Sunday, February 28, 2016

An LGBTisch In the Heart of Orthodoxy: A Reflection On the Past, A Wish For the Future

It was a (a)typical Friday Night in Washington Heights; the hub of traditional, establishment, Modern Orthodoxy, and home to its flagship institution - Yeshiva University. In what would look like a standard YU/Stern (YU’s college for women) inspired Friday night Tisch (a gathering to sing and socialize in celebration of the Jewish Shabbat), we were a group of over 150 young Jews socializing over great Chulent (a Traditional Shabbat dish) and songs. Everyone in the room was having a great time, nothing news worthy about that. Nevertheless, something else made that event so overwhelmingly special that I decided, I don’t care if I have time or not, I have to write it down. It was (possibly the first of its kind, at least in that magnitude), what we called, an LGBTisch (and allies). Almost everyone in the room was from an Orthodox Jewish background, and at the same time queer identified - or at least openly supportive of their Queer friends. Furthermore, most of the people in the room (excluding myself…) currently identify as Queer-Orthodox Jews (hyphenated intentionally).
A few weeks ago, after the Eshel National Retreat, I was overwhelmed in a similar way. While I am constantly vocal about my very non-orthodox beliefs and disbeliefs, and proudly identify as a Secular Jew of some sort (and add a few other labels if you so please, such as Humanist, and lover of Jewish-Renewal, personally, I hate labels), Orthodox Judaism is still part of who I am. Admittedly, most of my interactions with it are negative, yet it is not something I can ignore. I can count several reasons; if not for the fact that wiping out 20 years of one’s life is not that easy, it is for the fact that my child lives in an Orthodox community, or just an internal (naïve?) hope for an in depth awakening within Orthodoxy. The latter - hope for change within Orthodoxy - is actually the one reason I gave up on a while ago. Until I woke up to a reality that was literally just the opposite of what I would expect; I came out as an openly queer Jew.
It might sound Ironic, but ‘living out’ as a queer Jew, reinstated my hope for, and believe in, a better and accepting future within Orthodoxy. I find myself surrounded by proud Jews more than I ever did in the last four years. Even more, for the first time since going Off The Derech, I once again feel welcomed in some Orthodox settings.[1]
          The LGBTisch was just another, yet amusingly, such an important milestone in the history of Queer Judaism as a whole, and specifically Queer Orthodoxy. An outsider reading this probable thinks that I am overreacting. However, to me, and to the others in the room on that Friday night, it felt like our very own Stonewall Riots - in some way - although peaceful. 60 years ago our forbearers went out on the streets of America’s (and perhaps the Western World’s) [counter-]Cultural Capital, the West Village, and announced that enough is enough, and it is about time to ‘get better’ for the LGBT community. This time we gathered in (one of) the cultural capital of Modern-Orthodoxy, and in the ultimate Jewish way - a Friday Night gathering - we announced that it is time to ‘get besser[2]’ for the Jewish Orthodox-Queer community. There is no better way to launch a Jewish riot than a group of over 150 Jews - Queer identified, and these who are just amazingly strong allies - gathering to announce, “Hey Rabbis, hey Orthodoxy, we are Queer Jews, and we are here to stay.”
          The event itself was nothing noteworthy, just singing, reciting Divrei Torah (words of wisdom), and personal stories. Nevertheless, exactly that was noteworthy. While we were sitting in a circle and singing traditional Shabbat songs, as well as old and new Hasidic (a 18th century anti-establishment Jewish Movement) songs, in addition to some of our very own Queer versions (such as ‘Anshei Chayel’[3]),
One of the original songs performed at the event...
I couldn’t stop wondering where all these queer orthodox people come from. At one point during the night, I could not help myself but turn to one of my local friends and check in whatever they are any Cis/Straight Jews living in Washington Heights… I met some of the most courageous, self-determent, yet community oriented human beings. They were old friends; and I made new ones, they were people who are ‘out’; and they were these who are still finding their way out, but altogether it was one of the best groups of people I have ever spend time with. While I am writing these words, over a week later, I am still tearing up, and cannot find a way to describe it.
          I want to touch on one other point. Thankfully, the Jewish community, especially in the North America, does not lack in LGBT support groups. From LGBT specific organizations such as JQY, Keshet, Eshel, and more, to numerous Queer support groups within existing Jewish communities and college campuses (YU might be one of the only Universities in New York without an official LGBT support group). Nonetheless, most of these groups are by queer people for queer people, and that is amazing. What is even better is an event like this one, one that is clearly open and inviting to our amazing “Allies.” The reason for that is twofold. First and foremost, it serves those who need our support perhaps more than anyone else - people that are still ‘in the closet’ so to speak. No doubt, we are sadly still living in a world where we need to DO SOMETHING to get our so needed support as Queer Humans, but for our siblings still in hiding, this is life support. Only an event that is open to allies can achieve this goal. Then, there is the hope for change. We are not just trying to survive as our true selves; we are trying to thrive, within the broader human family. In my humble opinion, having more LGBT AND Allies events, is bringing us closer to this goal.
          Okay enough said.
          I am writing this post as a way of reflecting and sharing my own personal feelings, yet the stronger message is one I want to share with the world, the Jewish community, and above all, with Orthodox Judaism. We still have a long way to go. I am totally ignoring the fact that all of this is happening within the boundaries of Modern-Orthodoxy, which is still at the very beginning of its way towards equality. I am not even thinking (as of now) about my community of origin, Ultra-Orthodoxy.[4] It is heartbreaking that an event like this in Hasidic Williamsburg or Yeshivish (non-Hasidic Lithuanian Ultra-Orthodox Jews) Lakewood - in the open, is beyond anyone’s wildest/sweetest dream. However, we are sending a clear message. To the establishment, the rabbis, institutions, etc. we are exclaiming: WE ARE HERE TO STAY. We, Queer Jews of Orthodox background, are not going anywhere. We grew, we are growing, and we will grow, in numbers and in depth. It is about time to show us the ultimate Jewish value of love, and endurance.
          At the same time, we have a message to every struggling individual, within religious communities and beyond. A message that I have said before, and will continue to preach until there isn’t even a single child, living in a world that tells them ‘your feelings are erroneous’ who has not heard this memorandum: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. You are not crazy, you are not a sinner, but you ARE amazing! We are here for you. There is a loving community, made up by some of the most inspiring individuals alive, waiting to share their love!!!
With sight on the future,
Abby @ The Second Transition

