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Monday, 20 January 2014

ESHEL RETREAT



 I am aware that this shul is my favourite shul in the whole world, much as I am aware that I am the most comfortable in my skin in this place, year after year.
The huge windows next to me look out over a frozen lake and up towards a mountain of fir trees. Snow falls in huge fat spiraling flakes, mesmerizing, exquisite. The singing swells, luscious, many harmonies rippling through the room. Snow light pours in through the windows above the aron kodesh.
Yes. I am at another Eshel at the Isabella Freedman Center, the fourth one I have attended. The people who fill this room are my friends and my extended family. Some wear zaidener bekishes and black hats. Some wear pressed jeans and designer shirts. Some have wigs and some have scarves and some do not cover their hair at all. But we are all family, whether we look the same or practice the same or speak the same or believe the same things or are the same age or come from the same parts of the world because, for once, we are in a room that is filled, exclusively, with Jews who are connected with Orthodoxy and identify as Lesbian or Gay or Bisexual or Transgender or Queer.
There’s nothing like it.

The sense of unity alone is something to live on for months.
The sense of delight and pleasure and exhilaration and discovery…
The sense of belonging…

There is a session on LGBT blogging and I sit next to the writers of Frum Gay Married and the Jewish Pink Elephant. We talk about why we write our blogs and what have been some of the outcomes. We cry. We laugh. We talk and talk and talk some more and at the end, there are questions and comments. Many of the people say thank you. Thank you for letting our voices be heard. Thank you for being there when I needed to know I wasn't the only person frum gay person in the world. Thank you for validating my experience. For reducing the loneliness.
This year, there are a larger number of Chassidic women, and for that, I am grateful. I am feeling like this blog is worth the effort and time it takes. I am feeling like slowly, slowly, people within Chassidic and yeshivish communities are finding Eshel and beginning to connect. Cousins discover each other. Neither knew the other was part of this community. 
Old friends from yeshiva see each other across the room, and their eyes widen. You too? 
A young couple sit in a hidden corner, holding hands, smiling shyly at one another. families carry their children through the admiring crowds of adopted aunties and uncles.
Eshel. Community for those who have none. Family for those who might have lost theirs.