Monday, April 12, 2010

Kiddush HaGay

At the last JQY meeting (Jewish Queer Youth -, someone introduced the term Kiddush HaGay. Just as a Kiddush Hashem signifies sanctifying G-d's name by demonstrating to the world the goodness and holiness of the Jewish people, Kiddush HaGay connotes depicting homosexuals in a positive light. I was provided an opportunity to do just that on my ride home from work today.

The South Bronx used to be a vibrant Jewish community. However, the current Jewish population of the neighborhood is roughly comparable to that of Iraq. The frum Jewish community is completely non-existent. Thus, when I saw an elderly man with a white shirt and velvet yarmulke sitting in the 182nd-183rd Street D Train Subway Station, I felt compelled to say "shalom aleichem." He responded in kind, introduced himself as Sholom, and explained that he was a landlord of a building in the area. We hit up a conversation -- in a mix of English, Hebrew, and Yiddish -- as he headed to Boro Park and I to the Upper West Side.

When I mentioned that I learned in yeshiva in Israel, Sholom asked me if I had heard about the scandal in which the Rosh Yeshiva of a prominent Yeshiva was accused of having sexual relations with his students. He remarked that this Rabbi must have a "machalah" -- a sickness. While I agree that a Rabbi must be sick to prey on vulnerable students, I had a feeling that Sholom's comment was a reference to homosexuality in general. So as the train hurdled toward Yankee Stadium, I probed further.

Without revealing my sexual orientation, I explained that homosexuality was no more of a sickness than being right or left handed. True, homosexuals cannot reproduce through traditional means, but they do not have any inherent deficiencies. Sholom nodded in agreement, as we both cited the blessing "m'shaneh habriot" (He who diversifies His creations). Sholom astutely distinguished homosexuality from other prohibitions in the Torah such as idolatry, whereby even the thought is forbidden. He even said that he had heard of some men who engaged in sexual relations but avoided "mishkav mamash," i.e. anal sex.

Inevitably, the conversation turned to my personal life, and I came out to Sholom. By this point, he was not even so surprised. When I told him that I knew I was gay as a teenager, he asked me how I could know so young. I replied, just as a man has attraction for women in his teenage years, hacha nami! (So too in my case.)

Sholom then became perturbed. "Why did the Ribono Shel Olam create you this way? You should raise a complaint against Him!" I replied that it is not for us to question how we were created. Kach notzarti. There are reasons for all of Hashem's creations, even if we can't figure out what they are. When Sholom pressed me for one of these reasons, I replied that perhaps I was created gay in order to be more sensitive to other minority groups. He seemed to like this answer.

Our conversation was abruptly ended when I transferred trains at 125th Street. I could tell that Sholom wanted to discuss more.

A gmarra in Avoda Zara compares our performance of mitzvos to the peckings of a hen, using a play on the Hebrew word for peck. All mitzvos, even ones seemingly as small as the peckings of a hen, are bundled together in Heaven into a great sum. This comparison could not be more relevant here. Engaging the frum community on the issue of homosexuality cannot be done through sermons, responsa, or other large scale forms of communication (at least not yet). The Yeshiva University Panel on Homosexuality in December was groundbreaking and incredible, but the most effective way of engaging people -- of any community -- is through a one-on-one conversation. This is clearly a very slow process, but a necessary and worthwhile one. Perhaps Sholom will meet a homosexual one day in Boro Park -- or the father, teacher, or cousin of one -- and perhaps the resultant conversation will be affected by the conversation he had today. And perhaps that small "peck" will change a life.


Elana said...

What an incredible story! Being a Frum Jew who is GLBT friendly, I love hearing about things like this. Heck, I even had a crush on a girl once (I thought she was a guy), so I completely understand (even though I consider myself to be 100% straight).

I think one of the best ways that the frum community will become more GLBT friendly is through Baalei Teshuva (such as myself) who were brought up more liberal and who became religious as adults after already having friendships with people who are GLBT.

Tzviah said...

You are so brave and so very patient. Reading about your encounters in the frum world is inspiring. It must take a huge amount of strength for you to engage in these conversations and say your piece, even when you know that an uncomfortable argument is likely to result.

info said...

I like this, Justin. Really appreciate the patience you took with him (his point of view), as much as he might have been patient with you.

Jeanne said...

I am so glad you're blogging again. I, too, like the interaction youhad with this man. It demonstrated a great deal of maturity and patience -- and love.
I hope that you continue on your path and share more of it with us.

Anonymous said...

Does this mean we also have a concept of "Chilul HaGay"? Would you accept the argument that certain activities and attitudes can result in negative views (perhaps promiscuity exhibited in pride parades)?

Yehuda said...

Elana Wrote:I think one of the best ways that the frum community will become more GLBT friendly is through Baalei Teshuva (such as myself) who were brought up more liberal"

Now How do we judge Frum people as not Being Liberal??, We live by the laws of Beis Hillel! And when Moshiach comes, Things will be Stricter as beis Shamay, We are as tolorent as we can, and yet we answer to hashem... and we know Torah Is true Always

Questioning Yid said...

A truly inspiring story! Totally relatable and repeatable. I'll be sharing this with people across the Jewish and GLBT spectrum. I wish there were more stories like this out there. I wish, too, that you could have continued your conversation with Sholom. He sounds to be quite the incredible yid!