On a Thursday evening in May, a crowd gathered in the ballroom of the Table Bay Hotel at the Waterfront.
They were all Jewish, and either gay, lesbian or allies supporting the cause of opening the Jewish community to hearing their voices. The genesis of the event was in an April edition of the Mail & Guardian. An article about how some religions are welcoming gay and lesbian worshippers summed up Judaism’s attitude in one sentence: ‘Judaism condemns homosexual practices and the act of sodomy in the strongest possible terms.’ (M&G 19 — 25 April, pg 20). Rabbi Greg wrote to the Mail & Guardian to inform them that ‘not only does Judaism not condemn GLBTI Jews, but there are many Jewish communities that have created spaces dedicated to promoting the diversity of sexual orientation.’ Inspired to act, he invited people to ‘come and share and help dream what a truly diverse Jewish community would add to this city.’ And they came, young and old, a truly diverse group of Jews to discuss and share their own stories.
What was remarkable in the evening was the range of experiences that people had. There were those who spoke about coming out at Herzlia as supportive and safe and others who had the opposite experience. Some felt that there was nobody to turn to. Their parents, rabbis and teachers were not ready to hear or support them.
Some were in interfaith relationships, which brought their own challenges, and some had been welcomed into their Jewish partner’s families. One man spoke about the lack of compassion and acknowledgement from his rabbi and synagogue when his partner of 48 years died. The Chevra Kadisha, however, called him up to ask if he wanted a double plot at the cemetery, following the guidance of the doctorwho had written on the death certificate, ‘Married’.
Luiz de Laja from Cape Town’s Gay Pride organisation spoke about how other faith groups have participated in Gay Pride, but never a Jewish group. When Rabbi Greg asked why not, he replied “because nobody ever asked.” This could be the root of the problem, where gay and lesbian Jews have never felt able to claim their Jewishness publicly or to feel that the community was flying their rainbow flag. Rabbi Greg invited people to think about how to go forward, whether for social gatherings like Friday night dinners, Shabbat or Yom Tov services or study groups to look at ‘Queery-ing’ the text. He also hoped that people would take on activist roles in the community, both Jewish and beyond.