Over the last few months, FZY have taken steps to improve inclusivity within the movement, and we are pleased to bring you this inspiring blog from Peter Strauss (Hadracha Bet and incoming Year Course participant), who shares words about his identity as we celebrate Pride this weekend. To everyone who will be attending the Pride parade, have a fabulous time – it’s a time to proudly celebrate our identities!
As I sit down to write this, I’m thinking about the recent dispute between Rabbi Dweck and parts of the Jewish community. While it is not my business to discuss why I do or why other people don’t support Rabbi Dweck, I do think that it has brought an issue to the immediate attention of the Jewish community. The issue of Homosexuality and Judaism coexisting and the issue of how Judaism deals with homosexuality.
When people ask me how long I know I’ve been Gay for it is a really difficult question to answer…. Yes, I came out as Gay to my friends in November 2014 aged 16 however, before I came out I had thought for some years that I might be. When I did come out to my friends, it felt like a secret that I had been carrying around for several years had finally emerged and a huge weight was lifted of my shoulders. However, I knew deep down that I still needed to tell the most important people in my life… my family.
For me there hadn’t been an issue telling my friends at school for the simple reason that not many of them were Jewish or had strong Jewish identities. Conversely, I was worried that my family wouldn’t have accepted my sexual orientation; there was this strange idea that the words Gay and Jewish could appear in the same sentence. I was completely wrong. When I eventually plucked up the courage to tell my family they couldn’t have taken it better. They were so pleased that I had told them.
With a little encouragement from my mother, I went to my first Friday night hosted by the Jewish Gay & Lesbian Group (JGLG). It was a mind-opening experience meeting people who like me described themselves with the words Gay and Jewish in the same sentence. However, reflecting on that first meeting a few days later I still felt that I had a real issue with describing myself as both Gay and Jewish. Having leyned the verse:
“הִוא תּוֹעֵבָה,:אִשָּׁה מִשְׁכְּבֵי תִשְׁכַּב לֹא זָכָר וְאֶת” “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination”
I still felt like I was toevah [an abomination] for me I couldn’t see a link between the Gay part of my identity and the Jewish part. Through JGLG I was introduced to a Rabbi, Daniel Lichman, who helped me through this identity crisis and whom I am eternally grateful to. For me this is when I first began realising there was a connection between the two identities. However, it still took me another year and a half of research and reading until I finally came out on Facebook and to my parent’s friends.
When I think of my Jewish identity and Zionist journey there are various components that make it up but by far the biggest component for me was when I went on Israel Tour in Summer of 2015 with FZY #Tour8Turtles4Ever, and this was when I fell in love with Israel. Yes, I’d been before with family and even gone to summer camp there but this was different. I was thrown in the deep end of all different Israeli cultures and found the experience beyond rewarding. The biggest thing I realised was the diversity in Israel, take the two biggest cities in Israel. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Many people would say that the two cities are complete opposites… Tel Aviv the cultural capital of Israel with this amazing acceptance and vibrancy and then Jerusalem the religious capital of Israel steeped in history but with a much more closed of society. In general, the two cities have very different general stances towards the LGBTQ+ community. In Tel Aviv over 250,000 people attended the Gay Pride March making it one of the largest pride marches in the world. This compared to Jerusalem in 2015 where an Ultra-Orthodox Man stabbed seven people injuring six and killing one.
In September, I fly out to Israel to go on Year Course with FZY. I am really looking forward to this experience. We divide our time between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Many people would say that the two cities are complete opposites… Tel Aviv with this amazing acceptance and vibrancy and the Jerusalem steeped in history but with a much more closed of society.
For me being Gay and Jewish for a long time didn’t fit. But now having experienced and seen many different sides of Jewish life I’m beginning to find a way to put the two together. There will always be people who will say that I am toevah but there will also always be people who will say I am B’tzelem Elohim [made in the image of G-d] and as such will always be loved. I think that both have weighting in my life but thankfully I now feel more loved by the Jewish and LGBTQ+ community than I did but also able to use the two words to describe key parts of my identity.