I have been reflecting a lot on the issue of Israel and Palestine. Being caught between multiple worlds and identities makes any legitimate response difficult. I have realized that this is the reason why I left the synagogue for so long. We had a conversation about home, leaving, and revolt last night at the bar. It was profound for me because there were a lot of us who took the perspective that even if we felt marginalized or angered by our religious institutions that we loved them enough that we had to stay, that we loved them enough we had to speak out. There are times where I have often thought about leaving Judaism because of this one issue. I have thought, well, I should just go to a form of Christianity that will allow me to continue my practices and embrace of my theology. Perhaps a Unitarian Christian, Episcopalian, or a Disciple of Christ. Those thoughts are ultimately the most painful that I have ever had. I remember the three Rabbis at Temple Israel emphasized, “you need to realize that once you become Jewish. You live the consequences. We’re a people who have been oppressed for thousands of years and could be at any moment.” To leave would not only mean giving up the religion that I love so much but also abandoning the people that created it.
So let’s talk about why I “converted” to Judaism. I am uncomfortable with the word, primarily because I think it means letting go of ones past. It means destruction of ones cultural memory. Not only do I think it is difficult to do that, I don’t think it’s wise. We identify, not because we want to move away from the past but because we want to stand in continuity with it. In Jewish tradition, the convert is said to be a person with a “Jewish Soul.” While I don’t believe in the soul — I do not like the mind, body/spirit, flesh dichotomy, I find this statement apt. We don’t become something in a vacuum. There is continuity with the old identity and the new identity.
I became Jewish precisely because of the thousands of years of suffering, not in and of itself, but because of my queerness. Many queer people face heterosexism, bullying, assault, death. I’ve faced harassment, bullying, and assault. Constantly throughout high school. I still encounter it. What kept me going? My truth. My way of life was a legitimate way of living, it was walking in beauty. I had a conviction that moves beyond the simple debate of nurture versus nature. Queerness became a religious conviction. In all honesty, I am willing to die for that conviction. There are times we have to say no and I have to say no when our culture tries to convince us that we’re abhorrent, when it tells us that if we accept Jesus of Nazareth that we can expunge sin from ourselves, or that we can cure ourselves of the “disease” of homosexuality. Queerness is a framework, a way of life. It was walking in beauty. It has a culture, communities, institutions, discourses. I loved it and would not give it up for anything in the world.
The more I felt this conviction, the greater my interest in Judaism. Judaism teaches ethics embodied in community. “Whateverthe subtle differences in interpretation of the yoke of the Law, the ethical basis of the Law remained” (Ellis, 40). This, of course, is not always the case. Not all people act ethically within the framework of Judaism. Jews owned slaves in the South. Israel supported the Contras and the Apartheid. Settlers destroy steal Palestinian land. However, the substantive claims of Judaism are still a people not bound by a statehood but the burden of internalized morality and embodying that ethical imperative in community. The message I got from Judaism was: Oppression does not justify the oppressed becoming the oppressor. “The world stands on three things: Torah, service, and acts of loving-kindness” (avot 1.2).
For Judaism, the root of all sinful behavior is in idolatry. Queerness and idolatry are intimately related, in my mind. “Idolatry has two aspects: the problem of cultic images of G*d and the worship of other, false gods… affirmation of the transcendence of G*d is, at the same time, an affirmation of G*d’s plan to liberate the people. A refusal to work for liberation is idolatry — not the idolatry of false gods, but the idolatry that is possible only from within the worship of the true G*d… the refusal to be idolatrous is the refusal to place systems of domination over the human quest for compassion and solidarity” (Ellis, 89).
My theory of Queerness refuses to see any system as representative of normativity. When we see a system as normative, we see it as sacral, as impenetrable. We see any criticism of a system as tantamount to idolatry. Categorization is creation but the order from chaos can see that order as a reality that was never really eternal in the first place. Queerness is about the breaking down of categories, seeing the organic, and questioning certainties. Revolting against idolatry, in my mind, is adoption of queerness.
A lot of this is random thought and reflection. Maybe I need reinforcement. Maybe I have always felt frustrated from the issue of Israel and Palestine, not because there are people who are pro-Israel but because the people who are pro-Israel don’t dialogue. Those of us who advocate that Palestinians are human are automatically dismissed as anti-semitic. That’s not dialogue. It’s dismissal. It is rhetorical violence. Our voices and perspectives have little or no value. It is antithetical to the spirit of Rabbinic Judaism, a Judaism that sees religious dialogue at the heart of the encounter with the sacred.
I don’t know what to do.