Jake Fradkin

Trapped in the Darkness: Finding Light in a World Gone Mad

NORTH HALEDON, NJ - DECEMBER 21:  Candles are lit on the Menorah for the fourth night of Hanukkah on December 21, 2022 in North Haledon, New Jersey. (Photo by Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images)
NORTH HALEDON, NJ - DECEMBER 21: Candles are lit on the Menorah for the fourth night of Hanukkah on December 21, 2022 in North Haledon, New Jersey. (Photo by Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images)

Sometimes, I feel as if I am living trapped between two worlds, left as an outsider in both. Usually, I have little regret for my decision to live a life of Torah and mitzvot.  There are times, however, when I remember fondly my childhood, recalling experiences and moments I can no longer recreate. Perhaps, though, that would remain irrespective of my religious choices, for, more often than not, the past consists of nothing more than memories we cling on to. I have never regretted my decision to be chozer b’tshuvah, nor my decision to make aliyah, yet there too are times when I long for the landscapes of my childhood and when the distance between me and my family becomes nearly too much to bear. These are decisions I made in my life that often leave me trapped between two worlds, America and Israel, secular and religious, yet I do not regret them for one moment.

What is significantly more difficult, in my experience, is being forced into this trap through no fault of my own. I wrote an article on this platform over a year and a half ago, discussing my “coming-out” process and my views on the matter. I focused mostly on the halachic implications of homosexuality and on societal acceptance. I have realized, however, being trapped between these two identities, that what I crave most is not the prohibited act itself nor acceptance from others, but rather an intimate, loving relationship, and acceptance of myself. Moreover, I do not crave halachic justifications or loopholes for violating the prohibition of homosexuality, which I do not intend to do. Instead, I want reassurance that I am making the right decision by refusing to live my life in the darkness of the closet and lying to myself and others about what I truly want and desire. I want reassurance from Hashem that I am making the right decision and that I am fulfilling His will and my role in this world, but I struggle to believe that I will ever find that. 

In times like these, when our world has gone mad, and when it feels like all my personal worlds I am trapped in between are falling apart, turning back into nothingness, I find myself once again struggling with questions of my identity which I had thought were long ago answered.  

Sometimes, I am angry, and I wish I could change. Yet, I do not know who I am angry at. Should I be angry at Hashem? How could I be angry at our Creator, Who fastened the heavens and the earth, Who granted us life, and Who chose Israel as His people from amongst all the other nations and gave us His Torah? I cannot be angry at Hashem. Am I angry, instead, at His Law, at the Torah and halacha? Even if I were angry at His Torah, who am I to contravene its strictures? Alas, I cannot be angry at His Torah, for I believe, wholeheartedly, that it is right, just, and moral, carrying with it the weight of millenia of Jewish history commanding that we, the Jewish people, follow its precepts to build a moral, just world in His image. Certainly, in these dark times that mission is as essential as ever. 

Perhaps, I am angry at His people. Maybe I am angry at the lingering lack of acceptance still prevalent in much of the frum world. But, no, I cannot be angry at His people, for they are merely following what I too believe in. Homosexuality is a toeva, is it not? It is an abomination, an aberration, a rebellion against G-d Himself and the nature and morality He crafted. It is a sin so great that I am obliged to give my life rather than commit it! What society can tolerate such depravity? The Jewish people, guardians of morality and of G-d’s Torah, certainly must not!

I am left, then, with only being angry at myself.  

As the world around me seems to be crumbling, and the false sense of stability and peace shattered, I find myself once again overwhelmed by the sorrow of all my sorrows, the pain of all of pains. For, when I look inside myself, I am convinced that all the anxiety, depression, and loneliness I have dealt with and still endure emanate from that deepest source of shame, the darkest part of me that I kept hidden for so long. I recall the shame and fear I felt in the eighth grade when I developed a crush on a boy in my class, years before I even became frum. Yet, even then, in that shame, I knew I was trapped, between the expectations of my classmates, family, and friends and my inclinations, and between the will of G-d, or the order of nature, or, in simpler terms, “being normal,” and my own deepest desires. And I am left, now, with being angry at myself.

