Good to be a gay Jersey Jew

We moved to Illinois after my father completed his residency in California.  California was a godless state, according to my mother, and she couldn’t wait to move back to Chicago.  I was 5 years old when we joined the conservative synagogue where we would celebrate holidays and attend Shabbat services and where my brother, sister and I would become B’nai Mitzvah.  While I don’t remember much about that synagogue, I do remember the kiddush table that seemed to go on for days, 6 days of salads and bagels and pastas and on the 7th day it rested with rugelach and double chocolate brownies.

Aside from the food, I found nothing there of support or community.  When I came out to my parents, my mother and father shut the door on our relationship, and they attributed their decision to cut all ties with their amoral daughter to the teachings of Judaism.  I knew that Judaism was not entirely to blame for my parents’ rejection, but I blamed Conservative Judaism for enabling their misguided righteousness.

Gabriella and I pretended to shop for a synagogue when we landed in South Orange.  Truth be told, joining a congregation was low down on my priority list.  Almost 7 months pregnant, a toddler stuck to my side at all times and a kitchen that was unusable and needed to be gutted – or set aflame, I needed to find a preschool.  We placed Asher in the preschool at a conservative synagogue that happened to have a spot for him, but I knew without question that we would not be members of a conservative synagogue, no matter how friendly they seemed.

When the president of that synagogue first called us to talk about membership, I remember standing in my living room as straight as I could, hoisting up my distended uterus and rejecting him with pride.  My Jew-by-choice lady-partner, our children and I would no doubt be more comfortable at a synagogue that embraced our family.  I selected my words carefully and respectfully, but in my mind I was flipping off the Conservative Movement for its rigidity and for enabling my parents to turn their backs on my family, never having met their grandchildren.

Much like my parents, I was quick to judge.

We found a home at that very conservative synagogue, Congregation Beth El, and no one could have been more shocked than I.  I learned every synagogue is different even within each sect.  I learned to look past the label and consider the heart of the congregation and clergy.  I learned that a gourmet kiddush spread does not a loving 

synagogue make.

This past Saturday, our rabbi, Rabbi Francine Roston, and many beautiful members of our synagogue hosted Rainbow Shabbat to celebrate the couples that had been or about to be wed now that marriage equality had arrived in New Jersey.  Troy Stevenson of Garden State Equality presented an equality update and news of next steps.  As a child in Oklahoma raised in an Evangelical household, he never knew that religious based faith and homosexuality could coexist, and he never knew the love that our congregation demonstrated by celebrating all its families and the value of every individual.

At the end of the service, all of the recently married families were invited to stand under the chuppah while the rabbi delivered a heartfelt blessing.  We were grateful for her words and touched by the love and affirmation of our community.  There were tears of sadness for all that has come before and tears of joy for the story we were rewriting as a congregation.  And then there was a cake decorated with rainbow colors … and Scotch.

Rabbi Francine Roston NOT during Rainbow Shabbat.  She just loves rainbows and gays!

This was not my parents’ conservative synagogue, and I could not feel more at home there.  It’s an amazing feeling to live through such happy change, and it will be even more amazing when we’re on the other side and our children don’t remember what it was like before our communities and our country chose love over fear.

12 thoughts on “Good to be a gay Jersey Jew

    1. The good news is that I have fantastic siblings and a large, supportive and wonderful extended family AND the most amazing chosen family a girl could ever want, on-line and off. Thank you, Tracey.

  1. OK, I’m crying. Just love it and I love that some Conservative synagogues can change with the times. Mazel Tov! The Posners

  2. Teary. So lovely. Mazel tov! (For the record, my dad – formerly the president of his conservative synagogue — was so excited to phone me sometime last year to tell me that his shul had recently formally amended their constitution to make sure that they were welcoming of same-sex couples. Still, your hesitation to join a conservative synagogue still resonates with me. But how lovely to be proved wrong in this case.)

    1. I’m more of a Reconstructionist, but I decided not to let philosophy get in the way of choosing the most welcoming community for our kids. I don’t really care what they end up believing, but I do hope they’ll be proud to be Jewish – a lot sooner than I was.

      And thank you!

  3. Your Rabbi sounds like a wonderful woman. Glad you found a home there. Sorry to hear about your parents, though. They may come around someday. Thanks for sharing your story.

Leave a Reply

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