This year, the Torah reading of Aharei Mot-Kedoshim falls during the coronavirus pandemic where we have been forced into physical isolation.
These texts contain the sources that have been interpreted to condemn sex and relationships between men and are the source for much of the homophobia and violence against LGBTQ+ people in the world.
Traditionally, these texts would be recited aloud in synagogues and cause immense pain to LGBTQ+ people who belong to our community. With synagogues closed and minyanim forbidden, this is one of the first years that these verses won’t be recited aloud – hopefully providing much needed respite to our LGBTQ+ friends and family.
The juxtaposition of this Torah portion and the current lockdown will inevitably cause rabbis to ignore these painful verses, instead choosing to reflect on the other verses contained in this portion about kindness and holiness. This is why I feel compelled to recall the last time I felt a strong sense of isolation.
Fifteen years ago, I read the Kedoshim portion at my synagogue for my bar mitzvah. When I first saw these verses during my lessons with our local rabbi, I was acutely aware of my homosexuality. I felt a deep sense of dread at the thought of having to publicly recite the very verses that condemned my secret identity. I recall standing on the bimah at Edgware United Synagogue, in front of family and friends, worrying that my pain and fear would be clear on my face and I would let out the secret of my sexuality to the whole community.
What should have been a ‘coming of age’ moment of celebration was filled with fear and isolation.
Fifteen years on, I sit in my home in London in physical isolation, but it is the least isolated I have ever felt. I feel able to share who I am with those important to me and live in a way that ensures my dignity is preserved. I feel able to share my voice with the world and raise the voices of others. My homosexuality and Jewish identity now work in tandem and enrich each other. My experience as a gay man contributes to my view of Judaism and my Jewish values inform how I live as a gay man.
This didn’t just happen. It took 15 years, personal sacrifices, multiple therapists, supportive family and choosing to engage with a Judaism that affirms who I am and provides me with the dignity befitting all of G-d’s creatures.
This isolation was borne out of an inability to communicate my innermost feelings without fear of rejection, violence and pain. There are still too many LGBTQ+ Jews who are unable to share core parts of themselves with loved ones and the world around them.
During this pandemic, many LGBTQ+ Jews are isolated with people who don’t accept them. This dual-isolation is incredibly dangerous. This Shabbat, I implore you to devote the time you would have spent listening to the Torah reading, to tell those you are isolating with, that whomever they love, a place exists for them in your home and community.
And if that place doesn’t exist in your home and community, this is the year to start building the bricks. As King David said: “the stone that the builders rejected can become the cornerstone”. (Psalms 118:22)