Hi. I’m A, and I am an Orthodox lesbian. I am 38 and I have a wonderful wife as my partner, two amazing kids which are my pride and joy and am fortunate enough to live in a an Orthodox community that has been very warm and welcoming to me and my family.
I first realized I was a lesbian when I was 16… well… really my first big crush was when I was 12, but the first time I knew without a doubt that I was a lesbian was when I was in a relationship with a girl when I was 16. At that point I was just becoming frum and had a huge internal struggle that lasted years about whether I should become frum or give it up and be true to my heart. I concluded that giving up Yiddishkeit was like giving up air and I eventually joined a chareidi community, married a man and started a family. I told only the man I married, but not the rest of the community that I was a lesbian. We were married 11 years, but ultimately it didn’t work out.
Yeah… it’s like that.
Tell us about your connection to Judaism?
I’ve always seen Judaism as a means to connect and communicate with our Creator. One of my earliest memories as a child was sitting in my bedroom when I was about two and thinking it odd that there was someone there in the room with me, though the room was empty. I used to talk to that presence and tell it about my thoughts. Later when I was taught about what G-d was, it was clear to me that that was who I had been talking to. I’ve always felt very close to Hashem, like He’s right there next to me every minute of every day.
What do you love about Jewish life?
I love being a part of community and connecting with mitzvot. I’m a very tactile hands-on kind of person. I love when I get to use my hands to do mitzvot like building sukkas or putting up an eruv. I also love doing things where you can really see the ways in which your actions help individuals. I love building and creating community. I’ve always felt myself a pawn in Hashem’s plans and I love when I can see that Hashem’s put me in places in life to be able to step in and make a difference in another person’s Jewish experience. I think I really like HaKadosh Baruchu’s world and His people. I love connecting with that. It brings me joy. It makes me feel like there is something important I can do with life. I think a lot of life is really difficult and muddy and complicated and complex. I think I find that I tend to focus my efforts on the mitzvot that seem really clear and simple to me.
This is a terrible idea!
What do you mean somethings are complicated?
Well… I think there are a lot of opportunities to do mitzvot and we all just do our best to fulfill them all to the best of our abilities. Sometimes I worry about whether I’m doing it all right, doing it correctly. For example, one conversation I had with someone recently… How do you know when you are helping someone or hurting someone by giving tzedakah? If a man on the street is clearly a drunk, comes up to you asking for a dollar to buy a sandwich, is giving that dollar helping him or giving him more opportunity to drink in excess? We do our best and Torah guides us, but some things I find muddier then others. But things like Hachnasas orchim on Shabbat are easier…just invite everybody and whoever shows up shows up!
What is Shabbos like at your house?
Well, in our shul there is a hosting committee. A group of community members who are in charge of making sure everyone who needs a meal for Shabbos has one and we rotate shabbatot . My wife and I are on the rotation and when it’s our turn (and often when it’s not) we like to fill our dining room up with as many guests as we can. Especially on Yomim Tovim! Often times we host a person or two over to sleep at our house for Shabbat who would otherwise have too long a walk to shule from their house or who is visiting from out of town.
What’s the craziest Shabbat you’ve ever hosted?
Well, that would have to be Teva Shabbat. A few years ago my shul was doing a Shabbaton program about Jewish ethics around Tikun Olam, Sustainability and building stronger communities through community gardening. We called it Educating from the Earth and we brought in two speakers for Shabbat, a Rabbi Greenberg from CLALwho would discuss Jewish ethics around sustainability and caring for the Earth Hashem has given us as well as one of the founders of the Jewish Farm School, Nati Passow, to talk about ways young Jews were finding a deeper connection with their Judaism through farming.
We had a movie on community gardening Motzei Shabbat and a program on Sunday to plant the seeds to start our own community garden. At the time my wife and I had the two of us, our two kids and a boarder living in our small little house. It was originally a 2 bedroom 1 bathroom house that we expanded by putting a play room and bedroom in the basement and another bedroom and office in the attic. Anyway… small house. The boarder we had was someone who had worked at the Teva Jewish Environmental Education program at Isabella Friedman for a couple of years and she and I were two of the main coordinators of the Shabbat program so of course we planned to host the two guest speakers for Shabbat. We also had 3 community members who really wanted to be a part of this event, but lived too far away to walk to shul so we hosted them too.
Quite a full household… but what made it really crazy was when my housemate came up to me and told me with great excitement that we were apparently fortunate enough to have the Topsy Turvy Teva Bus passing though that very weekend and they wanted to come to our program for Shabbat and needed someplace to crash. So, besides the people already staying at the house we made room for another 6 more to join us as well, with their double decker bus parked in our driveway.
You’re gonna put that where?!!!
But here’s the thing with that crazy story… As one of the coordinators I was on the phone with the Rabbi from CLAL and the founder of the Farm School coordinating who was speaking during the dinner and who was speaking during the lunch and what the program was going to look like and it hit me in the middle of the conversation… The Rabbi from CLAL, wasn’t just any R. Greenberg… it was R. Steve Greenberg from the movie “Trembling Before G-d”.
