Saturday, February 25, 2012

Jerusalem's Drag Show

Before I really came out of the closet, I had been writing a different blog anonymously about slowly coming out of while in the conservative environment of Jerusalem. One of my readers suggested to me that I go to see the drag show that goes on every Monday night at a local bar. She said it is a fun show and a great environment. My first reaction was to think that drag shows would not interests me, but in the end I decided I wanted to try something new. I told my good friend Ella (who I had just recently come out to) about the shows and she agreed to join me. Simply put, I had an amazing time and soon became a regular.

The bar at the time was called "HaKatzeh" (The Edge), but has recently changed names to "Mikveh Bar". (A mikveh is a traditional Jewish spiritual bath). This is one of the most amazing and unique places in all of Israel. I know that sounds like an overstatement, but trust me when I say it is accurate. At the "Mikveh Bar" you can find on any given night gays, lesbians, transsexuals,  bisexuals, straight people, religious people, secular people, Jews, Arabs, locals, "out of towners" and foreign tourists, and everyone gets a long. To think that such a place can exist in Israel, let alone Jerusalem where every little meaningless issue can start a war is quite amazing.

To top it all off, the "Gevald" line of drag queens consistently puts on amazing shows. The line consists of 4 drag queens; the amazing Gallina Port Des Bras, the beautiful Kiara Duple, the sharp tongued Diva D and the temptress Talula Bonet. Every Monday night, two and sometimes three or four of these stunning performers will put on a show that brings a big smile to my face. The friends that would go with me to the shows would often commented on how happy I always was whenever I attended one of these shows. In such an open, safe, excepting and entertaining environment, how could I not be smiling from ear to ear?!

For my straight readers out there that think drag shows are just for gays, than I must say you are missing out. If you enjoy great jokes, awesome music and dancing than come and see a show. I sadly am not able to go as often as I once did, now that I do not live in Jerusalem. But I do try and make it as often as I can. If you can't make it to Jerusalem, there are other drag shows in other cities in Israel and of course outside of Israel. But if you want a truly special experience, make the trip to Jerusalem and come see the Gevald line perform. Maybe I will see you there  :D

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Childhood Indoctrination

As I wrote in my previous post, this past weekend I attended prayer services with my father. I really really hate going, but I do it to make him happy. Afterwords I was thinking to myself, why do I hate going so much? I came up with many answers, more than I would like to list in this specific post. But one reason that stood out in my mind was that it upsets me to see all the children being brainwashed. First, I do not like how this reminds me of my own background, and second I am truly upset to see children go through this indoctrination.

I realize the term "brainwashing" is very strong and will be somewhat controversial with many of my readers. However, after looking at how children are introduced to Judaism at such a young impressionable age, I can think of no other term. The first example is, when it comes to the time in the services to take the Torah scroll(s) out of the "Holy Ark", children are encouraged to get very very excited. They run up to the Torah scroll as it is being walked around the room, or are carried by their father (women being seated separately, this can only be the father) and are told to kiss the Torah. I remember when I was young and how exciting this was for me, and I see that same excitement in the eyes of the children today.

The Torah scroll is the holiest object on earth for Jews. Orthodox Jews are taught that anyone that should even witness a Torah scroll accidentally drop must fast and give charity so that they could be forgiven. Forgiven for what? One person dropped the scroll, so I could maybe understand why he (once again women not being allowed to hold a Torah in most communities) in theory might have to ask for forgiveness. But just witnessing someones mistake, how does that require forgiveness? It doesn't.

The truth is that this whole practice of treating the scroll as an almost god like object is part of instilling an incredible reverence and fear towards the religion that is based around these scrolls. This starts at a very young age. If at 2 or 3 years old you are told to run to the Torah and kiss it, how likely are you to question what is written in the Torah later in life? Obviously this is not full proof, because plenty of people to question and even leave the faith. But the same aw and reverence instilled in me and countless other children, makes it an incredibly scary thing to do.

There are other forms of childhood indoctrination. Children being told to SCREAM out prayers before they even understand what those prayers mean. And this is the very difference between education and indoctrination. Education teaches kids, and adults to think and understand. Indoctrination and brainwashing instills habits. Habits like saying prayers and blessings blindly and habits like treating a simple scroll as if it is godly. Only after these habits are ingrained in the children they can be educated on some reasons. But by this point, the behavior is already a part of the persons identity, so the reasons don't necessarily matter.

As I said I realize this post will be more provocative than most of my previous posts. I encourage my readers that disagree to comment in the comment section bellow. I hope no one takes personal offense as I know many of my readers are religious and have children. I simply explained how I see things. I look forward to discussing and debating this with many of you.  

