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Members of the tribe.

Imagine that you are a member of a

minority that has been persecuted for

centuries, sometimes to death--often by

people citing the Bible as their excuse.

Imagine further that

because your status is not usually

outwardly obvious, you can, if you wish,

pass as a member of the majority. And

finally, imagine that while the

persecution has abated significantly in

the second half of this century, it can still

crop up anywhere, anytime.

Now you know how it feels to be...Jewish.

"When my lover, David, and I would

go out for a drink during my first few

months on this job, it was very hard for

me to say where I was working," says

Barry Kessler, a gay man who is a

curator at the Jewish Historical Society

of Maryland in Baltimore. "I realized that

was my own internalized discomfort

with my Jewishness. It's not a

religious thing; it's an ethnic thing."

This parallel may be one reason that

much of mainstream Judaism is further

along than the major Christian

denominations in welcoming gays and

lesbians into the fold. How far along? Far

enough that the World Congress of Gay

and Lesbian Jewish Organizations can

afford to focus the agenda for its biennial

conference, which was scheduled for July

4-6 in Dallas, not on conflicts with

Jewish institutions but on issues such as

HIV and helping families deal with a gay

relative's orientation. Far enough, as well,

that the main issues for many gay

and lesbian Jews--issues.

such as intermarriage, sex

roles, and keeping children

in the faith--now echo

those of their nongay

counterparts.

Gay and lesbian

synagogues, for instance,

have led the way on a topic

that many mainstream congregations are

still grappling with: making worship

gender-neutral. "How could a

gay-lesbian-bisexual temple say, `OK,

only women can light candles'?" asks

Josh Wayser, president of Beth Chayim

Chadashim in Los Angeles. "It's not

going to happen, and we don't want it to

happen."

In another area, lesbian and gay

synagogues are following the lead of their

mainstream counterparts. As more gay

men and especially lesbians become

parents, their synagogues are deciding

whether to start religious schools; one

gay synagogue, Sha'ar Zahav in San

Francisco, has had a school for five years

and has performed at least 20 bar and

teas mitzvahs, the coming-of-age

ceremony for 13-year-olds. "We looked

around and realized that all these kids

were there," says Mike Rankin, a former

president of the synagogue. "We didn't

want to send them to another

congregation for religious school."

Reform Judaism, one of the religion's

four major branches, began admitting gay

and lesbian synagogues in the 1970s and

ordains openly gay rabbis. Its rabbis

publicly endorsed civil marriage for

same-sex couples last year and are

moving toward encouraging their

colleagues to perform religious wedding

ceremonies.

"We have won virtually everything we

can hope for," says Rankin, who is on

the executive committee and the board of

trustees of the Union of American

Hebrew Congregations, the lay governing

body of Reform Judaism. "The problem

is translating that from leadership to the

congregations: issues like urging

congregations to hire openly gay rabbis."

Peter Kessler, an openly gay assistant

rabbi at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation,

a mainstream Reform congregation, says

he has experienced that problem

firsthand. "When I was

looking for a pulpit, many congregations

said, `You're a fabulous rabbi, but we're

not ready for you.'" But he says that

once hired, he and his partner were

welcomed as any other rabbi and his wife

or any other rabbi and her husband have

been. "The gay issues that I was

frightened would appear--the hatred and

fear--have not."

Even so, Kessler's congregation

contains few openly gay members, a fact

he attributes to local cultural conditions:

"People in Baltimore grew up here.

Especially in the Jewish community,

everybody knows everybody."

Conservative Judaism, unlike Reform

and the smaller Reconstructionist

movement, neither ordains openly gay

rabbis nor officially sanctions same-sex

marriages. But its governing body, the

Rabbinical Assembly, has long welcomed

gays and lesbians as synagogue

members--formalizing the policy in a

1990 statement--and Mark Loeb, a

Conservative Baltimore rabbi, says

performing a same-sex wedding would be

much less frowned upon than performing

an interfaith marriage: "In the Rabbinical

Assembly, if you do that, that is an

expellable offense."

Indeed, interfaith marriage is a

controversial topic even at gay and

lesbian synagogues and for many of the

same reasons. "Continuity has been a

watchword in the Jewish community,"

says Glenn Mones, vice president of

Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in New

York City. "The Jewish community is

shrinking both because of a relatively low

birthrate among Jews and because of

intermarriage. So the community is

panicking."

But the question of interfaith

relationships plays out a bit differently

among gay Orthodox Jews as a result of

the deep and increasingly bitter division

between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox

throughout Judaism. Some Orthodox

Jews find it easier to form relationships

with Christians than

with non-Orthodox

Jews, says Sandi

DuBowski, who is

making a documentary

about Orthodox gays

and lesbians titled

Trembling Before G-d.

Jay Gurewitsch,

cofounder of the Gay

and Lesbian Yeshiva

Day School Alumni Association, a

social and discussion group for Orthodox

gays and lesbians in New York City,

says that in relationships between

observant and nonobservant Jews, "the

one who no longer does observe will feel

put upon: `Why are you still doing this?'

And the religious one will say, `How can

you reject this stuff?'"

Orthodox Jews at present have no

hope of having their relationships blessed

in synagogues so traditional on sexual

matters that men and women are not even

allowed to sit together. But many are

reluctant to change to a less restrictive

brand of Judaism. "It's a major

psychological leap to leave," Mones

says. "It's a very tight-knit community.

To leave the people you grew up with,

your family and friends, is difficult for

people."

Gurewitsch cites the case of one

young man who has alternated between

being a Hasidic Jew and a go-go dancer as

emblematic of the tensions felt by many.

"Their gyroscope gets all screwed up,

and they go swinging back and forth

wildly," he says. As for himself,

Gurewitsch says, "I've tried being Jewish

and not gay, and for a few years I was

gay and not Jewish, and I wasn't happy

either way. For me, it's about striking a balance."
COPYRIGHT 1997 Liberation Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Judaism and homosexuality
Author:Flippen, Alan
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Jul 22, 1997
Words:1058
Previous Article:Mass movement.
Next Article:Kiss Me, Guido.
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