In 2006 I was Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. Before you get too impressed, I’ll remind you: in 2006 anyone who picked up a copy of Time Magazine was voted person of the year. With the rise of Wikipedia, YouTube, and other various user-generated content, Time made the bold statement that everyone deserved the title. (Still, I’ve been known to impress strangers when I drop the accolade into casual conversation.)
This year’s Person of the Year is Pope Francis, who was elected head of the Catholic Church earlier in 2013. Although there’s much to be said about Pope Francis’ view on the LGBTQ community and his social justice work, the real story lies with the woman declared runner-up for the title: Edith Windsor.
Edie Windsor embodies sass; the 84-year-old widow was at the forefront of the legal battle that toppled DOMA earlier this year. Edith and I have a lot in common—after all, we both share (or almost shared) the prestigious Time magazine title. More importantly, we’re both individuals—and, how does that saying go? “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has?” Margaret Mead had a point—albeit one that has been turned into a bit of a cliché.
Edie was a fighter and a leader her whole life, she was taught at an early age “that if a boy called her ‘a dirty Jew,’ she should pull his hair and run home.” Hearing tales of her relationship with Thea Spyer conjures themes and images from the most romantic of blockbuster movies, but what sets her story apart was (and is) her bravery as an individual. After Thea passed away in 2009, Edie was handed an estate-tax bill of $364,053—a tax that legally recognized spouses are exempt from. She filed with the IRS. When the claim was denied, she took action. She fought back through injustice, and she has paved the equality path for queer couples in America.
Edie Windsor represents the power of the individual—a Jewish lesbian born to immigrant parents in Philadelphia who refused to back down. She might not be Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, but she sure is mine.
The Jewish world is full of debates. Get the latest in MyJewishLearning’s weekly blogs newsletter.
When I thought about my future as a kid, the image of a wedding would come into focus. A beautiful huppah, my beaming parents, and adult me standing next to the love of my life with whom I’d build a Jewish family. Judaism was always a strong and important force in my life, one I cherished. My commitment to carrying on my heritage was a given, particularly charged by the fact that I’m the grandson of Holocaust survivors. But as I grew into my teens, that image of my future became distorted when I realized that there would never be a bride in white standing next to me. At the time, I could never imagine a second groom wearing a kippah at my side either. Merging a Jewish path and a gay identity felt like a pipe dream.
Growing up, I was a student at an Orthodox yeshiva. Each day in Talmud class, we analyzed traditional Jewish laws and values in ancient Aramaic, but I was surprised to find how often the Rabbis brought the conversation to current politics and the ‘evils of the modern world’. While the study of Talmud was characterized by rich and dynamic debate, ‘evils’ like homosexuality were taught as black and white —they were inherently wrong, case closed. These lectures on the ‘abomination’ of being gay scared me to my core, as I was simultaneously discovering that I was most definitely attracted to men. While I was being told it was against everything G-d and Judaism stood for, in my soul it was the most natural and honest thing I could feel.
After many years of fear and confusion, and the occasional suicidal thought, I reached the light at the end of my teenage tunnel: my freshman year at a large, liberal college. There, I met a group of supportive, down-to-earth friends who challenged me to look in the mirror. One late night in February, I got up the courage to come out to my parents…via Instant Messenger (after all, it was the early 2000s). Hiding in the warm light of a computer screen, I communicated words to them I never imagined articulating. I held my breath and stared at the words, waiting. What followed were lots of questions, fear and worry. It was done, out in the world and irrevocable.
The years that followed proved to be a bumpy landscape for me and my family, with highs and lows as we navigated this new reality. While I had gained newfound self-acceptance, my life had become more secular and my connection to Judaism a bit fainter. My mother worried that I’d never find happiness, and my father felt conflicted and hurt. The good news was that they still loved me, but they were slow to understand me, and I became increasingly frustrated that they weren’t progressing faster. By my senior year though, I had to admit that they were making an effort. They read books on Judaism and Homosexuality, turned to my hometown rabbi for support, and started telling friends. I came to realize that my parents are human too, that they were figuring out all of their feelings just like I was, and they needed the same love, patience and gentle respect from me that I was seeking from them.
In time I had become very comfortable with myself and my life as a gay man, and imagined that I’d eventually find a partner, but my hope of having a Jewish family was a distant memory. I would enjoy the occasional Shabbat dinner with my family on Friday night, and then hit the bars in Hell’s Kitchen with my friends on Saturday night. My gay identity and my Jewish identity were like tolerant neighbors who refused to socialize with one another. After many failed first dates and unfulfilling excursions in online dating, I realized that finding someone who could understand my faith and share in my family’s culture was more important than I thought. And then one ordinary Monday afternoon in September, I took an elevator ride that changed my life.
