Report from Simchat Torah

Newsgroups: ba.motss,soc.motss
From: (Vadim Temkin)
Subject: Report from Simchat Torah
Summary: New sense of tribe
Organization: Vadim at home
Date: Thu, 29 Sep 1994 07:12:10 GMT
Lines: 102
Well, I wasted bandwidth asking a question about celebration of
Simchat Torah at congregation Sha'ar Zahav. Nobody flamed me, so
I am going to do it again with my report of my first visit to
lesbigay synagogue.

What's Simchat Torah, you ask?. Simchat Torah is one very joyful
holiday in Jewish calendar - it is celebration of the end of
yearly reading of the Torah, rewinding the Scroll and starting
again; celebration of job well done and anticipation for new one.

It wasn't something that I knew from my childhood.  Back in
Russia we would notice Passover or Jewish New Year with some
makeshift celebration, but rewinding the Scroll? I haven't seen
the Scroll until I was 18 - there were no a temple in Minsk.  My
first Simchat Torah celebration was when I was on my way from
Russia to the U.S. in the small Italian beach town of Ladisploli
near Rome.  It was the time of the utmost freedom for me. I was
free from the past - from anti-semitic (which I knew way too
well) and homophobic (which I didn't ever dare to confront) Big
Brother. I was sure in my bright future in sunny San Francisco
(who would believe the stories about fog in the Fog City).
Anyway, dancing with Torah scroll on the street was physical,
ecstatic representation of this internal freedom.

Strangely enough, I knew about Sha'ar Zahav lesbigay congregation
from my very first day in San Francisco.  My uncle left in the
apartment he rented for us the copy of Jewish Bulletin. That
issue had an article about the congregation. Well, I made a note
of it, but never in six years visited Sha'ar Zahav (nor any other
temple for that matter).

Little more than year ago, when I started my coming out process,
I was stricken by analogy between being Jew and being gay and
posted my notes about it on ba.motss. One of the responses
mentioned congregation Sha'ar Zahav, but... In no time I fell in
love with Steve and I had no time nor energy for forays into the
religion of my ancestors (nor into soul search on UseNet).

Now Steve is far away and I am looking for husband. I decided,
that Sha'ar Zahav my be the good venue to do it.  All straight
books recommend church for spouse-hunting.

So Monday night there I am, in Upper Castro, staying in front of
the door of the temple, guessing what it would be like. From the
very first moments inside I felt myself quite at ease. People
were very friendly, there were nothing pompous in the interior. I
exchanged names with two-three people, explained my accent,
provided all standard information (.. first time here..  six
years in the country.. computer programmer.. I like it here.. and
so on and so forth). I was little confused whether I have to put
on yarmulke (I wouldn't dream to enter hatless any temple in
Russia), but looking at others I figured it was kosher to be
without one. I've got the idea of service quite fast, in the
handouts all Hebrew parts were transcribed in English, most of
tunes were familiar somehow. There were a lot of kids and babies
there, there were having good time playing in the center while
grown-ups were chanting and singing something.

The most amazing thing there was elderly Russian husband-and-wife
couple. There is very Russian term "yurodivy" - "God's fool".  I
met it few times as "yurodivy" in English translations from
classical Russian literature, so probably there is no better word
for it. They were classical God's fools. They had two working
eyes between two of them, both were quite old, very sick. They
had no material reasons to be happy and nevertheless they were
very child-like happy people.  They had no clue what was speciial
about the congregation.  They first attended one of High Holy
Days services because the food was promised to be vegetarian. And
they liked the people, friendliness and all that. I understood
their cluelessness from the remark "It is so easy here, women
wear pants, Hasidim don't do that."  I looked around - men,
women, kids, babies; men dance with women, men dance with men,
women dance with women (but this is Jewish tradition, everyone
who ever saw "Fiddler on the Roof" knows it). It was easy to be
fooled.  Was it a mask, intention to be "straight-looking"? - Not
for a moment. Everything and everybody was just human. I think,
words "gay", "lesbian", "homosexual" wasn't even in lexicon (I
mean Russian, not English one) of this couple. They didn't need
those words, they were so out of society at large - "God's fools".

I danced with Torah, and without, I had great time, but there was
some uneasiness. [There was a great man there wearing cuirass
because of back problems.  I didn't understand, whether he was
just being friendly or he was interested in me. I was interested
in him very much, but was to shy to ask for a phone number or
give him mine.  Well, it means I have to go there at least one
more time. End of brackets.] This guy asked me if I were scared.
I asked him what did he mean. He told that when he was first time
in this congregation twelve years ago, he was scared to death. He
was first time to anything gay. I told him I wasn't scared at
all. When I came home, I understood it wasn't exactly true. I was
scared. Not of being someplace "gay".  But of being someplace
religiously Jewish. It was my first time in synagogue, when I was
not a tourist, and not with a company, but by myself.

I went to Sha'ar Zahav to do husband-hunting. I failed in this.
But I found one other aspect of a family, of a tribe. Thanks,
Sha'ar Zahav.  And husband? I'll work on this some more.

Vadim Temkin (