There I was motivated to begin living my life authentically, as the out and proud gay man I was becoming. Near the beginning of that semester, I attended my first OUT meeting, Indiana University’s LGBT student union. It was an incredibly empowering feeling to meet so many like-minded people all in one setting for the very first time. Afterwards, I found out that it was the group's tradition to head over to Ben and Jerry's for the after-meeting ice cream social. While we were eating our ice cream cones, I met Adam and Dorit. We started talking, and when they found out I was Jewish, they became ecstatic... they were excited to add me into their found tribe.
I grew up in Buffalo Grove, always surrounded by the predominance of Jewish neighbors, classmates, and friends. I thought little of any need to stake a claim on my Jewishness. It had always been—and would always be—who I was. In the back of my mind, I felt like I was already conquering the feeling of being the outsider—of being gay amidst a predominantly heterosexual society.
Then Adam and Dorit filled me in on a Jewish LGBT organization called Spinoza that was being reorganized by an IU professor. The group was named for the famous Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza, a noted rebel and outcast in the Jewish community who was also unconfirmed, but speculated to have been gay. Was I interested in attending the first meeting of the year? I hesitantly said “yes,” balancing out how I wanted to spend my precious time this first semester. But, moreover, I was weighing out who I was—was I Jewish before I was gay, or gay before I was Jewish? Could I really even put one before the other?
In time, I would realize that there was never a need to choose. But at the time, finding a cross-section between these two parts of myself was incredibly new and unexplored.
I ultimately became a leader within Spinoza, even though we hardly ever numbered more than a minyan. During my senior year, I traveled to the National Union of Jewish LGBT Students' convention at Yale. I was surrounded at the convention by a tremendous gathering of Jewish LGBT students just like me. We all shared something amazing and incredibly close in our collective experience and point-of-view.
Through these experiences, I’ve become highly attuned to the gift that has been given to me as a gay Jew, and as a Jewish member of the gay community. Echoing the title of an anthology of LGBT Jewish writings published in the nineties, as LGBT Jews, we are "twice blessed." I feel that as a minority within a minority, I have been given a perspective on life that is rich and unique. It is one that I surely would never abandon.
What does it mean to be a gay Jew? For me, it likely defines itself in my seeking of the creative, the new and the innovative layer of reinvention in our culture and ritual, which builds itself upon our rich, established tradition. I seek a modern tradition which unites us all equally. And as a Jewish member of the LGBT community, I recognize and honor its incredible diversity. It is a community which all too often is stereotyped not only by outsiders, but moreover, by itself.
My most vivid memory from the convention was a ritual moment we created as a blessing for anyone who had recently come out, during our Havdalah service—a perfect time to mark the spirit of transition. In a candlelit room, we gathered in a circle and sent the participants to the middle. A special blessing was said for them, and then we broke a glass, borrowing the wedding ritual as a symbol of joy and freedom. Then, amidst our smiles and tears, we danced and sang "Siman tov u'mazel tov." We had all bridged the gap, and I had finally come home.