Keshet is a national organization that works for LGBTQ equality in Jewish life. The organization equips Jewish leaders with tools to build LGBTQ-affirming communities, creates spaces for queer Jewish teens to feel valued and develop their own leadership skills, and mobilizes the Jewish community to fight for LGBTQ justice. Keshet’s blog spotlights this work, as well as the voices of LGBTQ Jews, our families, and allies.
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
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?
My mom and I have an annual routine of going to Chabad for Lag Ba’omer. Last year, while dancing around the traditional bonfire, my mom whispers in my ear in her heavy French-Moroccan-Israeli accent, “This is why you have to marry Jewish, marry
is no fun like this.”
This is one of those conversations where I could see why dating Jewish is so important. From my life so far, I have seen Judaism as spending time with my family during Shabbat and holidays, as organizations giving me free food on campus, as dressing up for Purim and having an excuse to get drunk, as a global community. I always tell my friends that meeting someone else who is Jewish is like an inside joke. I feel like there is so much I already know about a person just after meeting them. We have a shared experience. To me, this is turning into my reason why I hope to commit to someone Jewish.
But what about queer Jews? Does this hold?
Most of my activist work has been in the youth and education sector of the LGBT (etc.) movement. But over the last few years, I have looked closer at my own intersection of Jewish queerness. I have gone to Tel Aviv pride and I have lead Jewish caucuses at both Creating Change and MBLGTACC, both queer conferences, among other things. I have spoken to people who work in the area of Jewish queerness and I have talked to Jews who work throughout the LGBT movement.
The stories I hear from grownups in this movement have made me reflect on my upbringing. One mother told me how she is worried that her nine-year-old son won’t have the same Jewish upbringing she had growing up because her wife/partner is not Jewish. Another Jewish transman in the movement told me that he didn’t go to Israel when he had a chance back when he was younger and now, as a leader in his organization, he does not know when it will be possible. Another prominent member of a national LGBT organization was in a relationship for over a decade with a man who was not Jewish but is proudly connected to his synagogue. I asked a woman at a conference if she was Jewish because I just had that feeling and she said yes, but said she had not done anything in years and implied that maybe she does not count.
These interactions, and the many other conversations I have had during caucuses, have led me to believe that queer Jews have been left behind. I say this from the perspective of a young person who sees all the efforts on campus to keep Jewish young people connected. Whether it is my Aish rabbi who puts on fun Shabbat weekend activities at his house and helps young Jews get to Israel for free, or my Chabad rabbi who loves to use cheesy icebreakers to get all of us to know each other, or my Hillel rabbi who wants to make all Jews a part of her Hillel board – including an LGBT member, or Birthright indiscreetly making jokes about increasing the “Birthrate” of Jewish babies after their trips, and so on and so forth. There has been a huge effort to get young Jews to meet each other and potentially date. Though as a whole I don’t think Judaism excludes LGBT Jews as much as other religions exclude queer members, I don’t see this same effort happening to keep queer Jews dating. The pride is still there amongst all the Jewish queer people I mentioned, but are we doing enough to keep that energy going to future generations?
Is getting people to date something we want to prioritize with Jewish queers as it has been done with straight Jews throughout the Jewish movement?
I have dated my fair share of Jews and non-Jews, but none too seriously. But I feel like I am at a point where I need to decide what direction I’m going to take. Who knows, I may not ever meet anyone I commit to or maybe I will fall for a non-Jew. Who knows, but this is where I stand right now. My opinions may change over time. I am sharing this as an insight to my mind. I hope that this blog post can start a dialogue. Please feel free to respond to this post. As a young person, I have so much to learn but I also have so much to teach. Wherever learning comes from, I am happy to take it.
Pronounced: seh-FAR-dik, Origin: Hebrew, describing Jews descending from the Jews of Spain.
Pronounced: shuh-BAHT or shah-BAHT, Origin: Hebrew, the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.