Thursday, March 29, 2012

"God's" Jealousy and Love of Death

When studying the Torah, one of the most obvious "lessons" is that god seems to be very jealous. A good portion of the 613 commandments revolve around the fact that god wants you to only worship him. The first 2 of the 10 commandments have to do with this: 1. "You shall have no other gods before me" 2. "You shall not make for yourself any graven image...". In fact, god would be so upset if you worshiped other gods, that he declares the punishment for such a transgression to be death. The Israelite nation was told to destroy entire cities where idol worship is prevalent and kill all its residents.

But rather than condemning all those that do not believe in him to death, wouldn't it be more loving and merciful of god to just reveal himself to the nonbeliever? Or is human life so unimportant to the "merciful god" that he would rather let people live in doubt and than condemn them to death/hell for not taking this difficult leap of faith?

I know many of my readers will say that they see god all the time through "miracles" and other subjective evidence. But every religion attributes these events to their god(s). So if I happened to be born into a Hindu family than the cards are already stacked against me. Even if I recognized a so called miracle, the chances are I would attribute it to a Hindu god and not to the jealous monotheistic god. So apparently it is either not that important to god that people know he is the "one true god", or he just loves death.

And if one were to learn more of the Torah, I think the evidence points to god loving death. In the book of Exodus, god punishes the Egyptian people with 10 plagues, because the Pharaoh would not release the Israelite nation from slavery. The 10th plague - god's grande finale, he kills every single first born male in Egypt with no regard for age or deed. It did not matter if the first born was 1 minute old and had never done a bad deed. It did not matter if the person lived in a part of Egypt that had no Israelite slaves. Everyone had to die. And according to Jewish tradition, this event is not mourned, but rather it is celebrated.

The holiday of Passover is starting next week. At the Seder meal, where the story of the exodus from Egypt is told over, the plagues are celebrated as ten of god's greatest and most wonderful miracles. I personally think the story is fiction, but those that believe it to be true never seem to question the morality of this act. I know I never did when I was religious. It is just understood that god kills those that he deems deserve it and that we "mere mortals" cannot question these acts.

Of course the obvious next question is, why should anyone worship such a god? God is vengeful, jealous, violent and petty. Does that sound like an all powerful super being to you? Does that sound like a good source for morality? I know that the religious believer will tell me that we cannot question god, nor can we understand his acts. They would say that is seems immoral to us because we do not understand god and his plan etc. But I think that is a cop out. Believers in the Torah claim that it is the source of morality. Than I ask, where is the morality? Shouldn't god lead by example?

Of course there are plenty of more examples of the immorality of the Torah, but I will have to write about those in a later post.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Jewish Elitism and Xenophobia

One of the things that has always bothered me most in regards to the Jewish education I received, is the elitism and xenophobia that comes along with the religion (mostly with the orthodox version of the religion, but not only). First and foremost, this comes from the idea that the Jewish people are specially chosen by the one and only, all powerful god. This puts Jews on a platform above all other people. I remember when I was a little kid growing up in Philadelphia, I would often hear the adults of my community dismiss anything trashy, or ghetto as "goyish", ie not Jewish. We Jews were supposedly better than that.

Over the years I have also heard many Jewish people (including many secular Israelis) making the claim that it is obvious that Jews are better/smarter than nonJews. Their proof is that many Nobel Prize winners have been Jewish. I once heard this argument made by a student in one of my classes at Bar Ilan University. The professor was shocked to hear such a dumb comment and asked how many students in the class felt the same way. The vast majority answered that of course they feel the same way. The professor responded, "if you think Jews are inherently smarter than the rest of the world, than how do you explain all the idiots in the Kenesset (Israeli Parliament)". No one seemed to be able to explain that. But of course many groups, nations, ethnic groups think that there is something super special about them and their fellow group members. What I think is unique to Judaism is not the elitism, but rather the xenophobia.

From a young age, in Jewish school I was taught that there is a law in nature that "Eisav soneh et Yakov" (Esau hates Jacob), meaning that nonJews will always hate Jews. This lesson was always followed by stories from the Holocaust about how onetime Polish friends of Jewish families turned on them, and reported them to the Nazis. I see this mindset in my parents world view. If they hear on the news that unemployment numbers are up in the US, they will say "this is not good news for the Jews. Whenever the economy gets bad, antisemitism goes up". While this Jewish paranoia has some base in historical events, the idea that it is a "law of nature" that cannot change is downright ridiculous and hateful of nonJews.