Now, for a technical note. I recently got back in tough with someone from my high school by the name of Steve. We hadn't spoken in about 10 years, so he was surprised to hear that I was no longer a believing Jew and that I was openly gay. He also has been reading this blog and has become a fan. Steve and a friend of his have a podcast called "Sunday Six Pack" ( where they discuss everything from sports to politics. He invited me to be a guest on his podcast that will broadcast Sunday, March 4th. I will obviously post a link to that broadcast when it happens. There should be a lot of interesting discussion and debate. So stay tuned! :)))

Friday, February 17, 2012

Morality and Judaism

I did not plan on writing a post tonight, but after the evening I've had, I have so much I want to share. My parents are in Israel, so I came to their apartment near Jerusalem for the Sabbath. My sister and her husband live in this apartment with their 2 young daughters full time. My relationship with my sister and brother-in-law is a bit strained. They are very very religious and obviously look down on me. In spite of this, when my parents are in the country, I always try and join them for the Sabbath. I also agree to join my father at the prayer services. I don't pray or anything, but it makes in happy for me to be there next to him.

This evening we were at the prayer service and my father was reading some newsletter put out by some Rabbi. He had trouble understanding the Hebrew so he asked me to translate it. The article was basically about a hit and run incident that happened this week in the north of Israel. The article said that the driver, who fatally wounded a young woman was not found because there was no camera in the area. After the incident many people called for there to be more cameras installed throughout Israel to prevent hit and runs. But the article said that cameras are not the answer. The answer, according to the writer is religious education. His reasoning was that religious people "know" that god is always watching them and therefore do not do things like hit and runs.

Being that the driver was not caught, I do not know how the writer knows what education or background s/he had. But religious people often like to assume that other religious people are especially trustworthy and wonderful. I know my dad prefers to do business with only religious people. He often says, "He was a frum yid (religious Jew in Yiddish), so I decided to give him some business", or "so I figured I could trust him."

Later on, the Rabbi gave a sermon that basically said that Jewish law is about morals, as opposed to secular law which is about stability, and a system of rewards and punishments. He stated that in the 10 Commandments it simply says, "Thou shall not kill." It does not give a reason or a punishment. It just gives a moral statement. He went on to say "even non Jews know that killing is wrong, but they don't do it because they don't want to get caught and punished." Never mind the belittling of non Jews. I am wondering, if this speaker had read the article my dad had given me to translate. The article said, fear of being "caught" by an all powerful god keeps Jews from doing wrong. Now this Rabbi was saying Jewish law was not about punishment, it was just about doing what was right.

The truth is, that both religious and non religious people do bad things. I know religious people that do the right thing because they want to get reworded and go to heaven, and I know those who do what is right simply because it is right. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that religious people would behave more morally because of their religious belief. The US is the most religious nation in the Western World and it has one if the highest crime rates. Religion simply is not an effective source of morality or a deterrent from doing wrong. I do not know why religious people continue to be "shocked" every time a religious person is arrested or accused of wrong doing. Some people are evil. It does not matter if they believe in god or do not. Stop with the elitism.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Coming Out

Once I finally excepted the fact that I was gay, I felt this internal need to tell people. Here was this hugely significant piece of information about myself, and no one in the world new about it, not even my closest of friends. Of course at the same time, I was terrified to tell anyone. For a while, I continued to keep it a secret, but eventually I just had to tell someone. I decided that I could tell specific people that I was the most sure would be able to accept it, and that way hopefully control the potential backlash. I also had to make sure that in no way the information could get back to my family. That would have been the worst thing possible. They were still having a lot of trouble with the fact that I was no longer religious. I could not even begin to imagine how they would react to learning that I was gay.

To be perfectly honest, at this point I believed that I was bisexual. I had still not been able to understand the difference between recognizing a girl to be beautiful and being attracted to her. (This would take me a bit longer and actually sexual/romantic interaction with guys). But the first few people that I came out to, I did so proclaiming to be bisexual.

The first person I decided I was going to tell was my life long friend, Ben. I know lots of people use the term "life long friend", but in mine and Ben's case, this is very accurate. We were at one another's first birthday party. 26 years later we are still very close. I knew that I could trust him with the fact that I was interested in men. Ben lives in the US, so we would talk mostly over chat. At the time we had been talking a bit more often because he had been helping me through the process of leaving religious Judaism. Having gone through the process himself a few years earlier, he was a huge help. I knew I could trust him with this as well.

