? I’m converting to Reform Judaism.”

My partner is much more understanding than my atheist friends will probably be. For one thing, he believes in G-d. But he still has fears and I can understand that. So please, give me some ways to help him deal with the fears that he’s going to have.

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Hagah #3: The Law – Spirit and Letter

18 Iyyar 5774

I grew up in a rule-bound religion, with the emphasis on following the rules, rather than understanding their intent or their spirit. In my experience, Catholicism doesn’t leave much wiggle room for people who don’t fit inside what is actually a very narrow rule set.

Every religious movement has its rules lawyers: the people who, when faced with a hard question, will check the rule book. Indeed, this phenomenon goes beyond religious groups to cultures, societies, and nations. It becomes more prominent when the rules are written down, but even when most of the law is unwritten, there will be people who push for strict adherence to it.

I will use the gay community and its norms as an example of this rules-lawyering. The modern gay male community, at least the one that is most prominent and visible, has a very distinct “look”: Young (under 30 years old), white, athletic, well-off. In recent years, “straight-acting” has been added to this list “what gay males are like.” Queeniness and effeminacy are no longer considered appropriate. In this most visible of all the gay communities, you are expected to work hard and play hard, be sexually active and attractive, find social activity to be extremely important… Well, you get the picture.

None of these norms are written down anywhere, except in books of comedy about the gay community.  But they are enforced in dozens of subtle and unsubtle ways, including being part of the in crowd this week and on the outs next week.

However, adherence to these norms is only the surface of what it means to be a gay male. Being gay is not about following these norms; it is about being attracted to people of the same gender. As a mid 40s, heavyset, un-athletic, slightly queeny gay male, I don’t fit the “letter” of gay community norms, but I absolutely fit the spirit of them. Men are hot.

But even if you fit the spirit of the norms, if you’re attracted in any way to people who are the opposite gender, you are told that you’re not really queer, or to get off the fence. I still respond “gay” about half the time when asked what my sexual orientation is, because in the main I’m attracted to other men. My female partner is a rarity for me.

Some gay men can’t handle the idea that I have a girlfriend. In their heads that fundamentally makes me not gay. In their heads, anyone who is ever attracted to someone of the opposite gender cannot be gay. (I suppose they’ve never heard of the Kinsey scale.) But I’m still gay, for all that. I had to figure out which sub-community of the gay community I actually belonged to when I first came out. I found it–the bear community–but it took a while, and in the meantime I wondered how I would ever meet the standards set by those unwritten rules.

Finding out that I didn’t have to meet them once I found the bear community was a relief. But there will always be gay men who judge anyone who doesn’t fit those standard norms as “not really gay.” And I just have to live with that, while continuing on as the gay man that I am.

In the same way, there will always be Orthodox Jews who have decided that halachic orthodoxy is the only right way to be a Jew, and who will reject me because I do not fit the letter of their laws – they feel that I am not halachically acceptable. That still doesn’t make me any less of a Jew, however. They may never accept me, but I don’t need them to accept me. I just need my sub-community of Judaism to accept me.

I affirm that G-d is One. I affirm that we received the Torah at Sinai. But I also affirm that halacha is as much about the spirit of the law as it is about the letter of the law: to do what is right, to show mercy, and to walk humbly with our G-d, in the words of Micah. What “right” is cannot be solely tied to a narrow, letter-only interpretation of the Torah. There will be times when we must work on Shabbat. There will be times when we cannot keep kashrut. And many of the texts which do not let people live must be understood for what they are: a product of their time, written down by men who tried to understand G-d as best they could, and who ended up putting G-d in a box.

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