I knew what it felt like to be alone.
I now know what it feels like to be together.
A little more than a year ago when I was still 'in the closet', I had only 2 people that knew I was gay, my therapist and my best friend. What I would commonly do is search the web for all things Jewish and gay. I came across a website called Eshelonline.org. They were promoting a Shabbaton sponsored by a group called Eshel. They were presenting it as 'The Eshel Shabbaton; A Weekend of Community, Learning and Ruach for Frum LGBT Jews'. When I found out, I wrote about my feelings here. In summary, the worst feeling that I had was having a burden and not having anyone to share it with. Knowing that there was a whole Shabbos in which people challenged with the same secret as mine got together as a community, broke my heart. I couldn't go and it hurt.
For those who don't know; LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people.
My gut tells me that there is a big group of people that just read that and became uncomfortable.
I have been there. Until this past year I had not met someone that I knew to be a Jewish, orthodox, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individual. I knew myself to be gay or maybe bisexual at the time. Other than that, I knew no one else.
Please read that again. "I knew myself to be gay or maybe bisexual at the time. Other than that I knew no one else." Please stop for a moment and see if you can find the power in that statement. Read it again if you must. I challenge you to contemplate your level of sensitivity if you don't feel for where I was at that time. The only person that I knew with this struggle was myself. Do you have any idea how lonely and painful that is? Do you realize that this could be your brother or sister suffering intensely? Your father or mother in unbearable pain? Your son or daughter who is doing horribly in school because this is all they focus on? Your spouse who you can't understand why they have such a hard time experiencing intimacy with you? Your best friend?
If the stats are right that one in every 10 people are gay, every minyan that you go to, statistically one person is gay. In Mir Yeshiva, the biggest yeshiva in the world their are 7,000 students. Statistically 700 of them might be gay. If you want to say one in 20 people are gay than 350 of them are. If you have 9 siblings.... you get my point. The list goes on and on.
How many feel alone? Every single one.
Can I say that every one of them is suffering on the same level? No. I can share with you that I continue to receive emails both through my blog and from people that heard my story of which 99% of whom are thoroughly depressed. There are teenagers that want to hurt themselves. There are adults, mostly married, that want to kill themselves. The words they use over and over are hurt, pain, depression and worst of all 'alone'.
A year later I found myself in Falls Village, CT at the 3rd annual Eshel Shabaton.
The first thing I noticed was the diversity of the crowd. It was like a Friday night davening at the kotel. There were Rabbi's, Chasidim, heimish and modern, frum and ex-frum men and woman. I would say that most of the ex-frum were those in their 20's and 30's. There were woman who wore sheitels and others with spiked and colored hair. There were boys as young as 17 to adults as old as in their 60's or even older. There were married individuals whose spouses did not know they were there. There were others whose families have no idea of their sexual orientation. There were doctors and lawyers, businessmen and students. People that came from Israel, Canada and places all over the USA.
There are those that plan on being celibate their whole lives. There were others who are completely frum and brought their partners and children.
It was an amazingly diverse crowd.
With all this diversity though, we were together. We were whole. We were one. We laughed together. We cried together. We sang and danced together. Mostly though, as we authentically shared our experiences and struggles together, we gently allowed ourselves to carry each others burdens. We were exhilarated, as through the togetherness, the burdens started to get lighter and looser.
To be continued....