I am angry at myself for having an urge to commit such an aveira, and for having the desire to engage in unspeakable depravity. Would I give my life, as we must, to avoid it? It is a mockery of everything our people stand for, is it not? I go around acting as if I am frum, refusing to eat from my mother’s kitchen, refusing to shake a woman’s hand, refusing to pluck a single hair off of my head on Shabbat, davening, learning, and, yet, when alone, in my room, when it is just me and the Ribono Shel Olam, what do I do? In my head arise the most depraved fantasies, unspeakable sin. Forget about “acting out” on it. My fantasies and desires alone bear witness to my immorality! How can I not hate myself?  

And, yet, I know that I cannot hate myself, for I cannot live a life in darkness. I cannot live a life hiding from the truth. Rationality tells me that I must not hate myself, for I did not choose this path. I did not decide to have these uncontrollable desires, the urge above all else to be held in a man’s arms, to be felt, loved, and appreciated for who I am. Even when I attempt to overcome that self-hatred, I am still overwhelmed with shame and fear. What do I fear? Divine punishment? I fear many things. I fear that I will not be able to live with myself either way. I fear that I will not be able to have any meaningful existence in this life without acting out on my deepest desires, and I fear that if I do act out upon it, the shame and guilt will overwhelm me. I fear living a life alone, and I fear that no one will ever love me, certainly no one that shares my values.  

What is it that I actually desire? I do not even believe that my true desire is a homosexual act, per se. What I desire most, perhaps, is to be loved, to be held in a guy’s arms, to not be judged, and to be accepted for who I am. What I desire just as much, perhaps even more, is the feeling that I belong and that I am normal, whatever that means. Since I was young, years before I knew about my sexuality, I remember a deep yearning to be “normal.” Even now, that yearning exists, and I want to feel like I truly belong, that I have a place, an eternal place, in Am Yisrael, in Torah, and in this world and the next.

I am writing this during a period of immense loss, for the Jewish people, for our nation, and for myself in my personal life. As of late, I have realized that writing is the best medium for me to contend with and channel these emotions of grief, loneliness, and despair. More often than not, when I write I am driven by despair or anger, and through this medium I attempt to organize and clarify my own thoughts on the matter, oftentimes overcoming those feelings during the process. I hope that through this I can not only help myself, but also inspire and guide others.

As we approach Chanukah, we recall the struggle of the Hashmonaim, who too lived in an era of uncertainty for the Jewish people, as Hellenizers, amongst them Jews, sought to extinguish the spirituality of the Jewish nation. The Hashmonaim chose to defend Judaism and Torah, with their lives, for they knew that the redemption of not only the Jewish people but the entire world is dependent on Torah. Parallel to their struggle, we know that there were many Jews who were overwhelmed by the forces of assimilation. As Antiochus banned bris milah, there were Jews who attempted to reverse their circumcisions in order to become beautiful in the eyes of the Greek.  

Trapped between two worlds, the Hashmonaim chose to reaffirm and defend their identity. Although a far cry from their heroic struggle, I too must hold onto the gift of Yiddishkeit that Hashem gave me. At the same time, I cannot allow myself to extinguish the light in my life and remain in darkness and denial. How can I dedicate my life to fulfilling His will, of repairing the world in His image, and of creating a world overflowing with justice, love, and kindness, if I do not judge myself according to those same values?  

More than anything now, as close friends fight to defend the light of our nation in Gaza, and my grandfather lies in the ICU struggling to stay alive, I daven for nisim, miracles. I daven that we can all find in our lives and in our world even the tiniest amount of strength from Hashem to keep that light burning, and that we can merit to soon see a complete redemption for the Jewish people and the entire world.

About the Author
Jake Fradkin is an oleh chadash and soon to be chayal boded. He previously learned at both Yeshivat Orayta and Yeshivat Torah V'Avodah in Yerushalayim. Having grown up in a secular Jewish home in New Jersey, Jake developed a passion for Judaism, Torah, and Zionism.
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