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On Being Frum and a Lesbian
By Sara Bat Ami

I am not sure how to start this, though the thoughts and outline of what I want, no, need to say have been slowly organizing themselves in my mind for the past few days. I'll start at the beginning. I am a forty year old religious mother of four. I made aliyah close to twenty years ago from a nice frum neighborhood outside of Baltimore. My kids are young teenagers and preparing for national service for the girls and army for my sons. Sounds like many of you I am sure.

What makes us vastly different, and this is not going to be an halachic treatise nor a discourse of apologetics, is that I am a lesbian. This may surprise or shock you but it hasn't been the easiest of issues I have had to deal with in my life either. This article is to awaken you to the reality that I exist and that I am not alone.

If I were to present images of the most horrific marriage and then poetically paint the bliss of finding the perfect mate, I would be immediately deemed not credible. However my story isn't so simple. I am not in flight from a particular man, nor seeking refuge from men in general. It isn't loving a particular woman that makes me a lesbian. I am a lesbian because being with a woman is right for me, whether I am with a woman or not. I am created in G-d's image the same as every one of you, and my purpose in life, like yours, is to become the best "ME" that I can.

That "ME" is a lesbian. For those who look at me as weakly giving in to a yetzer hara (evil inclination) you are missing the point. This isn't about choice or lifestyle. It is about essence. Just as a person may be handicapped, our regard for them should not be one of fear nor pity. It should not be envy nor apathy. It certainly shouldn't be anger nor hostility. Being handicapped or in any way different than the human defined norm does not lower ones' level of "Tzelem Elokim," of being created in G-d's image.

I think of my life two ways at once, as a religious woman and as a lesbian. It has been a struggle to find people who acknowledge that I am both! But however I think about who I am, I come to the same conclusions. On my yishuv outside of Haifa I keep pretty much to myself which is very much against my nature. After a difficult divorce and many years of avoiding this issue, I turned to a public support group to help me through the loneliness and confusion. I truly believed I was the only religious lesbian in the world. It was comforting being accepted as a lesbian but not being a religious group I remained an outsider. A very conspicious one at that. More than sticking out like a sore thumb in my nylons and skirt, I found the number of women who had abandoned religion because of their inability to reconcile both worlds was so high that my presence made us all a bit uncomfortable.

My search for belonging led me back to Haifa where I, Baruch HaShem, found a few religious women struggling with the same issues. "Do we stay religious?" "Well, I don't have a problem with G-d and I can't imagine not keeping Shabbat or raising my kids traditionally." "What about my partner?" "My Ex? " "I could never leave my husband but there just isn't anything there between us, how long can I go on feeling so empty?" "How and do I explain it to my children?" "What about the community? My Job? My self-esteem? My personality?" " How does this fit with my understanding of Torah?" " Is this just about ex? (a passion that can be overcome?)" "Is it about commitment and connection?" "Is it about "falling in love?" (something one can and should "get over?)" "Is it about becoming the best "you" possible in a caring relationship and understanding its' limitations?" "Is it about wholeness?" Whatever it was at least I had found a place to talk about it.

Unfortunatly, talking is not enough because the fear stays with us. The fear of being questioned. The fear of trusting someone outside of our group. Having to hide our inner most selves from family and friends. Losing the support that we had had from our teachers and Rabbis all from the fear of being misunderstood. The fear of being labeled. I really resent that. That after all I have achieved in my life, being a loving compassionate mother, caring wife, ba'alat chesed and dedicated teacher I am going to be reduced to a label. For the most part, friends who have known me throughout this process have been able to integrate my change positively because they know "ME". But communities talk and even the best of friends can't protect you from that. Are those who quietly suggest that I should find a "different" community where "I would fit in better" are looking out for my benefit? Are those who suggest I remove my children from religious school to spare them the teasing really "looking out for their best interest How should I understand those who talk about how it isn't "within the spirit of Torah" to build a life with someone of the same gender but rely upon Heter Macheirah, Heter Iskah or Mechirat Chometz.

What finally prompted me to write this letter comes from the "we" that I am an intergral part of. We, the religious community are making a big mistake when it comes to dealing with homosexuality. We do a gross disservice to Torah when stop reaching out to help, to be human and understanding. We are hypocrites for not one of us perfect. From where do we learn that if you struggle with one mitzvah you shouldn't do any? If this is the message we aregiving than I think we should look very carefully at ourselves to see if we are acting "b'Tzelem Elokim," in G-d's image.

My goal in this life is to become the best "ME" that I can. The definition of which is between myself and my Maker and a process that will take my life time. G-d is not going to ask me "Zusha why weren't you like Moshe Rabeinu?" but rather "Zusha why weren't you Zusha?" When it comes to understanding me, I ask no more of you than that which HaKadosh Baruchu has already asked.

Loshon Hara (gossip) and persecution are antithethical to HaShem's guidelines of "V'ahavta L'ra'echa K' mocha," loving your neighbor as yourself. Don't let your ability to quote Leviticus against homosexuals shadow your responsibility towards them as members of Klal Yisroel. I'm sure if you read a little further you will realize that one can find parellel guidelines for understanding in learning the laws pertaining to the rebellious child.

Inside of us lies the G-d given insight for judging people. Let us use that insight to judge each other on the many mitzvoth we do each day. If you look closely at the Hebrew of Ethics of the Fathers 1:6 you will see that it reads, "Dan et kol ha'Adam li'chaf zchut" and not "Kol Adam." This added "hey" emphasises our responsibility to "Judge the whole person favorably."

I can promise you that an investment in judging the "whole person" for good will reap much more reward in this world and next. May our growth towards tolerance and ahavat hinam, baseless love, merit the speedy arrival of Moshiach. Amen.

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