a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Travel bLog #6 – The Joys of Jewish Study?

Posted on: July 21, 2016




I’m in a really weird, intense, intimate, mentally, spiritually, physically exhausted place.

Learning Torah, Talmud, Midrash, Gemara, Halacha for 7 hours a day 5 days a week is beyond. The first week at Pardes I found myself on the brink of tears on many occasions. And now, at the end of the second week, I am in awe of the magnitude of Jewish study (with the realization that I have barely scratched the surface.) In these two weeks I’ve contemplated the connection of our matriarchs and patriarchs in connection with Islam (More on Isaac, Ishmael and Hagar later-also 100% not the point of the class), I’ve grappled with the complexities of women’s roles in Judaism (and how it fits into my life as a lesbian Jew looking for avenues into a more observant life), I’ve been baffled by how binary and incredibly patriarchal the Jewish faith is, I’ve been memorized by the beauty of Shabbat … and then twenty seconds later furious at the ways in which it’s prohibitive to spiritual growth, I’ve turned over the idea of faith in Gd in a world where such faith makes you “crazy”, and I’ve found a deep appreciation of Hebrew calligraphy. And this is just inside of the classroom. Outside of the classrooms I’ve forged incredibly deep, intimate, and in ways emotionally fragile friendships that I know after I will retain after this wonderful bubble that is Pardes learning bursts in a week (unless you wanna help me stay and Go Fund Me!).

This week, Pride Week in Jerusalem, culminated with a Pride Parade through the streets of Jerusalem. It was my first and only Pride event of the year and I had a lot of trepidation about attending. Last year, a 16 year old girl was stabbed during the Jerusalem Pride Parade and later died. Her name was Shira. She was sixteen. On Tuesday I joined my fabulous Women in Judaism rabbi and several students (including the small and mighty queer contingency) for Meeting Place-a series of informal/formal dialogues around Jerusalem about LGBTQ rights, views and tolerance. I snuggled close to my dearest friends while sharing my truths as a black, lesbian Jew in Israel during Pride. I listened to other LGBTQ American Jews share their truths as we all sat on woven mats in Zion Square. Around our circle sat other groups, speaking in Hebrew and beyond us a metal police barrier holding us in. I wanted to be there, to be present in a space that was so sacred and pure in the work of honoring Shira’s memory through dialogue, but I couldn’t help but feel unsafe. Which is a huge difference from how I was feeling when I first arrived. Crowds gathered around Zion Square. Some of them members and allies of the LGBTQ community joined us. Others were just Israelis enjoying the cool evening off of Ben Yehuda (a bustling area) and would stop to watch.  I noticed a woman walking around the square clapping loudly. Was she trying to drown out our conversation? Israelis of varying observance and dress paused and sometimes stopped to watch for extended periods of time. As the night progressed I couldn’t help but notice a man dressed in a white shirt, black pants with long tzit tzit and a velvet black kippah approach the barrier with a couple other men dressed as he was following close behind. They engaged in heated dialogue with some Hebrew speakers and while I couldn’t tell what they were saying, the body language of both the folks inside the barriers and outside the barriers was … on guard.

Was it really irresponsible of me to be doing such an openly gay thing in a city so wrought with friction over LGBTQ acceptance? And on the anniversary of a horrific murder? Ultimately the answer was yes, I should be there (and I’m happy that I was). But what is this Judaism that drives a “religious” man to murder a girl simply because she participated in a Pride celebration? Sure, I can call him crazy (which is what many of the folks in the circle said), but it’s much more than that. Yes, he was a mentally disturbed man. And his drive was and is backed by Torah and commentary.

It was amusing, at times, to read the commentary on the possible consequences of “cross dressing” and while I chuckled at the absurdity, my sages tell me that who I am is wrong. The way that I celebrate Shabbat is wrong. The way I related to Gd is wrong (I don’t think Gd created the earth or wrote the Torah). Don’t misunderstand, there is so much more that I do that is right. And I’m not convinced that a Judaism that thinks I’m doing it wrong is actually Judaism. And/But these are the things that I think about, read about, talk, analyze, ponder, contemplate, debate, argue and turn over (and over and over) every single day.

Judaism doesn’t ask us to blindly follow the 613 mitzvot simply for the sake of following mitzvot. But it does ask us to follow them. Judaism doesn’t tell me that I can’t lay tefillin or wrap tzit tzit but if I do it doesn’t “really count.” Judaism doesn’t say that I can’t write a kosher mezzuzah or megilla or tefillin … but if I do it’s only for me. Judaism doesn’t say a lot in what it says. And what it says, well, is really hard to really fully understand as a modern, feminist, lesbian Jew.

So my head hurts.

My heart hurts.

My head is spinning as though I’m drunk because my heart is full at the vastness of knowledge.

So what do I do with it all? And how to I make it fit?

1 Response to "Travel bLog #6 – The Joys of Jewish Study?"

Was it really irresponsible of me to be doing such an openly gay thing in a city so wrought with friction over LGBTQ acceptance? http://www.reuvenmasel.com/tzedakah-boxes/collectible-tzedakah-boxes/second-temple-model-120.html

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Like it? Then “Like it!”

Candle Lighting Times


January 2018
« Jan