My parents cannot understand that I want to move to a country with little to no Jews. Many people that I have told that I plan on moving to Vietnam immediately ask, "what do they think of Jews there"? I hate to break it to these people, but most people around the world simply do not care. They do not stay awake at night thinking about Jews. Jews are not the center of the world. While in Vietnam, many people I met had positive feelings towards Jews, but most had never heard of Judaism.

There is plenty of antisemitism in the world. There is also plenty of racism, Islamaphobia, sexism, homophobia etc as well, and this will probably never change. There will always be hateful people. So with all this hate in the world, why make it worse by treating the people that do not hate you as if they hated you as well? I have found that going out into the world and meeting different people from various backgrounds can be an amazing experience. The world is full of wonderful, unique people. Why shut yourself off from them? And many Jews are wonderful and unique people. Why deny the people of the world the chance to meet them?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Day I Told My Parents

From the moment I first started to tell my friends I am gay, I knew that an invisible countdown had started until the day I would have to tell my parents. I did not know how they would take the news. They had reacted much worse than I ever expected when I told them that I was no longer religious. I thought that this bit of information might push them over the edge.

As time passed the reasons for my apprehension grew. My parents decided one night to sit me down and tell me that if I ever were to marry a non Jewish girl, our relationship would be over. During that talk, I thought about telling them that they need not worry about me marrying any kinda girl, but I did not know if that would make things worse or what. On the one hand I would not be intermarrying in a form of marriage they would recognize. On the other hand, I was gay. Over the years, I had heard my parents use anti-gay slurs in conversation. But I had discovered while coming out to friends that while people might not like "gays" in theory, once a close friend comes out to them, they get over it. Would this hold true for my parents as well?

I decided I would put off having this particular conversation with them as long as possible. More so, I decided I would wait for them to ask me. I wanted to avoid the drama of a big coming out announcement. As time passed I would drop hints, hoping that they would understand and bring up the subject. Dropping hints was easy. Being a 26 year old guy from an orthodox Jewish family, the topic of dating and marriage is brought up very often. Whereas once I would be very open and honest about my dating life, I started to give very vague answers. I would say things like, "That part of my life is private", or simply "don't worry about that".

Of course, with every passing month my fear grew. I started having nightmares about their reaction to the news. Sometimes they would kick me out of the family. Other times they would get depressed, lose their sanity and their lives would be destroyed.  While I knew most of these dreams were not realistic, they still added to my fear. I could not work up the courage to tell them and continued to wait for them to ask.

In the summer of 2011 I made my trip to Vietnam. Every few days I would post pictures online so that my friends and family could see. I knew my parents were expecting/scared that I would meet a Vietnamese girl while traveling. But none of the pictures I ever posted showed me with any girls, just guys. I knew that, coupled with the other "hints" would finally get my parents to suspect that I am gay. I started to get myself emotionally prepared for the conversation that I knew was coming when I would get back to Israel.

A few days after I got back, my family was moving apartments. For some reason I "knew" that my parents were going to bring it up in the middle of the move. And sure enough, while I was unpacking boxes in my new room, my dad came in and closed the door. He said that he had a question and he couldn't not know the answer to it any more. He asked, "Are you not interested in girls? It might be none of my business, but I have to know". I answered that it is OK to ask and that it is true that I am not interested in girls. I told him that I tried to be, but I just wasn't. He hugged me and said that it will be OK and that he still loves me. He then went to the old apartment to tell my mom.

After he brought my mom back to the new house, my dad came upstairs and told me that my mom was waiting for me downstairs. I was so scared. I waited a few minutes to work up my courage to go downstairs. When I finally did, I saw my mom sitting on the couch crying. I sat next to her and we talked for a little bit. When she calmed down she said that she still loves me no matter what.

After that I left the house and wandered around the neighborhood calling friends. I really don't remember much. I remember the fiends that I spoke to, Ben, Ella, David Avishai, Hoang, and I remember they were all helpful. But I do not remember what we said to each other. That day was very difficult, but I am glad it is behind me. Today, my relationship with my parents is better than it has been in a long time and I no longer have to hide anything from them. I hope with time, things will continue to improve and that some day, I will have a family of my own that my parents will love and accept.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Why be Proud?

