T.I.C. transitions

Jew on the Waves of Fate

Archive for the tag “Shabbos”

Shabbos Retreat

Directional Sign post at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center

I took a chance this weekend, one I probably would not have had the nerve to do a couple of years ago.  I took part in the annual Eshel Shabbaton at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut.  A few of my new friends in the Gay Jewish community of NYC suggested I attend as I am supposedly a default member of this community and yet have only very recently started to become connected to it.

According to their Facebook page Eshel is “a place of SHELTER for Orthodox, frum, and other traditional gay and lesbian Jews seeking to maintain their Jewish observance” while welcoming those who are “formerly Orthodox, “Orthodox-curious,” or otherwise interested in maintaining a connection to traditional Judaism as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender Jews.”

Why was attending this event such a big deal for me?  I can be somewhat shy and stepping into a decent size established community and only being sure that I’ll know two or three people makes me nervous.  On top of that, though the fact that I wear a kippah on a daily basis convinces non-Jews, secular Jews, and “not as traditional” Jews that I must be Orthodox or “Conservative at the very least,” I am none of these things.  Upon examining my upbringing, my lifestyle and my practice one would realize that I am far from frum (great title for a future blog post where I could delve more into my Jewish identity).  And while many would believe, based on the explicit way I often deal with topics of sexuality, mine in particular, that I am comfortably gay, I have never been very comfortable with that label.

ImageBeing at this retreat reaffirmed my contradicting feelings of being “apart” and “a part” (again, future blog post I hope).  Being around large numbers of Jews is always a novel experience for me after having grown up as one of the only if not the only Jew in all of my schools.  It feels great to share a cultural and religious identity with those around me but isolating as many of these individuals attended Jewish Day Schools and Yeshiva and have a deeper and certainly more thorough understanding of Jewish concepts than I do.  Being around large numbers of LGBTQ individuals is also a novel experience because though I have struggled with my sexuality, I have been very lucky and I am very grateful that I have had an open and accepting family throughout the whole process.  But being around others who do not identify as heterosexual is an odd experience for me as I have continually struggled to feel comfortable in the “LGBTQ Community.” It is not as easy as one would think to develop friendships with those who share the same or similar labels as you.

Mainly I came away from this Shabbos retreat with a lot of hope mixed with anxiety.  I witnessed a focus on Judaism I often miss and I hope to learn and put effort into deepening my connection, knowledge and practice.  However, I am anxious that my discipline and motivation will fail me.  I experienced the desire to find myself in a similar community in the future and the hope that I can make that happen for myself.  Yet I am anxious that it will never be that simple.  And perhaps most importantly, I made and developed some very promising, fun, and exciting friendships.  Connections that I hope will continue and grow but I am anxious that I will not be able to maintain them.

Overall I enjoyed the opportunity to escape the city for a weekend, interact with new people, daven, dance, flirt, study, and observe a new community and new situations.  Anxieties aside these may be crucial elements for finding positive change:

  • Daven to build stronger spiritual connections;
  • Dance to express myself, my desires, and shed insecurities;
  • Flirt to have fun, play, take risks and gain new experiences; and
  • Study and Observe to strengthen my knowledge and fuel my desire to grow and to learn.

Resources for LGBTQ and Judaism

And so we enter the year 5773

Rosh HaShanah 5770/2009

And so we enter the year 5773.  What is amusing about that is most people might believe that is the opening line to a science fiction story but to Jews around the world it is no fiction.  We are entering a new year and it is very different from the December 31/January 1 new year.  We definitely celebrate and hope for a joyous and sweet (honey sweet) new year but instead of partying all night we spend our days praying.  It is an important if not slightly foreboding time.  As a very good, non-Jewish friend of mine pointed out, the concept of being inscribed in the book of life on Rosh HaShanah and having your fate for the year sealed a week later on Yom Kippur is kind of scary.   But of course there is a lot more depth to that concept than the Judaism 101 website can impart.

As we approached Rosh HaShanah I thought about all the things I wanted to do differently in the coming year, this is pretty traditional no matter what calendar you’re following, people like to call them new year’s resolutions.  I want to study those languages I’ve let fade, I want to work out more (well…working out at all might be a good start), I want to keep my room clean and organized, manage my time better, eat healthier, be more careful with my money, go to synagogue more often and remember to say a bracha (blessing) before I eat.  Aside from the last two those should not be that far off from a lot of people’s resolutions.

But a key difference between the Jewish new year and the secular new year is that Rosh HaShanah is an intensely spiritual time especially when packaged together with Yom Kippur – a period known as the Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe or as my father points out the AWE-full days.  So my desire to go to synagogue more often, to say a bracha before I eat, to recite the Shema daily, those goals carry a greater weight for me during this time.  No Rabbi or fellow member of the tribe has openly criticized my lack of practice or questioned my faith recently (I mean I do wear my yarmulke every day, so everything must be fine right).  But I criticize myself.

I remain very aware of these missed opportunities to be more aware, to express my spirituality, to honor my beliefs and the traditions of a fascinating people, of which I am proud to be a member.  What does my perceived lack of observance say about my professed devotion to my spiritual flavor, the faith-based structure that I was born into and have continually chosen to be the foundation of my spiritual path?  It would be one thing if I was simply not interested in the practice, if the guilt was just some hold over from having gone to synagogue every Friday night and most Saturday mornings as a child but I know it is more than that.

And so as we enter 5773 I brace myself for the wave of spiritual inspiration that comes at this time every year.  It can easily overwhelm and leave me sitting in front of my computer on Shabbos (note I shouldn’t be on my computer on Shabbos), weighed down by the expectations I have placed on myself.  But just as it can overwhelm it can also motivate.  I know the value of embracing that inspiration, I have seen its positive attributes and there is no time in the Jewish calendar when the wave is at its strongest than during the Yamim Nora’im, the days named for the awe they inspire.

Altschul Chapel, Beth Elohim Synagogue, Brooklyn, NY

I encourage anyone who happens to read this to accept this challenge with me.  My parents always taught me, when I became overwhelmed, to just take things one at a time.  Think of all the goals you have – everything from working out to going to your place of worship more often.  Now take one and decide the one thing you will do to begin approaching it.  I do not need to plan to go to synagogue EVERY Friday night, but how about NEXT Friday night.  Will I say Shema every morning?  I don’t know, but I plan to say it tomorrow morning…and I think I want to say it tonight as well.  Will I work out before work every day?  I don’t know, but I will go for a run with my roommate this week.

I am very susceptible to procrastination and becoming so overwhelmed by my desires and goals that I don’t follow through on any of them has become a standard occurrence.  I accept that this is a personal challenge and with that knowledge I would like to channel the inspiration of this time of year toward growth.

Shanah Tovah.

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