Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lighting up.

While studying in Israel I came out to a friend of mine who was in the midst of planning her wedding. As the wedding drew near, I was asked to read one of the Brachot (blessings) under the  Chuppah (wedding canopy). My friend informed me that, while she and her fiancé had originally wanted me to be an Eid (witness), they feared that some of the Rabbanim (Rabbis) wouldn’t accept my Eidut (testimony) if they knew I was gay. I in no way blame my friend for having made her decision, but it was quite the wound to recover from. As a Shomer Shabbos & Kashrut (Sabbath and Kosher observant) Jew who wears his Zizit and Davens (prays) everyday, being told that I might not qualify as a complete Jew within some parts of society is very hurtful. 
Prior to the actual miracle of Chanukah, 2nd Temple Israel was already heavily influenced by Greek hedonism. Raised in the Hebrew Day School system, I was taught that the Yivanim (Greeks) arrived in Israel and in one swift motion attempt to wrestle control from the Jews. It wasn’t until my college years that I recognized the religious significance of this inaccuracy. The Jews of this period, commanded as we are to live as G-d fearing lives, were failing in this task. While the 1st Book of Maccabees relates the nationalistic battles of the Maccabees, the 2nd Book of Maccabees emphasizes that the purpose of the Hasmonean revolution was to spiritually redeem the Land of Israel. While the battles waged were against foreign occupiers, the thrust of the revolt was to return the Jews to a spiritual level befitting G-ds chosen nation.
We know that, while Antioches (IV Epiphanes, for those who are interested) is described as having forbidden the Jews from fulfilling some of the Mitzvot (commandments), many Jews had been heading down a similar path of their volition. The Hellenization (the blending of Greek culture with the cultures in occupied lands) of Israel was a slow process. The socializing and political interactions between Greeks and Jews led to the Jews slowly favoring Greek activities and moving away from the faith. Temple sacrifices were neglected and the positions in the temple became more political than holy. The battle fought by the Maccabees was not only against the occupation, but against the social assimilation and religious fragmentation.
Many gay Jews struggle to maintain the Jewish faith while stuck between a rock and hard place. Gay frum Jews do not promote assimilation. We recognize that G-d created us as individuals and that we cannot fight our nature. We sadly accept that we cannot fulfill every Mitzvah, but try to do the best we can with those we are capable of fulfilling.
Chanukah is unique in that one of the commandments associated with it MUST be done in public. The lighting of the Menorah is to be done for all to see. While commonly understood as a commemoration of the miracle that occurred, the display of the holiday lights broadcasts the fact that we remain steadfast in our faith. We inform everyone around us that the Maccbees succeeded in their cause of resanctifying the Jewish people. This Chanukah, as I light my Menorah, I will try to remember what it is the Maccabees fought for and what I am fighting for today: For all Jews to practice Judaism to the best of their ability and be welcomed within all aspects of society. I will light my Menorah for eight nights to remind myself and others that the Jewish spark is alive within me. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Chalamti: An Introduction

בראשית לז:ט "ויספר אתו לאחיו ויאמר הנה חלמתי חלום עוד..."ד
Genesis 37:9 [A]nd he [Yosef] said to his brothers, “Behold, I have dreamt another dream...”
The Parsha of Vayeishev, which we shall read this coming Shabbos, introduces us to Yosef as a dreamer. The favorite of Yaakov’s twelve sons, Yosef was hated by his brothers for his visions of dominance over them. Rashi notes that Yaakov reprimanded Yosef not for the audacity of his visions, which were interpreted by Yosef as prophecies of him ruling over his entire family, but for the fact that Yosef bred hatred against himself for recounting these visions to his relations.
On August 28th, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. echoed Yosef’s words. “I have a dream,” he called out from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. For nearly half a century these words have served as battle cries for individuals and groups that remain misunderstood and misplaced by society as they fight for their civil rights. Each time a Yosef or a Dr. King has arisen and been strengthened by these words, there has been a Yaakov to reprimand him (or her) for the hatred these words bred. In their modern form, these pessimists ask the dreamers to await their future in quiet. They fear the possibility that these dreams, like Yosef’s, will breed hatred. Any hatred is misplaced and bred from a closed minded misunderstanding.
I have, along with my friends, dreamt a dream. We envision a time where we can live our lives as gay frum Jews. As the larger American society debates gay marriage, we gay orthodox Jews have only recently begun to gain recognition as a social group. Emerging from the rug beneath which we were swept, we remain a puzzle to many. We are attempting to live our lives within the boundaries of Halacha while accepting and experiencing our sexuality. This balance is not an easy one to maintain and it is frustrated by those that would have us return to the fringes of society. They prefer us silenced and ignored.  But Yosef’s prophecies were realized and Dr. King’s dream moves forward still.
Our cause has been championed by the voices of few, not because we are few in number, but because it takes courage beyond quantification to accept our challenge. Many orthodox Jews, when faced with the realization of their homosexuality, burrow deep into denial. These Jews attempt reparative therapy and plan on marrying women, hoping that no one will discover their secret as they hide behind masks of orthodoxy. Others accept their sexuality, but see it as incompatible with Orthodox Judaism. These individuals will begrudgingly cast off their orthodox identity as they embrace this new found aspect of their identity.  These paths are riddled with both potholes and heartbreak. The middle ground, those among us that accept our sexuality and remain steadfast in our faith and practice, continues to be chosen to by a small but growing number as we recount our dream and “out” ourselves within the orthodox world.
This blog marks the addition of my voice to the few who speak out on behalf of our cause. The opinions and views will be my own. Sometimes I will agree with my friends, and at other times I will dissent. I will do my best to write honestly and openly. I look forward to questions, comments and suggestions.
I have dreamt a dream.