Saturday, January 21, 2012


With every movement there is an unspoken, unwritten history that tends to be forgotten.  The gay rights movement—and specifically the movement for recognition within the Orthodox Jewish community—is no different.  Over the past few years there has been an amazing amount of attention to gay and lesbian individual.  We have been the subject of panel discussions, video documentaries, op-eds and rabbinical statements.  And we have seen progress within the Modern Orthodox community.  People know, even if they cannot understand, that it is difficult to be gay and religious.  Some have even begun to press for recognition of gay relationships. The forgotten individuals in our stories are our parents.  
Obviously, I cannot tell you about the struggles that a parent faces when they discover or are informed of their child’s sexuality because I have not lived on that side of the story.  I imagine that some wish their child was heterosexual.  Others, if faced with a child who shirks religion in favor of comfort with her sexual identity, may pray that their child find a place in the fold of religious observance.  When I came out to my father he was accepting (I was shocked) but disappointed that I would never have the chance to raise a family as he did.  My mother wished (wishes? I’m not sure) that I would one day wake up and realize my heterosexuality.  They both love me for who I am, but I don’t think they expected or anticipated my homosexuality while raising me. 
It is not easy being gay, but it must be hard to know that your child is treated like a second class citizen and condemned by many in society. Little networking or support exists to unify and strengthen these parents in the challenges they face.  In the past I’ve mentioned Tmicha, an e-mail list-serve that attempts to do exactly this.  I’ve also linked to a blog the documents these struggles.  But is this enough?  While we protect and fight for our own recognition, we gays and lesbians must also ensure that our parents are shielded from the unfortunate small-mindedness that permeates our society.  We must applaud those parents who accept and support us and we must understand those who currently unable to reach this enlightened level of being.   
I am grateful for my parents and impressed by the positive energy I have seen emanate from some other parents I know.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Synagogue: A Prayer House or a Prayer Home?

Since coming out I find myself searching for a shul that I feel comfortable in.  My attitude towards davening (praying) is a result of my upbringing.  I expect a very solemn, serious service with minimal talking in the pews and an all-encompassing feel of spiritual aspiration b’Shma (for its own purpose).  I am therefore comfortable with the services in traditional black-hat and German style synagogues. 

I have different expectations for my community, expectations that I have not been able to fulfill in the traditional synagogues I just mentioned.  I take comfort in a community that is accepting of everyone, a community that sees each person for the inner spark that they can provide and welcomes them into the fold so that spark can be nurtured into a roaring flame.  In these communities I feel that I can be open and respected as a gay man and, more importantly, as a gay Jew.  I have found communities like this among the left-leaning “independent minyanim” I’ve encountered in Israel, New York City, Washington D.C. and others. 

My problem is as follows: in the traditional communities I don’t feel welcome as an individual.   It is as if, upon entering the synagogue, I find myself facing a security guard who demands that I leave my personality at the door.   Then and only then may I participate in the prayers.  In the more liberal communities I feel welcomed, embraced, appreciated for the entirety of what I have to offer.  However, I find it difficult to connect through their services which tend to be a bit more relaxed than I am comfortable/familiar with.  I’ve found some shuls that attempt to create a middle ground, proclaiming a modern approach to Judaic community with basically the same traditional services.  Unfortunately, more often than not this third type of community leaves me wanting for both community and service. 

I once happened a shul in Yerushalayim that actually did a good job at creating a middle ground.  This is the Yedidya community in the Talpiot/Baka neighborhood.  But this community is half a world away.  What am I to do? Should I pray where I feel I could potentially develop a better spiritual connection, even though this nexus is diminished by the limits of the community? Or, in the alternative, should I pray where I feel welcomed, but unable to comfortably engage in a prayer services?  A shul needs to be more than a prayer house, more than a building of concrete and  wood containing mortals aspiring to be more for a few hours a day.  A shul needs to be a home where I feel comfortable approaching G-d as a father, but it cannot lose the quality of inspiring the fear of G-d as a king. 

I suppose I’m just guy trying to find my way home.