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Are we the "Wyoming" of gay and lesbian Jewish life?

October 2014

Our Growing TRT Family

So, how many gay/lesbian families do we have in the TRT family?  

More than a decade ago, TRT made changes to welcome gays and lesbians into our congregation. We removed the labels of “husband” and “wife,” replacing them with “member.” We changed our temple Constitution to redefine a married couple as those married “in a civil or religious ceremony,” since no option for state-recognized marriage was available to same-sex couples at the time. We were ahead of the game, and I am proud of that.

So, how many gay/lesbian families do we have in the TRT family?

None.

When people ask me why we don’t have any G/L families or “out” individuals in our temple community, I answer their question with a question:  Why aren’t there any Jews in Wyoming?

The answer, of course, is, because there aren’t any Jews in Wyoming.

Think about it. When you moved to this area, what questions did you ask? If you have young children, you probably asked about the schools. You asked about commuting, or shopping, or recreation. And you probably asked if it was a “Jewish neighborhood.” You weren’t looking for Lakewood, but you wanted to know that you wouldn’t be the only Jew in the area. In other words, you wanted to know if there were people like you.

I’ve spoken with some of the people who came to Manalapan and Marlboro in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They were pioneers of sorts, but they didn’t come alone. Groups of friends – young families – moved en masse to the area, bringing their social circles with them. Yes, they met some resistance from “the locals” – I got here in 1984 and some of the anti-Jewish sentiment still remained – but they were able to deal with it because they brought their friends, their traditions and their values with them. Still, ask some of the children of that “first wave” what it was like to be Jewish in the public schools; it wasn’t always easy.

Imagine, then, being a same-sex family looking for a place to raise Jewish children today. Would you consider any of the towns in Western Monmouth to be gay-friendly? I don’t mean the attitudes of individuals in those towns because no prospective resident can do a door-to-door survey to find out if people would welcome them or not. But if you drove around town, or went to the store or to the mall, would you feel… comfortable? Would you feel you belonged? Would you feel that there were people like you here?

Would you feel comfortable at TRT? Or at any other congregation in our area? Or are we the "Wyoming" of gay and lesbian Jewish life?

What we need are some pioneers: same-sex individuals and families with the chutzpah to move in, to establish themselves and make it easier for others to follow. That’s what we need, but I don’t think it is anyone’s fault if they don’t choose to do that. I imagine it is very difficult to be the first gay family in a community; I know how hard it is to be the first in a temple, because we had one lesbian family in our membership for several years. They tried – they really tried – but eventually they decided that it wasn’t fair to their children to ask them to explain, again and again, how they had two mommies and no daddy. And they also confessed that it just wasn’t… comfortable. They said they came once for Anniversary Blessings, but as five heterosexual couples walked up to the bima they both decided that they would rather remain at their seats and very discreetly touch fingers while the others celebrated in public. They weren’t cowards, and they weren’t ashamed; they just felt they did not belong.

I wish it were different. I wish people of every sexual orientation would feel welcome at Rodeph Torah, and would feel they could express their love as heterosexual couples do: with hugs and kisses and yes, holding hands. But if I was in their position I don’t think I would choose to raise my family at TRT or in Western Monmouth in general; I’m not a coward, but it would not be my choice to live where there was no one like me. That's why my address says, "NJ," not "WY."

But I still hope that somewhere there is a group of young gays or lesbians who have had enough of city life and who will decide to move together to Western Monmouth. And if among them are five or six Jewish couples, I hope they have the chutzpah to come to a service at TRT and hold hands. If they do, and if we live up to the ideals we put forward years ago, we might change the face of our congregation for the better.

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Comments (1)

  • Rita Corn

    Rita Corn

    13 October 2014 at 11:58 |
    I have been debating whether or not to write and in the end I felt I should. To be direct, I was very offended by your opinion piece on recruiting gays and lesbians to the temple. I wholeheartedly support any persons right to live and love as they choose and never understood why other people feel the need to get involved in or comment on those choices. your piece gave me the distinct impression, intended or not , that our temple is not welcoming to gays and lesbians. I remember the lesbian couple you spoke of. I was at some Hebrew school orientation that they were at and I remember thinking how proud I was to belong to a temple that was so welcoming to a couple that was slightly different from the general TRT population.. Why was this couple so afraid to go up for anniversary blessings. Did they think they would be judged. I know that if I had been at the service and they had gone up for blessings I would have congratulated them when they returned to there seats and I don't think that I would have been the only one. They missed a chance by not going up because they were afraid of what others would think and that's not our fault.Are they more validated if there are other gay couples in the temple? Why should it matter? The suburbs of New Jersey, I don't think, are not generally known for being a Mecca for gays and lesbians. That's just the way it works out. To put out a call for gays and lesbians to move out en masse so same sex couples will feel more comfortable in the temple is ridiculous. We should be recruiting members based on their desire to belong to a liberal minded, creative, socially conscious warm Reform temple and not on their sexuality! Sorry if this seemed rude but that's the way I feel.

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