June 28, 2010
The economic crisis has forced Jewish communities to focus more on the quality of its relationships than on the amount of its programming. It’s a novel idea, sadly, but a good one. The problem is, of course, the execution.
The idea that we as Jewish educators can use our own Jewish journeys, our experiences, our real selves to connect with young Jews trying to figure what this whole Jewish business means to them, is powerful, and it works. But it requires more than just transparency-it necesitates strategy, nuance, and a keen understanding of how privilege works.
LGBTQ allyship can be a tricky business. To do it right means understanding the depth of heteronormativity in Jewish communities and how it impacts young Jews every day. When we assume that everyone around us is heterosexual, when we assert our own heterosexuality as the norm, rather than making space for students to come to us on their own terms, we make it difficult to impossible for them to feel that Jewish communities are welcoming.
Allyship can be as simple as not directly assuming that a person has a partner of the opposite gender. It can be about not talking about your own straightness constantly. It certainly means confronting your own homophobic assumptions, and interrupting homophobic situations when you see and hear them. In Jewish spaces, think about the emphasis on heterosexual dating situations, having an organization dominated by heterosexual staff, attending a training on how to create truly inclusive Jewish communities. Teaching and transmitting allyship as a practice is made more complicated by the pervasive atmosphere of heterosexual coupling in all facets of the Jewish community. Therefore, using words like “partner,” instead of “boyfriend” or “girlfriend,” or downplaying in certain situations one’s desire to be married or partnered-in other words, confronting and deconstructing heterosexual privilege for the sake of building a strong, inclusive Jewish world.
The sad truth is that none of this matters unless it’s a priority, unless we’re serious about examining heterosexual privilege and how Jewish communities as structured around it. There need not be a discrepancy between showing your authentic self and being a strong LGBTQ ally, but there does need to be a recognition that the assumption of heteronormativity is rampant in Jewish communities and toxic to their growth. It is not enough to say that we welcome everyone, if our next words prove that what we really mean is everyone who is just like us.