A Jew. A Queer. But a Jewish Queer? Keshet Youth Shabbaton Reflection

I’ve never been one to have high expectations. I tend to take situations as they come and to be spontaneous in my decision making. That being said, I didn’t have any idea what I was in for as I stepped out of van and onto the cold snowy ground of the Isabella Friedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Connecticut this January.

At the Keshet Shabbaton

Shelby, third from left, at the Keshet Shabbaton

Maybe I was subconsciously hoping the sky would be teeming with a myriad of rainbows, the clouds would part, and beautiful, teenage, gay women would fall from the sky, dancing to the hora and studying Torah.

Well, that didn’t happen. However, the weekend Keshet had in store for me and other LGBTQ Jewish youth at the second LGBTQ Jewish Teens and Allies Shabbaton was equally as magical.

 

As a sixteen-year-old Jewish lesbian who attends a private Jewish high school, I had never been surrounded by peers I could relate to. I had never met another Jewish queer, and often struggled to balance my religion with my “identity.” In fact, identity was a concept I had never fully grasped. Is identity something pre-determined and constant, like fingerprints? Is it a sense of self, altering as we grow and become more self-aware?

Shelby


Shelby

I did not expect three days and a small group of Jewish queers and allies to help me answer such difficult questions I had pondered all my life.

Our three-day long journey was filled with numerous moments that allowed these answers to unfold before my eyes. Perhaps it was the way that the other teens welcomed me with open arms, even though it was my first time at a Keshet event. I instantly felt connected to these people from day one. Although we each had our own backgrounds, hobbies, and personalities, we were all Jewish and queer, and that was enough to build relationships. Maybe it was the way the spirit of Shabbat filled the entire retreat center when everyone joyfully raised their voice to exclaim: “the birds in the trees are singing the song of Shabbat! The snowflakes on the ground are singing the songs of Shabbat… the queers in the shul are singing the songs of Shabbat!”