[1]  No worries, the chances of me becoming orthodox again are lower than the chances of becoming a Buddhist or Sufi… sorry Orthodox friends, had to say it.
[2] Yiddish for Better.
[3] Find the full text in the first comment on this post. Feel free to post corrections and edits, as well as to copy it and use it as you please.
[4] I can not skip on that without mentioning the lifesaving organization “Footsteps” which helps these who are leaving Ultra-Orthodox communities. In addition to being a place that encourages every member to live their own life to the fullest, it is one of the most LGBT friendly spaces I am part of. Find us at

Sunday, February 7, 2016

My FB Response to Columbia Queer Alliance (CQA)

This is what I wrote on Facebook as a reply to Columbia Queer Alliance's post supporting "Apartheid Divest" (I am intentionally NOT putting a link) - which is pretty much the Columbia chapter of the international BDS movement.
Here is CQA's original post.
I am not sure what to say.
As an openly queer Columbia student, I now feel excluded, and in some ways, marginalized within my own marginalized community.
Poster for J Street CU's event, at the Columbia/Barnard Hillel
We had an amazing discussion with an amazingly diverse crowd
about how to find alternative ways to end to occupation while
preserving our belief in Israel's right to exist in peace.
I agree, and I am outspoken about the Human Rights problems in the (entire) Middle East. I joined J Street U at Columbia with one main goal: fight the occupation of the Palestinians in a productive way. My pro-Palestinian stance has put me in odds with many of my Jewish friends, and even more so, with the few family members who still talk to me. Yet I do not support BDS for to many reasons.
·        BDS clearly undermines Israel’s rights to exist, which is somewhat ironic as we are all supposed to fight for the right of self-determination. I have had Jewish family and ancestors in Israel/Palestine going back to the 16th century (at least). BDS is telling me that I have no right to my heritage. Let us not even talk about the fact that a group that is constantly quoting UN resolutions (rightfully) ignores other resolutions from the same body all the time.
·        BDS has proven to jeopardize peaceful negotiations towards a two state solution on both sides. Well, some members of the movement, including the co-founder openly said that they do not want Two States.
·        BDS has thus far affected the Palestinian economy more than it did the Israeli economy. As a Jew who strongly identifies as Pro-Palestinian, I find this challenging.
·        BDS ignores domestic politics. This movement is strengthening the Israeli Right in unprecedented ways. The fact that Israel now has a right wing government that is not interested in a peaceful solution is in large ways thanks to the international BDS movement. That hurts so many of my fellow liberal Jews.
I want to see an end the occupation. I want to see an end to the human rights violations against Palestinians. I want to see an end to the suffering of every human being, Jews, Arab and Druze alike 'from the River to the Sea', and BDS is not helping.
I wish that next time I visit the State of Israel; I should be able to visit the beautiful cities of Ramallah, Jericho, and Nablus as part of the sovereign State of Palestine. 
I feel that BDS is standing in the way of achieving these goals.

So CQA, please take notice that BDS, even the majority of its members really mean well, is not the best way, if an effective way at all, to fight for Human Rights, something that we, Queer people, have been fighting to achieve for years.