Ruth and Naomi

Whither Thou Goest

In Judaism as I have known it, the only acceptable union between two people is a Jewish wedding between a man and a woman, the ultimate celebration in Jewish life.

But Ruth and I have been in love for close to three years. From the start there's been a unique chemistry between us. We'd giggle and laugh for no reason at all, and when we parted after having breakfast together, there was always an awkward moment of silence that screamed, "I don't want to leave you just yet!" I knew when I first said "I love you" that I wasn't just talking to a friend—knew by the tremble in my voice, and by the fullness of the phrase. It wasn't "Love you" or "Love ya." I knew when she tickled my arm while talking on the phone to her brother, and electricity passed through every part of my body, that I wanted more. When I played with her long golden hair, I wanted to feel it sweeping over my bare body. When I saw her creamy back, delicate as porcelain yet strong as limestone, I wanted to hold her. When we went away to the Cape together and I noticed her freckles for the first time, I knew that I was in love with her.

Throughout my Jewish schooling, from kindergarten through the year after high school that I spent at a religious seminary in Israel, homosexuality was only once discussed as a controversial issue. Everyone took for granted that it was wrong. The issue was not whether homosexuality was acceptable, but whether our school should march in the Israeli Day Parade along with a gay and lesbian synagogue. Would we be legitimizing a gay lifestyle? We had an assembly about the importance of coming together to support Israel, despite our differences. We marched.

Photograph by Barbara Kilpatrick
Photograph by Barbara Kilpatrick

I always thought coming out meant making a statement about identity. My statement is that I've fallen in love with a woman. I have yet to shout this out with pride, because I'm afraid of being pigeonholed by the Jewish gossip chain. Every Jew is connected to every other Jew. When someone is suffering, that can be a beautiful thing. Within minutes the community will know and offer support. Privacy, however, is practically impossible to find, and accuracy is less important than juiciness.

I can see it now. A friend from camp figures out that I am dating Ruth, and within hours word has traveled cross-country that I've come out as a lesbian and have a joining ceremony planned for next week. I should only be so lucky, so sure of who I am and what I want.

The emphasis on marriage, the less-than-neutral "tolerance" of homosexuality, and the merciless Jewish grapevine force me to isolate myself from friends, family, and the Judaism that is so important to me. Every situation Ruth and I encounter raises a question. Do they know? Can we hold hands? Sometimes I try to just lose myself in her mint-green eyes and turn off those voices that say, "You're bisexual. Wouldn't it be easier to fall in love with a man, the ideal companion for a Jewish woman?"

Can we really choose with whom we fall in love? If so, why take the path strewn with thorns? Why stay in a relationship where passion is so often buried under layers of questions, doubts, and shame? Why? Because when you find passion, it's hard to let it go. It's not a choice. I must work to uncover it. But moments when I feel love's purity give me hope.

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