This is the second in a series of journal entries corresponding to the weeks of an Introduction to Judaism class I’m taking through the Union of Reform Judaism. Each week we are given a topic and asked to journal about that topic. What follows is one such journal entry, possibly redacted to protect the innocent, guilty, or potentially embarrassed (which would be mostly me.)
This weekly intro class has been a welcome welcome. Driving up Capitol Hill on a chilly night on Pine Street, up past fifteenth avenue, I felt nervous. Fearful a bit. I’d ever set foot in a Synagogue for religious purposes. But when I walked in through the doors and into the big space of the hall of the temple, the sense of welcome was immediate. It probably helped that a U-shaped array of diverse fellow-students were assembled in front of me. It probably also helped that Rabbi Kate was there, a welcoming force from the beginning. She wore a kippah in her short dark hair. She flowed with stories.
There were other queer people — I performed the involuntary scan of the room. It’s a habit that every marginalized group of people has in common — we scan rooms for each other. I can and do thrive fully in rooms, houses and institutions without other queer people, but their presence in a new environment signals safety. The room felt safe in other ways too. Rabbi Kate led by example, starting by using language that was inclusive to various identities. Words for G-d were not strictly gendered — though of course gendered activity is nearly impossible to avoid in Judaism in general and the TaNaKh in particular. Regardless, the attempt was being made — a genuine one. And I felt safe.
That said, it is not safety that am seeking on this journey. All journeys are inherently risky. Welcome is not the same as safety, but rather something that sometimes imparts it. You can find welcome on and off the road, and I am certainly (for now) on it. What I perhaps need most are traveling companions. The Jewish way cannot be fully practiced in solitude. After all a minyan (ten people) is required for certain religious functions, including public prayer. There are already people from the class with whom I identify — from whom I can learn. This has been hugely energizing and affirming.
Walking in to an unfamiliar institution — no matter how right the passage seems — can be intimidating. But Jewish tradition provides, and even demands, that the ger (convert) be extended explicit welcome. There exists the idea in the tradition that Jews by choice are especially beloved because of the choice — a moment of decision or calling neither required of or entirely available to Jews by brith. There’s also the norm that it is prohibited to remind the ger of their origins if the reminder is hurtful to the one who hears or leads to any kind of marginalization. Unreserved welcome seems to be the contemporary Jewish way (though it has not always been so for various historical reasons.) Lucky for me too — for this is what I need: a welcome that travels as I travel. A welcome that can embrace all of who I have been, who I am, and who I will become.