a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

I’m here, I swear.

Posted on: May 19, 2011

Just a little busy.  Okay, I lied.  I’m having WICKED writer’s block.  More accurately, though just an inability to stop whining about what I don’t have (my memoir finished, a good pitch, etc.) and focus on all of the really great stuff happening in my life.

Monday Mirs and I traveled to the mystical borough of the Bronx to the Hebrew Institute of Riverdaleto listen to frum lesbians read excerpts from the anthology Keep Your Wives Away From Them-Orthodox Women Unorthodox Desires. For the first half of the event four outstanding, brave, and confident women spoke of acceptance of their lesbian selves and the implications that acknowledgement in terms of their participation in the close-knit world of Orthodox Judaism.  Individually, they have carved out ways to stay “Orthodox” while maintaining their relationships with female partners.

After the reading the floor was opened for discussions that at one moment, I feared would be the worse idea of the night.  After a particularly offensive question Mirs turned to me and said, “Are these people serious?”  I shrugged my shoulders and cringed listening to people say things that, to our queer ears, sounded so bigoted.  The brave rabbi of HIR who’d opened the doors of learning and education, Matt Exler, stood up and reminded the people in the audience to remember why we’d entered the shul on that night.  From there on, brave Orthodox congregants spoke up and asked what they could do, as straight Orthodox Jews, to help their LGBTQ Orthodox counterparts.  The answer, put in many different ways, was Acceptance, rather than Tolerance.

LGBTQ Jews are in every shul, you just have to make a space for them, acknowledge them, and accept them.  Easy message but a hard pill to swallow.

Mirs and I left HIR and wandered through the twisting turning streets of Riverdale to the 1 train on a soggy evening.  When we sat down in the car, a fresh book in our hands, we looked at one another and smiled.  It was an awe-inspiring evening.  I have new Facebook friends, and a twinge of a desire to do an Orthodox conversion.  Then I remember that as a lesbian, it is still hard.

These women, while they are out, proud, and working diligently to be seen, heard, accepted, and welcomed into the Orthodox community which they were raised are still on the fringes.  The pull towards Orthodoxy sometimes gets confused in my head for the pull of community, observation, tradition.

On Monday there were times when I wanted to stand up and speak about my feelings as a lesbian convert to Judaism but it wasn’t my platform.  These women, the ones on the panel and several who made themselves known in the audience wearing long skirts and covered arms, needed the space to speak freely about their lives.  They were frum lesbian Jews.  Much like my respectful decline of referring to myself as a Jew, it wasn’t my space to talk about how I feel as a black lesbian converting to Judaism.

We get a say in a lot of things, we converts.  We can make our own paths, we can chose our level of observance and we can choose the sect of Judaism we wish to follow.  We can even chose our own minhag, we can make our own traditions, we can pave our own ways.  I can decide to be an observant, Conservodox, Reform Jew.  I can walk into a meeting with my rabbis and they know that I’m a lesbian and I have been accepted.

Listening to the women on Monday kindled a flame of action which I hope to pursue.  A desire to continue to network within the Jewish family and to work for the space within Judaism for LGBTQ Jews to call a home.

1 Response to "I’m here, I swear."

[…] year I went to the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale to listen to a panel of frum lesbians discuss their lives, their struggles, and finally to ask for their communtity’s assistance in […]

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