This I Believe

Avner - 93933, California
Entered on October 8, 2007

“I am not doing it, Rabbi, if you insist, you do it”.

In the 90s when I was a grad student at UT Austin, the visiting Rabbi asked me to read in Hebrew from the Torah on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. I am an Israeli-American, and was happy to accept. Only later did I discover that I had agreed to read Leviticus, Chapter 18 which includes the phrase: “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence”…the text then goes on to speak of sex with beasts and other abominations. As a gay man, I could not read this text which is often used as a justification for discrimination against gays. In fact many synagogues today offer an alternate Torah version to this offensive text.

On Yom Kippur afternoon, the rabbi allowed me to read the alternate version. However other then screaming out loud that I am gay, she did everything she could to embarrass me. In her introduction of me to the congregation of over 300, she berated me for refusing to read the original text due to my sexual orientation, and then politely invited me to the podium to do the reading.

I did. I read loudly and clearly, adding my prayer to every Hebrew letter. I was, unwillingly, coming out to my entire community. Clapping is not allowed in the synagogue, hugging and embracing are. People I didn’t even know shook my hand and thanked me for my courage. And what happened to the visiting rabbi, you may ask? Well, I don’t really know, for she was never invited back.

When people are strong, accepting themselves and tolerating no discrimination, miraculously their community accepts them– literally embraces them. Frankly—even God does.