One night, while discussing religion over the internet, I steered the conversation towards the direction of dating and attraction. I remember being terrified. I don't know why I was so scared. At no time did I think Ben would react badly to the information. I knew our friendship was very strong and I knew Ben was one of the most tolerant people you could find. I talked around the subject for a while, slightly hinting where I was going with it, until finally I just said it, "I am attracted to guys." My heart was racing a million miles an hour. It was as if by telling someone, it became more real. Ben was as understanding and accepting as I had thought he would be. I don't remember exactly what he told me, but I remember he was able to get me to calm down. Everyone in life should have a friend like I have in Ben.

Over the next few months, I hand picked each and every person I told. Each time I told a new friend, I was terrified. But each time it got a little bit easier. I kept a list of everyone I told, hoping I could control the spread of this information. Of course I knew that the information was out there and it could not be taken back. I had know way of knowing who repeated what to whom. But those first few friends were so supportive. They kept me sane during one of the most turbulent and unstable times in my life. I will forever be  grateful for their support.

I would like to take this opportunity to put into writing my thanks to each of these great friends by name. Thank you Ben, Ella, Ariella, Dan, Shai and Shani. Of course, with time I told more and more of my friends and they were all wonderfully  accepting. But you guys were the first few and your support and love will always be remembered and I will always be grateful :)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

War, Missiles and Death.

When I moved to Israel in 2002 at 17 years old, I knew that I would be drafted in to the Israeli military (IDF). At the time I was very proud of this and even looked forward to my service. I had always been taught that the IDF and its mission of protecting Israel was a holy mission and that it was an honor to join. While all Israeli men must serve for 3 years, I had the option to cut that service down to 2 years and change, but I wanted to go for 3 years because that would make everyone so proud of me. And everyone was so proud of me. When people I knew from America would visit, everyone was so impressed that I was a soldier serving in the IDF. People wanted to take their picture with me and ask me all sorts of questions. Back in the US, my parents friends would always ask about me and tell my parents how proud they must be of my service. Younger guys from my community in NJ would tell me how when they became 18 they wanted to join the IDF just like I did. I was so happy that everyone was so proud of me.

But my time in the IDF was one of the hardest of my life. I had commanders that would take advantage of my motivation and idealism and have me do work that they knew had they ordered an Israeli to do, they would refuse. I was a foreigner and did not know how to work the system like the Israelis. I found myself doing more bathroom cleaning duties and guard duty than my friends. My already low pay was cut because all sorts of "technical" reasons. My time in the IDF was very depressing and full of disillusion.

In the summer of 2006, Israel went to war with Hezbollah forces in Lebanon. My unit happened to be close to the border when the war started doing maneuvers and we were immediately re positioned to take part. This was an extremely scary time for me. At random hours of the day missiles would rain down on me and my friends. There was no bomb shelter and more often than not, not even an armored vehicle near by to take cover in. You just had to hope the missiles wouldn't hit you.

At one point, my commander asked for a volunteer to go into Lebanon. Why a volunteer? Because the vehicle to be used to enter enemy territory was not armored and the standing order was that all vehicles crossing the border must be armored. I immediately volunteered. This was extremely scary but I already had a number of friends that had been killed and this seemed like the right thing to do. I thought that if I would come back alive, everyone would be so proud of me.

Today, there is a lot of talk about the possibility of a war with Iran. Once again, missiles would rain down and I (and millions of other Israeli citizens) would have to face that fear again. To be very honest, I don't think I could do it again. Back in 2006, the idea of sacrificing my life for Israel was something I could except, but not any more. Had I died back in 2006, would that have done anything for Israel? No. Would this country be in a better a place than it is now? No. Would it be any safer? No. What did my friends deaths contribute or change? Nothing.

At one point I thought my new fear of death is because I no longer believe in an afterlife. But that is not the reason. And to be honest, I always believed a lot more in Hell than I ever did in Heaven (I will probably write a post about that at some point). If I really think about what scares me now that didn't exist 6 years ago, it is my plans for my future. This is the first time in my life when I am working towards and dreaming of a future that I believe I could be happy in. My old "dream" of finding a woman to marry and having kids was not so hard to sacrifice. But now, finally at 27 years old, I am on a path that will make ME happy and ME proud, as apposed to family, teachers, community etc. Back than, my life and future had very little meaning to me. But now that it does have meaning, why should I have to throw it away?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Religion's Special Right to Offend.