I remember once coming out to someone and their answer was "that is a difficult life choice." And my response was "it is not a choice. Why would anyone chose this? If I could, I would be straight, but I cannot." I said this because I was newly out of the closet and scared. I was scared about how my family would take the news. I was scared about how I would be seen in society and whether society would reject me. I knew that being openly gay is not an easy thing to live with and I was terrified. I really wished I could be straight.

Today I would never say anything like that. I love being gay. It is true that it has made things difficult for my family. It is true that in my life I will have to deal with horrible homophobic people. I might not be able to legally get married (depending on where I end up living). But I can accept all that now. I have embraced my sexuality and my life is much better for it. The world is full of smart, wonderful, sweet, kind, beautiful guys and I love that I can enjoy that. When I love someone, I want everyone to know it. Why should my love be any different than a heterosexual person's love? Why should I let archaic social standards make me feel that I am less than anyone else? Who are they to decide that?

I very often hear things like...
"I don't hate gays, I just don't understand why they need the parades."
"What is gay pride? There is no such thing as straight pride."

When was the last time a young straight boy or girl killed themselves because they thought their very happiness would hurt their family? How many countries in the world put people to death for being heterosexual? Being gay is illegal in 78 countries around the world. In 7 countries -soon to be 8 if the Ugandan parliament passes the law they are trying to pass, gays are executed. In the US, among the top causes of death for LGBT teenagers is suicide.

Right now in the US, the Republican party is holding primaries. All the contenders disagree with each other on almost every issue. The only 2 issues that they all agree on are, no gay marriage and the return of "Don't ask "Don't Tell" banning gays in the military. They travel around the country spewing their hate in front of cheering crowds. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals off all ages see these political events. Their personal lives, their love is a political issues. They hear the cheers of the crowds full of strangers that hate them. All this is very damaging to an LGBT person's self image.

To counter act this damage, we must have the pride parades and the parades should be loud and colorful. All those that have been made to feel like they are less, need to see and hear the parade so they can know they do not have to feel that way. All the young teens that think they are facing a future of misery, need to be shown that it does not have to be that way. And it is important that these parades are not confined to San Francisco, New York, Barcelona, Tel Aviv etc. The parades need to happen in Oklahoma City, Arlington, Jerusalem and other "conservative" cities that wear their hate as a symbol of pride. The hate mongers need to know that they cannot force their intolerant standards onto others. And more importantly, the scared locals that are still in the closet need to know that they do not have to feel like they most hide who they are and that they are no less than anyone else. They need to know they can be proud.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Time of my Life

June 30th, 2011 I finally landed in Hanoi my dream trip to Vietnam had begun. I was very excited. I had signed up for classes in Vietnamese and in my free time I planned to travel and live life to its fullest. Everyday I would go to class at 830, study for 3 hours and than have the afternoon and evening free. At the airport I was greeted by a guy named K (he would not want me to use his real name). I had met K on the internet a few months earlier and we had become pretty close. He was very helpful in getting me set up in Hanoi. He introduced me to his friends, showed me around the city and taught me how to drive a motor bike.

My time in Vietnam was exactly what I needed intellectually as well as emotionally. On the intellectual side, I learned a lot of Vietnamese and I got to see some amazing historical sites. I ate all kinds of amazing and unique foods. I got to experience Vietnamese culture first hand and I loved it. Emotionally, my trip came at the right time in my life. Almost every person I met while I was there was gay. I was able to be open and honest and act however I felt comfortable. I went from being  "that guy coming out of the closet", to just another guy. Every time I kissed a guy while I was there (so many beautiful Asian guys;)), it felt completely normal and main stream as opposed to in Israel where it always felt taboo. I no longer thought to myself that I was dealt a bad hand of card and that if I could become straight I would. I had carved out my own little "gay world" in Hanoi and this allowed me to finally become completely comfortable with my homosexuality.

About a week or so into my trip I got a text message from a guy named Hoang. Before I left for Hanoi, my friend Long had told me that I should contact his friend Hoang when I arrive because he thought we would get along. After I arrived, I was too nervous to just contact Hoang since I had never met him. But one day I got a message from him and we agreed to meet up that night for dinner. To be honest, the very first thing I noticed about Hoang was that I thought he was one of the most beautiful people I had ever met. Having had some success with R in Bangkok, and K in Hanoi, I was very flirty with Hoang. But our relationship never went in that direction. Instead we became amazing friends.

