By Rabbi NOAH KITTY
Being both LGBT and Jewish is to be twice blessed, say Christie Balka and Andy Rose, and I believe them, although I have to admit that there are days when—as Woody Allen might quip—it doubles my chances of getting beat up in the schoolyard. Growing up Jewish taught me many lessons about self-esteem, taking comfort in my minority community, and accepting the fact that there really were people out there who hated me, and learning how to handle that.
Studying Jewish history, I learned much about Christian and Muslim Europe and what we now call the Middle East.
“Muslim Europe?” you ask. Yes: before the Christians were in Spain, the Muslims held the Iberian Peninsula, and no: they didn’t leave willingly. Not only might this tidbit win you a prize on a game show, it might also help you keep your head on your shoulders—and the rest of your body reasonably intact—when you have a runin with the aforementioned people who hate you. Like any other skill, it needs to be developed, which is what being Jewish did for me when I came out as a lesbian.
Another thing being Jewish taught me was an appreciation of time and history.
Jews regularly talk about how things were a thousand years ago, mostly in conjunction with holiday celebrations.
Moses and the Egyptians, Esther and the Persians, Judah Maccabee and the Romans: it could have been yesterday from the easy way these names fall off our tongues. So in Jewish time, the dawn of LGBT rights happened an hour ago.
It used to be that mainstream Jewish institutions did not welcome LGBT Jews. While there was less of the “burn in hell” variety of condemnation, we were lumped together with alcoholics, drug addicts, thieves, and other sorts of ne’er-do wells. In other words, it wasn’t something that Jews “did.” Regarding the Jewish Orthodox folks who did condemn us, I just didn’t accept their authority over my life. Coming out, I met a whole bunch of Jews who indeed did “do” gay, and during those heady times we relished how our parents had prepared us to be successful in a world eager to see us fail.
How times have changed! LGBT folks are welcome members of almost all synagogues in the U.S. For the most part, it’s a non-issue, except for programming social events and being asked if an LGBT speed-dating casino night might be successful. Lesbian and gay Jewish couples regularly have their unions blessed in a religious ceremony at their synagogue, and get married, if state law permits.
True, it’s sometimes downright dangerous being gay, especially if you’re a young person growing up in a difficult environment, but it’s not easy being Jewish either: and who told you it was going to be easy anyway? Unfortunately too many people get the message that life should be easy, and when it’s not, they figuratively sit back on their tuchas. Better I think to teach that life is hard, and here are the many ways you can navigate it.
Most of the members of my congregation have done a magnificent job of navigating through their lives, sometimes to the point of claiming that there is no longer a need for an LGBT directed synagogue. True for them, perhaps, but certainly not for the many young folks coming up and needing a place to call their own, or the adults coming out after a lifetime of living as a straight person and not knowing where to turn for community or advice. So, until the world is perfected, Etz Chaim intends to continue our mission of service to the community, however you may identify yourself.
Rabbi Noah Kitty grew up in Philadelphia and graduated from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1994. She is the Executive Director of Congregation Etz Chaim in Wilton Manors, and looks forward to serving on the Women In Networking (WIN) Board.