Understanding Community as a Gay Jewish Woman

While dating my last boyfriend, I realized two things:

  1. I no longer wanted to date men
  2. I wanted to primarily date fellow Jews

Not wanting to date men was obvious; I had been questioning my sexuality for as long as I could remember, and was finally able to break free of the world of compulsory heterosexuality that I had grown up in. The Judaism aspect was a little trickier, but after resisting the importance of my ties to my religion and culture in order to embrace a “rebellious phase,” I finally understood just how important Judaism was a part of my life. I realized that I simply connected best with others who felt similarly – and I wanted to be able to connect in that way with my future partners.

My friends joked “well, you’ve certainly narrowed down your dating pool,” and they were completely accurate. For someone who loves talking and learning about the backgrounds, cultures, and traditions of my friends and acquaintances, it was surprising that I would make such an exclusionary statement. But in the end, it comes down to one thing: community.

In Judaism, the aspect of community, or kehilah, is very important (and it’s a completely overused theme – bare with me). You can’t have a Jewish prayer service without 10 people (in the egalitarian community, 10 men in non-egalitarian ones,) and many traditions and rituals are meant to be done in the presence of others. It was the Conservative egalitarian community I grew up in that instilled my passion for learning, kindness, social justice, equality, and tradition.

It was also this community that taught me to question. As a preteen and teen, I began to become more aware of LGBT bullying and bigotry around the country. Many of these bigots cited the Bible, the “Old Testament,” or what Jews refer to as the Torah, to make their claim that homosexuality was an abomination. Well, I read the one line that stated that, and explained my frustration in a 9th grade blog post:

Yeah, I get it, it’s a commandment not to “lay” with a person of the same sex…BECAUSE BACK IN BIBLICAL TIMES THEY HAD TO BE FRUITFUL AND MULTIPLY. If you were having sex with another guy, how were you going to get your wife pregnant? If you haven’t noticed, we don’t really have that population problem anymore. In fact, if more people were gay and adopting now a days, it might be better for our society, population wise. I understand that a lot of denominations don’t interpret the bible in a modern way.

Little did my closeted 14 year old self know, the real reason I was so angry at homophobes citing the Torah was because I myself was gay. But also little did I know, this interpretation was spot on with what the progressive Jewish community was discussing regarding homosexuality, along with several other interpretations.

A few years later in college, I was fortunate enough to be a part of the forming of a Jewish LGBT group on campus, and enjoyed countless speakers and workshops which discussed Jewish interpretations of male and female homosexuality, as well as Jewish law and stories surrounding the many gender identities a person could have. (I highly recommend Keshet (translation: rainbow) as a resource for Jewish LGBT life.) I have endless questions for religious figures regarding the intersections of sexuality and Judaism, and I’m still waiting for them to be explored more publically – but I know they will be.

I’ve always been proud to be Jewish, and I’m even more proud to be a part of the Jewish LGBT community, but it’s not always accepting or easy to navigate. Our ancient texts and traditions have the tendency to be very gendered and patriarchal, even in egalitarian circles. This can make life difficult for trans and non-binary Jews in particular, too many of whom choose to let their Judaism fall to the wayside. I have always felt that Judaism is a great religion for LGBTQPIA individuals to find a community in which they can practice their traditions while embracing their sexuality, but not everyone is able to find this. More observant/religious communities, while becoming more accepting, still are often not as welcoming as many LGBT individuals in these communities would like. Judaism also hardly discusses bi/pan-sexuality, many life cycle events are gendered or rely on a male-female dynamic. I do not always feel comfortable being “out” with some fellow Jews. So it’s definitely not perfect.

Additionally, being a part of two minority groups is a struggle within itself. Anti-semitism is not a thing of the past. Homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia are unfortunately still rampant. Put them together and you have the potential for some harmful bigotry. Being open about both my sexuality and religion in certain public places can be risky. But as so many members of both the Jewish and LGBTQPIA communities know, that doesn’t stop us.

I am fortunate to have three communities to call home: the Jewish, the LGBTQ, and the Jewish LGBTQ. I hardly think of these intersections of my life separately: they are entirely reliant on each other. Just as Judaism taught me many core values, being a part of the LGBTQPIA community has taught me even more: to be open-minded, non-judgemental, and always ready to hear someone’s story. The combination of these identities, Jewish and gay, are at the core of who I am. The values I’ve learned from each have helped me forge a stronger, hybrid community. And no matter how overused of a motif community is, this community is one that I am proud to be a part of.

Naomi Barnett is a “Professional Millenial” working in content marketing in NYC. She is a recent graduate of Binghamton University, where she studied English and Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing. She’d love it if you read her blog (spelledink.wordpress.com) or followed her on twitter (@naythere).

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