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Op-eds

A little Pride goes along way

  • AdamSachs
June is Pride month and every year LGBT+ communities across the world celebrate with massive Pride Marches. Last Friday’s march in Tel Aviv attracted a truly historic 250 000 people. This is especially significant when you consider that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that can be said to be LGBT+ tolerant and hosts such Pride marches.
by ADAM SACHS | Jun 14, 2018

It seems appropriate then, to reflect on the state of Pride closer to home and LGBT+ inclusivity in South Africa’s Jewish communities, where tolerance is growing, but still falls short of what is required.

Most people who know me, know I’m a pretty contrary character with a whole host of strong opinions, that can seem quite conflicting. Using the labels we are seemingly so fond of, here is how I can be perceived:  Jewish. Does not believe in G-d. Gay. Socially liberal. Politically conservative. Does not hate everything about Trump. Does not like much about modern leftism and social justice movements. Zionist and staunch defender of Israel.

I credit my parents and siblings for encouraging me to always think for myself and form my opinions and beliefs. I grew up in Victory Park, and went to King David Victory Park. I went to the campus shul for most of my youth. I was a pretty normal kid in most respects, but maybe a little more observant and clued up on religion and Israeli politics than most.

Like many kids here I was well socialised in our unique brand of traditional Orthodox Judaism. Going to a good many Bnei Akiva camps (where I later became a madrich) certainly helped.

However, unlike most kids, I had a secret self that I struggled to grapple with, a self that my Jewish upbringing offered nothing positive about. I had always felt a strong attachment to my Jewish social and cultural identity.

It was a strange experience indeed to find myself sitting in a yeshiva in Petach Tikvah (having gone to spend a gap year in Israel on a year-long Bnei Akiva programme) and finally accept that I did not believe in the religious truth claims that underpin Judaism.

It was a liberating experience to realise that my lack of belief did not make me appreciate and value my Jewishness any less. I consider that my first experience of coming out. In that I admitted I was an atheist, albeit a Jewish one.

Without doubt the fact that I was not straight, yet had been taught that to be anything other than that was sinful, was the grit around which my cognitive dissonance swirled and grew. It took a few more years before I was able to finally realise that I was who I was, and could not spend any more time caring about what other people might think of me because of sexual orientation or lifestyle.

So when I was 24 I took the plunge and came out to friends and family. All throughout my youth I struggled to feel proud of who I was. To be honest I struggled to shake the feeling that I was deviant or damaged in some way, that I was not as good as other ‘normal’ people. I grappled with the notion that to embrace my sexuality would see me becoming a massive disappointment to my family.

For years I feared the thought of coming out, yet actually it turned out to be the biggest non-event in that my wonderful family remained just that. And all my friends are still my friends.

Nothing around me actually changed, no one treated me any differently and life just continued. To date I have not had a single negative encounter with anyone in my community and that is significant.

When I go to shul with my parents, no one cares that I don’t believe in G-d and no one cares that I’m gay. I’m still warmly welcomed by the community I grew up in and by the rabbi there.

Now of course I don’t think that my experience can be said to be entirely representative of our community, but I do think that it shows that our community is a lot more liberal and progressive that many give it credit for.

To me it seems that for the most part, most people couldn't care less about who anyone chooses to have sex with, just so long as they’re Jewish of course. The only problem is that my boyfriend of six years isn't Jewish (although his dad is) and it seems a little strange for me to ask him to convert. Also I’m really not sure what the Beth Din would even do if we went to them to tell them that he wanted to convert in order to marry me.

On the subject of religious authorities, it is so important that they come out as tolerant and supportive. I remember when chief Rabbi Mervis of the United Kingdom spoke out so vocally against the disgusting terrorist attack on that gay nightclub in Orlando in 2016. In so doing, he took a moral stand against such homophobic terrorism and empathised with the victims. His moral leadership should be an example for the entire global rabbinate to follow.

But the thing is, condemning such attacks should be a given and whilst the growing tolerance in our community is encouraging it is far from sufficient. Our community must do more to be inclusive, to let LGBT+ people know that they are loved and can be proud.

Without a more active embrace of difference our community is not doing enough to tell its kids that it is ok to be who they are. When I was younger I simply could not reconcile who I knew myself to be, with the religious narrative, that any sexual orientation or activity outside of the carefully constructed cage of heterosexual relationships and marriage was sinful. There were no stories of anyone who was not straight, no positive role models outside of the heteronormative variety. This kind of socialisation has to end because it does not speak to the reality of this world. It is necessary to not just acknowledge difference but to make our communities’ acceptance of it visible. We have to show our children that there are other ways of being and loving that are beautiful and natural and worth being proud of. That is what Pride is all about.

Adam Sachs has an honours in Philosophy and also majored in Politics and English. After finding his professional home in tech, he now coaches and leads user-centric product development teeaams in B2B, B2C and SAAs startups.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Josh 15 Jun
    What an awesome article!

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