“He’s a vegetarian, right?” My mother asked me when I told her I wanted to invite my partner to Shabbat dinner. It’s been four years since I worked up the courage to tell my family about the reality I want for myself, and almost over a decade since I began to feel that my life would be challenging and complicated. I’m at the age and stage in life, where I have gained enough self-confidence to forget most of the time how back then, the ‘closet’ was an inseparable part of me. This forgetting also allowed for less discussion on the subject.

I remember the first time when I told my parents I was gay, and the first time I told them about a date – with hesitance and fear, and the time I took the car for a drive with my boyfriend, and the first time I uttered the name of the guy I was with around the Sabbath table. I also remember, two years ago, when my family, from a distance, saw me in a photograph next to a guy; I remember the handshake, the many thoughts, and concerns regarding what to talk about? How to go about it, how life might look like, and what about kids? I remember the conversations, the tears, the immense difficulty. I remember those days ‘outside’ that just wouldn’t pass, and the thought that maybe this choice was simply too hard, and that I should just give up.

When my mother said ‘is he vegetarian?’, she actually said ‘are – you – vegetarian? This ‘you’ [in the plural, referring to the couple] I would never have ever imagined hearing back then. It wasn’t easy for my mother, nor my father or any of the religious family in which I grew up, as well as friends, teachers, and rabbis. It was not easy, it was not always pleasant, and I wish back then there was a tenth of the optimism that I feel in my heart today. It was very, very hard, and voices were made, awkward silences were never-ending, and question marks were thrown into the air. What gradually disappeared during this time was the shame and the concealment, and the thought that one can bury oneself within himself, in his loneliness, only because the answers that are currently available cannot help him.

The world I grew up in became brighter. The world in which I grew up in, religious and conservative, knew learned how to address these parts of me in order to elicit compassion, albeit with great difficulty, even about challenging issues. And we answered, and we spoke, and we internalized those skeptical looks and feelings of rejection, and instead – built bridges. It was not expected, and I did not know how it ever would be, and I thought it would be different. I always thought it would be different. I know where my Chanichim (lit. students) stand, [1] that some friends are still in the closet and they are being hurt by such malicious words. I need to remember that I once stood with them, and every once in a while, like any gay guy, I still stand with them. But the world just keeps on shining and becoming more and more open.

My mother, a mother to a gay son, a mother that ‘they’ do not like, an educated woman (and not a psychologist), said to to me on the phone: ‘It is not good for any man to be alone. Do not judge your friend until you can put yourself in his shoes’ [2]. This was four years ago, and here we are again today.

‘Eradicate’. ‘Eliminate’. How can they speak this way, how dare they talk, these rabbis, Levinstein, Tau, and Kellner. [3] Who is capable of speaking in such a cruel, heartless way as these people? They are not stupid, neither ignorant nor living outside of society. It is not harder for them than my parents, it’s not harder for them than my friends.

True, I answered her and smiled. Then we went back to talking about how cold Jerusalem was.

Every finger in my mother’s hands has more baseless love than all the lessons that will be given to Levinstein and the others. My mother, not through a microphone in front of hundreds of students and not through cross-channel items, repeated to me the most important Jewish rule: Love thy neighbor as yourself, on this stands the entire Torah.”

– Daniel Bukobza
0202 Editor’s notes:

[1] Chanichim refer to youth that participates in religious youth movements in religious communities in Israel.
[2] Quotes from Genesis and Pirkei Avot which translates to English as Chapters of the Fathers, is a compilation of the ethical teachings and maxims passed down to the Rabbis, beginning with Moses and onwards.
[3]Rabbi Levinshtein, Tau, and Kellner are leading rabbis in the Religious-ZIonist movement, they are known for establishing and teaching in prominent Yeshivot (Jewish education institutions). In 2016, the Defense Ministry summoned Rabbi Levinstein who heads a military academy for clarification after he branded homosexuals as “deviants” and lamented the integration of gay soldiers in the IDF. Recently, Levinstein has come under fire again for statements attacking homosexuality; he says it is a ‘problem to be exterminated like AIDS’; ‘They have taken men and women’s tragedy and turned it into an ideology’.

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