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.
September is a remarkably dependable month. I can always count on school starting back up again, warm summer nights beginning to deliver a hint of chill, a new Chabad calendar arriving in the mail (I’m still not sure how they got my address), and an uptick in anxiety as the leisurely summer days slip away. It’s a time full of change, but usually familiar change. Another familiar fall-time friend is Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish New Year is when I reflect on the ups and downs of the past year (my failure to even remember my resolutions from last fall—let alone follow through with them), and make new, albeit empty promises of being more mindful, kind, and healthy. For me, Rosh Hashanah also holds personal significance as it marks my “coming out-iversary.”
I was a college kid, home for the High Holidays, and I had something to tell my family. I wanted to tell them in person, and the first opportunity happened to be on Rosh Hashanah. I was nervous to tell my parents, so I did what I do when I’m anxious: stress bake. As I worked on my strawberry cupcakes, I hoped my busy hands would settle my racing mind. Will they take me seriously? Will they ask me invasive questions? Will they think this is a phase? Will Mom cry?
I didn’t know how to tell them or what tone to strike. “I have something to tell you,” seemed far too serious and would undoubtedly send my Yiddeshe mama’s mind to the darkest places of illness and tragedy. Yet a casual, “I’m queer. Pass the apples and honey,” seemed blasé, even from me. As an English major, the idea of writing my announcement appealed, but being the awkward person I am, I shuddered at the idea of sitting silently while my parents read a coming out letter. (What would I do with my hands??)
My cupcakes were cooling, and it struck me.
When my parents came back from a walk, they found me nervously in the kitchen.
“How’d they come out?” my dad asked of my cupcakes, not realizing how poignant his question was about to become. I gestured at them, and my parents stared for a few seconds at the baked treats decorated with white cream cheese frosting spelling out, “A New Year, A New Queer.”
My dad asked, “Are you coming out to us?”
“Yup,” I said.
The rest of the conversation went decently well. No, they didn’t ask me extensive questions, and yes, my mom did cry. My dad said that he and my mom basically already knew (hint: DO NOT say this if someone comes out to you) and that they loved me and thanked me for telling them. They asked me how confidential this information was (hint: DO ask this when someone comes out to you), and I told them that, apart from my old-school grandparents, anyone could know. We hugged and sat down to Rosh Hashanah dinner with my mom’s delicious round challah.
Fast forward two years and I was living my big queer life in a queer little city with nearly exclusively queer friends and a partner of six months. My grandparents (who, bless their oblivious hearts, still assumed I was a nice straight Jewish girl) were in town for Rosh Hashanah. I hadn’t counted on them wanting to see my apartment after services, but after doing a 30-second cleanup of the living room while they waited outside, I welcomed them in. When they asked to see my room, I didn’t think twice about my wall décor. My grandparents took a look around, and I only noticed my mistake when they lingered a little too long in one particular corner of my room. There, proudly displayed, was my Keshet “Another Jew for LGBTQ Equality” sign. While this in itself isn’t strictly damning, it certainly is when paired with a poster of rainbow cream cheese on a bagel sporting the logo, “Bagels and Shmear with your Fellow Queer.” I ushered my grandparents out of my room. They quietly gave me a hug, told me they loved me, and left.
Looking back, it seems perfectly appropriate that I came out not once, but twice on Rosh Hashanah. (The more surprising element is the importance that cream cheese played in both revelations.) Rosh Hashanah is a time of new beginnings and fresh starts, but also a reminder of the continuation of time. It’s a time for reflecting, not forgetting. Similarly, coming out is not a process of revealing a whole new person. When someone comes out, they are still the person you know and love, but now they can live more authentically and truthfully. Like Rosh Hashanah, it is a fresh start, but not an erasure of the past.
May your year be as sweet as strawberry cupcakes. Shana tova!