For This Gay Israeli, Rabbis' Acceptance Is Long-needed Answer

The rabbis calling to integrate gays into their community did a great deed, but I’m not celebrating. I’m not celebrating because it was a miracle I was saved.

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Saar Maoz in the Heymann Brothers’ film 'Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?'
Saar Maoz in the Heymann Brothers’ film 'Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?'Credit: Itai Raziel
Saar Maoz

A few days ago, while I was flipping through the newspaper, a surprising item caught my eye: Orthodox rabbis are calling to integrate gays into their community, saying “there is nothing wrong with same-sex couples.” The article caught me unprepared.

On my way to talk with students as part of my job at the Israel AIDS Task Force, I was flooded with memories and emotions. I saw scenes from my childhood on Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, a religious kibbutz, sometime in the mid-1980s, in a world without the Internet or social networks, a world in which homosexuality was considered the worst curse, and the “gay community” was something I didn’t even dare to dream about.

At age 14 I realized that I was not attracted to members of the fairer sex, and this understanding rocked every value my parents and teachers had instilled in me. I discovered that I could not be a part of the biblical stories about Adam and Eve, Zipporah and Moses or Boaz and Ruth. When I looked for the parts of the Bible that applied to my situation, it was written that my judgment, as a member of the religion I belong to and for which my forefathers arose and fell, is the divine punishment of being cut off from my people (Karet). These moments of discovery were terrible and particularly lonely.

I tried to find some air to breathe in the days that followed, seeking some sort of Halakhic leniency, a quiet corner in which I could speak to God. Because I lived in a house filled with younger siblings, I found God in the bathroom and burst out crying. At age 15 I remember begging God to change me, to explain what was happening to me. And my God kept silent and only answered me though the different weekly Torah readings from thousands of years ago, which did not deal with what I was experiencing here and now.

I began to think that maybe it was worth talking to someone about it, and started examining my surroundings: Two parents who love me and trust me, but are also fervent in their faith, and a grandmother and grandfather in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, whom I could very well lose forever with one sentence: “I’m not attracted to girls, I’m gay.” This thought was so unbearable that I filed it away with the same speed that it was born.

I was enveloped in immense embarrassment and unfathomable loneliness, and a sadness that I had never experienced before. As time passed, my realization that I would not have children raised the question of why I exist and what I would leave behind. For me, this is the “to be or not to be” question, and for a long time I thought the logical answer was not to be.

Almost 30 years later, I open up the newspaper and read that the rabbis of the community I once belonged to saying for the first time that my sexual preference is not a sin (and to avoid confusion, they continue and draw the distinction between the predilection and the act, which according to them is something else).

And I want to stop the car, join hands with all the passengers and dance as if I’ve been granted independence. At the exact same moment I feel a great anger and sadness, and I want to hug that confused and lonely young man and tell him: You see? Sometimes it takes 30 years, but in the end it gets better.

The rabbis did a great deed, but I’m not celebrating. I’m not celebrating because it was a miracle I was saved. I’m not celebrating because many very good people could not withstand the war of attrition and put an end to their lives, and many others are alive and are continue to suffer every day.

Two years ago I returned to Israel after 18 years in London, and since then I have set a goal for myself to help anyone I can. I am very proud of the LGBT Community Center built by the Tel Aviv municipality, and am filled with amazement every time I come in contact with the Israel Gay Youth organization and with the gay religious groups that have arisen in Israel.

They provide an answer, a place in which the youth of 30 years ago could have found the love that they needed so much.

The writer is the star of the Heymann Brothers’ film “Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?”

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