Yom Kippur 5774/2013, I was in the teeming metropolis of Sao Paulo, Brasil. Though I speak some Portuguese and received great pleasure in being able to communicate with locals, I was still an outsider.
For services, I went to the local Chabad near my hotel. It was a small congregation of 50 people or so. I got there early, gave our Jewish password of “Shalom Aleichem/Aleichem Shalom.” I was welcomed, but there was little small talk since services were about to start. After the Kol Nidrei services, everyone pulled up their chairs and started chatting. Immediately, I was engaged in the conversations about life, business, Brasil, Israel and the holiday. Outside the Synagogue doors, I was a visible foreigner. Behind the doors of the Bet Knesset/Synagogue, I joined a community. I was welcomed as if I were always davening there.
During this past Chanukah, every night I posted photos of our Chanukiya menorahs on Facebook. After spending Chanukah in Israel in 5774/2013, I wanted to share it with as many people as I could. I posted it not only on my page, but also on the Gay Jews Facebook page.
People from all over the world posted their menorah photos online. It was wonderful to see our global gay Jewish mishpocha/family celebrating Chanukah. A few people and I started corresponding. One man was Juan a Jew from Guadalajara, Mexico – a coincidence, because I was visiting Guadalajara a few days after the holiday ended. Sure enough, Juan met us and gave my husband and I a tour of Mexico’s second largest city. We went out for dinner – and I did not have to explain why I do not eat pork or shellfish. We made a new friend, and our bond is strong not only because we are gay, but because we are Jews.
The second part of my trip to Mexico was to the beach, where we met our longtime friend Jonathan, who is also a Jew, Mexican and gay. We had a great time with Jonathan and his friends, relaxing and enjoying the beach together and welcoming in 2015 overlooking the ocean and watching fireworks.
What made the trip exciting was the Jewish thread that ran through it everywhere we went. We never felt alone; we felt stronger as part of the global Jewish community.
Then we returned home and learned about the attack at Charlie Hebdo and heard about the murder of our sister Elsa Cayat. Our hearts sank when we heard about the Kosher Supermarket in Paris. Then we learned the names of our brothers, Phillipe Braham, Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, and Francois-Michel Saada. Five martyrs. This massacre brought us together in sadness and reflection. My heart is heavy for our sister and brothers that perished. These are five people I’ve never met, and yet I feel a bond with them as I do with every Jew.
We Jews come together to celebrate our simchot, births, weddings, bar and bat mitzvot. We come together in times of sadness and sorrow as we did after the events in Paris, or during the missile attacks on Israel last year. We feel pride when a Jew wins another Nobel Prize, or an Olympic medal (Jews won 402 medals since the first modern Olympics in 1896).
We need to look beyond our differences and look beyond the politics. We must remember no matter where we are, that we are all Jews and we all have value.
We LGBT Jews need to be active in our Jewish communities. We Jews need to be active and open as Jews in our greater communities. The more out and active we are, the more stereotypes and barriers we destroy.
Do something Jewish. Whether it is as simple as wearing a pro-Israel t-shirt, or taking Krav Maga self-defense lessons. Go to shul this Friday night and Saturday. Learn Torah. Light Shabbat candles and do the Kiddush on Friday night. Proudly wear a Magen David around your neck or a kipah on your head. Support Israel. Give tzedakah/charity to a Jewish or Israel organization. Attach a mezuzah on your door. Every Jewish action we take shows we do not hide and we are not afraid.
Be part of our Jewish community whether you are in the USA, Mexico, Brasil, France, Australia, Canada or Israel. Now is the time to walk and stand strong. We need to take action and show our determination.
It’s time to show our pride in our people, culture, history, our land and our identity.
Wherever you are in the world, it’s time to be a Jew.