                                        Me and Hoang at my goodbye party

It is stunning how quickly one person can become a central figure in your life. It was as if we had been friends forever. Hoang and I would meet up almost every day and we would talk for hours. He introduced me to some of his friends who were all very nice people. He planned a trip for the two of us, to the cities of Hue and Hoi An in central Vietnam. One night when my hotel had to temporarily evict all the guest, I called Hoang and he came right over to help me out.

All too quickly me last last night in Hanoi arrived. Saying goodbye to Hoang was extraordinary difficult. I had gotten so used to seeing him everyday and the thought of not seeing him for a long time was hard to handle. I cannot imagine how my trip would have been had I never met him. I am sure I would have had a great time, but because of Hoang my time in Vietnam was amazing and one of the best periods of my life.

As emotionally difficult as it was leaving Vietnam, I was coming home to something much more difficult; coming out to my parents. But that story will have to wait for another post.

Here are some links to some of the pics from my trip :)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

My First Romantic Experience

When I turned 18, I started to be set up on many, many "blind dates". Set ups were the norm in the orthodox world. Either a friend of mine, or a friend of my parents was always telling me "I have a girl that would be perfect for you." Between the age of 18 and when I started to come out at 26, I must have been set up on over 80 first dates. The vast majority of the dates were boring. The dates that weren't boring, were scary. Whenever I felt things progressing "positively" I would get very nervous because in the back of my head I knew I did not want to end up with a girl. I would think to myself "if this relationship works out, I will never get the chance to be with a guy." I would therefore always find a reason to break up.

At 26, I started to come out and wanted to start meeting guys. Of course, I did not know how to go about this. As far as I knew Jerusalem did not have a gay bar and I did not know any gay guys that I could ask. Luckily, my friends Ariella and Dan had many gay friends. When I told them that I was looking to meet guys, they were able to tell me about the most popular Israeli gay website, Atraf. With their help I opened an account and started to meet guys. Of course, as anyone that knows Atraf will tell you, this is not a place to find romance. It is mostly a hook up site. So at 26 I found my life lacking any romantic experience whatsoever. While hook ups can be fun, I am the type of guy that is looking for romance.

At the end of June 2011, I finally left for my dream trip in Vietnam (I will write more about that trip later). On the way I had a 24 hour layover in Bangkok. So while I was there I set out to find some yummy Thai food. The staff at the hotel I was staying at recommended I go to a restaurant in a specific mall. When I got to this restaurant there was a waiter standing in the entrance to welcome me who spoke a decent level of English. This waiter (we will call him R) was very beautiful and obviously gay. Through my lunch I flirted with him a bit and he seemed to be flirting back. At the end of the meal I paid and went to walk around the mall for a little bit. I kept thinking to myself, "I have one day in Thailand, try and make the most of it." 

I worked up the courage to go back to R and ask him if he would show me around the city after he was done work. He agreed! I sat down and talked with him for a few more hours while he finished up work. Afterwords we walked back to his place so he could get changed. He asked me if I wanted to go dancing, or go eat, or what. I told him "I don't care what we do, as long as I get to spend time with you." He blushed and seemed kinda nervous. I again decided to work up all my courage and I leaned in and kissed him.

We than left R's apartment and walked holding hands to a near by bar. There we had some food and drink and met a few friends of R's. We held hands and kissed throughout the meal. The whole experience of being publicly affectionate with a guy was exhilarating. Living in Jerusalem, I never imagined being able to hold hands with a guy while walking in the streets or kiss another guy in the middle of an outdoor bar. Afterwords, we walked around the city some more holding each other and talking. We ended up spending the night together. In the morning we ate breakfast and than I walked him to his bus stop. When his bus came, we kissed each other goodbye and he left.

While I only got to spend an afternoon and a night with R, it was very romantic and I will remember it fondly forever. I felt emotions that night that I had never felt before. I got a burst of self confidence. I no longer thought that I would end up alone or have to settle. I had just had a romantic evening with a beautiful Asian guy. For the first time I thought that maybe my fantasies could some day become reality :)