R. Steve Greenberg, first openly gay Orthodox Rabbi.
I was really excited about this because there was a small group of Orthodox LGBT/Queer identified people in my shul community who had come out to my wife and I confidentially but not to anyone else in the community. As a result, my wife and I knew who they were but they didn’t know each other. So I’d talked to my Rabbi at my shul and created a side program that weekend. We had a very quiet get together with all those people and R. Greenberg over seudah shlishit at my house. My rabbi also knew other LGBT people that I didn’t know and all told we have about 10 folks at my house who all knew each other, but didn’t know that they all identified on the LGBT / Queer spectrum. It was fantastic and beautiful. We all sat around my living room and shared our stories about being Frum and Gay and how we found ourselves in this community concluding the Shabbat with one of the most moving Havdalahs of my life under the stars in my back yard right next to the crazy fantastic Teva bus. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this sort of thing.
What did that feel like for you?
There were two different feelings for me. I felt good, as a community organizer, knowing that I had done something positive, and that something was made better by giving these people the opportunity to connect to one another. And secondly, as an individual experiencing the moment, I felt empowered. Whenever I go through an experience like that, I stop and look at myself in the past, and remember when I felt alone, thinking that there couldn’t possibly be anyone else like me… I lived with that loneliness for a long time. When moments like that Seudah Shlishit happen… of having so many other LGBT / Queer Orthodox Jews around me I take that memory of sadness and loneliness and bring it into the in the light of the present and with that light shatter the sad memory. It’s a feeling of relief, not having to question whether G-d loves me, cares for me, and has a plan for me.
You mentioned that your shule is welcoming to you and your family, what do you think it is about them that makes them a welcoming community?
I don’t know. I think there’s just a culture there of being sensitive to difference in general. There’s a commitment to really making sure every Yid who wants to be there has a space to be there. There are some folks in the shul who have trouble making it up the flight of stairs to the 2nd floor where the davening is, so my shul schedules a Shabbat once a month in the 1st floor auditorium so these folks can be included. There’s a person in my shul who’s allergic to perfume and rather than telling her too bad, the shul puts up signs that explain that someone is allergic to perfume and that if someone has come into the shul with perfume they should please go wash it off before entering the davening. In as much as is reasonable, they make sure everyone has a way to access the shul and the community. I think at first there were some in the community who were uncomfortable and it took time for these folks to warm up. But after a little while I was just another community member like everyone else.
What do you think it was that helped those community members to warm up who seemed uncomfortable at first?
I think being physically present and just going about being unabashedly there as a member of the community changed their minds to some extent. I think time helped. I think time gave them the chance to get to know me as a person and that made it hard for them to see me as just an issue. I think also having little kids running around the shul helped. It’s hard to see children as just a by-product of an issue. And my kids are pretty charming.
What were you afraid of when you came out to your community?
I was afraid of the unknown when I first came out. I was afraid I wouldn’t have a place to be. I was afraid I was going to lose my Judaism because there’d be no community that would accept me, no place where I could still hold onto Torah and mitzvot, and I was afraid I would be pushed out of any places where I could experience Jewish life.
I started off in a chareidi community. I knew many people that I really loved and cared for in that community. I was part of that community for almost 20 years. When I was getting a divorce, knowing full well that I was not going to try marrying a man again it seemed perfectly clear to me that there was NO HOPE with maintaining connection and friendships within that community. The first thing I did after I got divorced was try to find a different community. I never tried to connect within my first community once I knew I was going to be out. I ran. I was convinced that I wasn’t safe.
In hind sight, do you think that that was the right decision?
If I had to do it again, with all the knowledge I have now, I’d like to hope that I would try to gather the courage to ask the people I cared about whether or not they would accept me before deciding for them.
What do you like about being Frum and Gay?
I like myself. I always have. Even from a young age, I always liked who I was. When I was married to a man I felt I had to cut off a huge part of myself in order to have access to my Judaism which was another huge part of myself. I felt like I was missing myself and unable to be solid and real. The best part of being frum and gay is being able to be whole. I know who I am. I know what my strengths are. I know what my weaknesses are, and I get to bring the whole me, all of me, exactly as Hashem made me, everywhere I go.
What do you worry about?
I do worry about other gay Jews in places where they can’t find the ability to love and accept themselves, or find family and friends with the ability to love and accept them. I know what that does to a person. I’ve lived it. I’ve been very lucky in life to have ultimately found a community that accepts me and welcomes me, and I think that obligates me to make myself available to help others who don’t have that.
Can you share with me a story about being able to help other Frum Gay Jews?
Hmmm… There are several online support groups for Orthodox gay Jews, and I try to connect with new people who show up in these groups. There was one young man who came online during a very busy point in my life and I missed his introduction. The only thing he said was, “Is there anybody in [and he named the city I live in]?” and I totally missed it! I was dealing with some other stuff, but one of my friends, who knew I was in that city, gave Y [the young man online] my email address directly, and I invited him over for Shabbat. We weren’t sure if we would meet at shul or at my house, because he was walking from the other side of town, so I waited at shul for a while, and then walked home and there he was, sitting in the glider on my front porch and the first words out of his mouth were…. “You’re real.” I knew exactly how he felt.
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