community should strive for an open, non-judgmental environment that embraces
all affiliations and identities, Rabbi Tina Grimberg says.
Rabbi Grimberg, spiritual leader of the Reconstructionist Congregation Darchei Noam, likens the attitude that the Jewish community should have toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gendered) (LGBT) individuals to the biblical story of how Abraham treated the three visitors to his tent following his circumcision.
“My aspiration for this community is that we are like Avraham, an open tent,” Rabbi Grimberg said at Kulanu Toronto’s June 7 panel discussion held at Darchei Noam, titled Twice Blessed: The Joys Not The Oys of Being Jewish and LGBT.
Kulanu Toronto is a Jewish LGBT social and educational group affiliated with Hillel of Greater Toronto, with programming geared to adults of all ages and Jewish affiliation.
The event featured guests from the LGBT Jewish community – Nicole Nussbaum, Ron Ophir, Sheryl Smolkin, Adira Magidsohn and Adina Jacobson – who discussed the positive aspects of their lives that have stemmed from struggles with their identity.
Panel moderator Lainie Magidsohn introduced one of the panellists, her life partner, Adira, by explaining that “when she was about five, two things occurred to Adira: one was that she liked girls and the other was that she wanted to be a Jew.”
She added that “both journeys have brought gifts, challenges, and ultimately, joy and completion” to Adira’s life.
Growing up in a very strict Christian household – she describes her grandfather’s approach to the gospel as “more fire and brimstone than love your neighbour” – was a struggle for Adira, especially after discovering that unusual feelings were stirring within her from a very young age.
“Girls would be having these conversations about which boy they liked, which boy they wanted to kiss, which boy they wanted to marry, and I would not be a part of these conversations because what I would be thinking was that I would like to kiss [the girls]. And I sort of knew that talking about that, or acting on that, would be a problem,” she says of her experience in kindergarten.
When Adira first began her job as a social worker for the Toronto District School Board, it was the first time she was required to be what she calls “professionally lesbian.”
She was charged with giving anti-homophobia training to students from kindergarten to Grade 12 and speaking on issues faced by LGBT individuals.
She said it was a cathartic experience for her, as it required her to tell her own “coming out” story to her classes and share her personal experiences and emotions, prompting much discussion and sharing from her audience.
“What I loved about those workshops was that [they] gave me the opportunity to work with students and hear what they were thinking, and hear what they were feeling. And when I told my coming-out story, one of the things I was really aware of was that my coming-out story was actually not as painful and as difficult as many of the stories I was hearing from the students I was working with,” she said.
The second half of her journey was her embrace of Judaism, which began one Friday night at the house of a family that her mother was babysitting.
What captured her attention, she says, “was the warmth and the love I perceived that was happening around the table” while the family was having its Shabbat meal, and she realized this was something that she wanted for herself. Explaining her newfound belief to people – including her family and friends – proved to be an equally challenging personal development for Adira.
“It wasn’t until I came out as a Jew that I began to really understand and experience the pain and anxiety that people had talked about,” she said.
“Becoming a Jew didn’t feel like a choice for me any more than being lesbian felt like a choice. They both were intrinsic parts of who I was.”
Although she now feels comfortable with her role in the Toronto Jewish community, Adira – who is also black – says where she feels most complete is in her role as a parent to her and Lainie’s two teenage girls and toddler-age son.
She described her family as “interracial, queer and Jewish,” and stressed how much she appreciates the freedom and opportunities that have been afforded to her and her family in the Jewish community through the embrace of these multiple identities.
She hopes that one day the wider world will be just as accepting.
“I envision a time where our son, who is a biracial Jew with two moms, cannot only live comfortably in his multiple identities, but that it won’t even matter,” she said.
“Mostly, I pray for a time when there is shalom bayit in all the places where we can call home.”