David and I struck up a conversation between floors two and six, and I instantly felt a connection. We shared a ton in common, and remarkably, he happened to be Jewish too. The first time I brought him to my parents’ Shabbat table, I nervously held my breath during quiet introductions. My father began reciting the blessings, and David put on a kippah and chanted them along with my family. I watched my parents relax, settle in, and get to know him. Over the course of that dinner, something changed for my parents. My homosexuality had transformed from an abstract, scary idea into something beautiful and palpable: the connection they recognized between me and David, holding hands next to each other, laughing and kibitzing with them at their dinner table.
Fast forward to May 19, 2013. There I was, standing under the chuppah, looking into David’s eyes. My parents are in front of me on one side of the chuppah, and his are behind me on the other. I’m surrounded by our closest friends and family, listening to a rabbi pronounce us LEGALLY married in the state of New York and before G-d. I pinch myself. This is not a dream, this is really happening. My parents have tears in their eyes, but they are the joyful kind. Later, we dance. I spin my mother around the dance floor, and my father and brother lift me in the air on a chair. I watch my parents give a toast with pride. I realize that it was possible after all.
I don’t mean to suggest I have it all figured out. My feelings about the intersection of traditional Judaism and the modern world are still complicated. I still have the same big questions about how Torah fits into modernity that I had as yeshiva boy. But now, I ponder those questions and work to make sense of the world alongside my husband at our own Shabbat table, filled with humor, love, and a deeper understanding of meaningful Judaism than I ever had during my time at Yeshiva. Our relationship has actually brought me closer to my heritage and has provided me with a stronger understanding of its place in my modern life. What I do know is this: I didn’t have to choose one path at the cost of another. For the first time in my life, my Jewish identity and my gay identity have blended to one—just me. All of me.
What does it mean to be Jewish and queer? What about dating queer and Jewish? Does it make a difference?
I am Shaily Hakimian from Lincolnshire, Illinois studying elementary education at Indiana University. I have been working in the LGBT movement since I was 14 – so about 8 years. I grew up going to Solomon Schechter Day School where I received a Conservative Jewish education as a Sephardic Jew living in America. My dad is from Iran and my mom is from Morocco, though she spent part of her life in Israel. My mom has always had a strong connection to Judaism. Though we have slipped slightly in our observance of kashrut among other things, she still pushes me on a regular basis to marry Jewish. G-d forbid I don’t meet someone Jewish.
I always think of what it would be like bringing someone who was not Jewish to Israel to meet my family. What would my cousins think? In Israel, the chances of a Jewish person not marrying another Jew are slim. But in the U.S., the chances of that happening are far greater. Over the years I have tried to understand why my mom and other relatives always pushed this so hard on me. Why is it so important for me to date Jewish? Continue reading
I’m still reeling from yesterday’s amazing news.
And I’m so incredibly proud and inspired to see so many LGBTQ Jews and straight allies stand up to affirm the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA and Prop 8 in cities across the country like Washington DC, Denver, Miami, Cambridge, and San Francisco.
I don’t think Hollywood could have scripted a better ending to Pride Month.
But what happens when the excitement of DOMA and Pride end? Check out this one minute video to see our vision:
Two years ago this summer, I stood under a chuppah (marriage canopy) with my wife. Because we live in Massachusetts, we are “lucky” that our relationship is recognized by our state. However, under the current law, we are denied 1,138 federal rights that our straight friends are automatically granted when they wed.
Today, this discrimination is over!
We are elated that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of fairness and equality by striking down DOMA and Prop 8. Our ancient Jewish values teach us that we all are created B’tzelem Elohim (in God’s Image) and our current laws violated this sacred principle by refusing to recognize and protect same-sex relationships.
The overwhelming majority of American Jews support equal marriage (81%, 2012 Public Religion Research Institute) and this is a proud day for us all.
On this anniversary, I celebrate not only our relationship, but the hundreds of thousands of other LGBTQ Americans who will be able to access this fundamental right.
Thank you for all you’ve done to help us reach this day. Onward together to full equality!
Executive Director, Keshet
Resources and Celebrations
Ready to tie the knot?
See what today’s decision means for one Jewish gay man. Read more
Join Keshet at these celebrations:
5:30 pm, DOMA Decision Day Celebration, Cambridge City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge
In the Bay Area
2:00 pm SHARP: Interfaith Religious Leaders Press Conference, Grace Cathedral, 1100 California Street, San Francisco
6:15 pm: Gathering at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, 290 Dolores Street, at 16th Street, San Francisco
6:30 pm: Community Rally in the Castro, Harvey Milk Plaza, Market & Castro Streets, San Francisco
6:30 pm: Prop 8 and DOMA Decision Day Rally, Colorado State Capitol, 200 East Colfax Avenue, Denver, Colorado