When walking down the street in any major Israeli city, it is very common to find a booth set up by some "Chassidic" (a branch of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism). At these booth will be a bunch of men that will randomly approach men that look to be secular that they see walking down the street and ask them questions like "did you put on tefillin today?" (special leather straps and wooden boxes worn by religious Jewish men during morning prayers). "Have you heard of Rabbi X? His books can help you with spiritual guidance". Their goal being to "inspire" nonreligious people to become religious. I personally find this very annoying and offensive. When I mention this to people they tell me that these people just want was is best for me and I am just being oversensitive and radical. 

But what if the situation was revers? What if atheists set up booths and asked religious people that they saw passing "Excuse me sir. Do you realize the world was not created by God?" Or "Have you read any books by Christopher Hitches? His books are really inspiring and could help you leave religion." These atheists would be told that they are being offensive and small minded. That they should respect people and their religion. So if atheists must respect religion and the religious, than why are the religious allowed to disrespect the secularist and his/her world view? What is the reason for this double standard? 

One time while visiting NY city with friends we were approached by a Chassidic man who asked us if we were Jewish and married. I wanted to the ignore the man, but my friend answered that we were indeed Jewish and none of us were married. The man handed us pamphlets containing some prayer and told us if we read this special prayer everyday for 40 days we would each magically meat meet the woman of our dreams. I tried to walk away from this nut case but my friend continued talking to him. He asked him, "what about my friend here" and pointed to me, "do you want him to get married and find the person of his dreams." The Chassid said "of course I do. God wants everyone to find their match and to be happy." My friend answered, "but my friend, he is gay. Do you still want him to find the person of his dreams?" I cannot describe the look this Chassidic man gave me. But with scorn in his eyes he said to me "sometimes people fall in life and they just can't get up." With that I threw his pamphlet on the ground and me and my friends walked away. 

Not to sound like a hippy, but everyone is different and everyone has their own world view. Everyone should do what makes them happy as long as they do not hurt anyone else. If don't want to society to split than we can't view those that are different from us as people that must be changed or fixed. Just like I would be expected to not try and turn religious people secular, religious people should be expected to not try and turn secular people religious. It is offensive and only continues to fuel the fire of distrust between the two groups. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Forbidden Love and the "Slap in the Face"

Looking back now, I realize I have been attracted to boys/men since I was a little kid. I didn't really think about it though for a while. I would say that I liked girls/women and I really believed it. Even today, there are plenty of women that I find to be very beautiful. I recognize that beauty, but that recognition isn't attraction. That lesson was very hard for me to learn.

By the time I was 15 or so, I would find myself thinking about guys when I was alone, or even dreaming about them at night. This was very confusing for me. I was taught that being gay was a sinful decision people make and I had not made the decision. I would tell myself that I wasn't attracted to these guys, rather I was just jealous of their good looks. That explanation was pretty good for a number of years and was reinforced by my own low self-esteem. But I was still scared by this jealousy and I would often pray to god and make all kinds of deals with him to make this "jealousy" go away. Of course this never happened.

At some point, I admitted to myself that I was attracted to guys, but I was also attracted to the girls that I found to be beautiful. I felt that must mean that I was bisexual, so I could just ignore guys and focus on girls and be a good Jew. I was able to go on like that for a a little bit. In public I liked girls, in private if I thought of guys it wasn't so bad. I continued to ask god to make that attraction go away, but I thought I could handle it.

I realized I could not handle it when attraction became emotion. I understand from talking to lots of gay guys and through some research that it is very common for guys that stay in the closet to develop crushes or fall in love with a heterosexual friend. This happened to me and it really hit me like a slap in the face. YOU LIKE MEN AND YOU CANNOT DENY IT, RUN FROM IT, OR EXPLAIN IT AWAY! This was a really difficult time for me for a couple of reasons.

First, I could no longer ignore the side of me that liked guys. For the first time ever, it wasn't in my head, or alone in my room. This was a friend of mine. We have mutual friends. He was part of my public life! I cannot find the words to describe how terrifying this was for me. And if you have not gone through a similar experience, I do not believe that you can fully understand it. Secondly. the feelings I had were torturous. I had feelings that i didn't understand or want to admit. Even if I could get passed that, these feelings could never be returned by a straight guy. Further, I was terrified of losing my friend over this.

To this day, I do not know if this friend knows that I once had feelings for him. I believe he does but I really don't know. It doesn't really matter because I am long passed that point in my life. I have moved on and and this person and I are still good friends. For that I am very thankful. I have heard similar stories were the friendship was destroyed in the process and that is always very sad.

That was a very dark, very sad and very confusing point in my life. I am glad it is over.