Skip to main content

Taking off the mask for Purim: My first article in the Huffington Post

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chaim-levin/orthodox-jew-coming-out-for-purim_b_1310830.html




This year's Purim marks three years since I started my incredible journey of coming out. Until three years ago I struggled in isolation with my identity as a gay man and an Orthodox Jew. I had spent the previous two years surrounded only by people who rejected themselves as gay and was part of the "ex gay" movement."
My first time attending a Purim event with gay Jews who had reconciled their faith with their sexual orientation and were living honestly and openly was really scary for me. I'll never forget the moment I walked into the LGBT Jewish Purim event at the Jewish Community Center on New York City's Upper West Side. Many of the other attendees were Orthodox or had grown up Orthodox, just like I had. The first 10 minutes were the scariest. I was self-conscious of the way I looked and the way people looked at me. I had constant questions running through my head. "Is the way I'm walking too gay or not gay enough?" "Can people recognize how nervous I am?" "Do they see my hands shaking?" "Are others as uncomfortable as I feel right now?" I couldn't believe that most of these people were gay and weren't struggling to change themselves. They were happy with who they were, and they were gathered to celebrate the holiday of Purim, a time where joy knows no bounds. Purim is marked by traditions of dressing up as in costumes, drinking, dancing and overall merriment.
I was mesmerized by the feeling that took over me as I got more and more into the celebration. 
People greeted me in Hebrew and Yiddish, wishing me "shalom aleichem" (peace be upon you) and "afreilachen Purim!" (Happy Purim). As the evening went on, I started feeling a little more comfortable with myself. Slowly, I started to experience this small but real feeling of joy and peace as I was swept up in the spirit of other self-accepting gay Jews, a community that I never knew existed. I was mesmerized that people were able to accept themselves as they were, as gay people and as Jews -- Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. That night they were one people celebrating the great miracle and joy of Purim.
Many LGBT people relate to the story of Purim on a very personal level because the story of the holiday, the very thing we celebrate, is Queen Esther risking her life by "coming out" as a Jew to save her people. I relate to this story so deeply because I felt like coming out was a risk to everything: my life, my family, my friends, my faith and my future vocation. Everything dear to me. Three years ago, Purim was the first time that accepting myself became a real and tangible possibility. I had just stopped spending what felt like endless time, energy and resources trying to reject the deepest and most basic parts of myself as a gay person. It was three years ago on Purim that I stopped being a victim to the fears of what would happen if I finally gave myself permission to be who I was, even knowing that I might risk losing everything. Although coming out was a difficult and painstaking journey, I know that, like Queen Esther, I saved my own life and saved the lives of others.
Soon after this LGBT Purim event, a small, yet promising, feeling started growing inside me, a sensation that finally made me feel like I had menuchat hanefesh (peace within my soul) and the ability to reconcile who I was both as a gay person and a Jewish person. One of the ways in which we celebrate Purim is to dress in costumes. I mark my coming out and authenticity by dressing as myself for Purim, to signify that Purim was when I started the journey of living authentically.
The community where I was raised encouraged us to learn how to read Megilat Esther (the Book of Esther) for the purpose of reading it for Jews who don't have a chance to hear it on Purim. I mastered reading the Megilah Esther at age 14 and have read it in many settings: Yeshiva, in people's homes in Israel and on the streets of Paris. Just one year after attending my first Jewish gay event, one year after taking of my "mask" as a straight man, and one year after I started living as the real me with pride and authentic happiness with who I was, I found myself reading the Megilah again. This time my voice was loud, clear and proud for my Jewish LGBT brothers and sisters. I continue to read the Megilah for the Jewish gay community and I hope the freedom that Esther and the Jewish people felt because of Esther's brave honesty will reign over everyone who feels like they don't have freedom to be who they are. I pray they will find their voice and be true to themselves because truth and freedom can and will save lives.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

MILWAUKEE JEWISH COMMUNITY SAFETY ALERT!

I am publishing this letter today to notify the public of an individual named Tuvia Perlman and the immediate threat he poses to the safety of any and all children in his vicinity. I first met Mr. Perlman when I was 18 while attending an organization called JONAH (a Jewish conversion therapy organization that was shut down in 2015 after losing a lawsuit). When I met Mr. Perlman, we were on a retreat together called Journey Into Manhood, this retreat was facilitated by an organization called People Can Change. After this retreat, Mr. Perlman, who lived in Baltimore used to call me often, to the point where even at that time I felt extremely uncomfortable by his calls and long voicemails. Mr. Perlman as far as I knew at that time, had recently stopped being a teacher at a cheder (Hebrew word for elementary school). In a group setting that was facilitated on by JONAH on their premises in 2007, Mr. Perlman admitted to the entire group that he molested at least 2 of his 12/13-year-old stu…

Chasing the Devil - Sholom Eichler in Shackles

Sholom Eichler was arrested on March 21st near Kfar Chabad for sexually abusing me as a child. I had already filed a civil lawsuit against him in New York and he ignored the lawsuit and fled to Israel with his family. The result of that lawsuit is still pending, I was awarded a default judgment against him and will hopefully know the amount of that judgment by this coming Monday, March 25th.
As I’ve written previously on my Facebook page and have told many people as well, the last place that Sholom Eichler molested me was when our families were visiting Israel together on a family trip while we were staying at the [then Hilton] David Citadel hotel. The details of that incident, along with many of the other incidents remain clear as day in my mind; I even remember the room number that he abused me in while we were in Jerusalem.
After ignoring the civil lawsuit against him in New York Sholom Eichler and his family fled to Israel because of the default judgment that I was gr…

Sexual Abuse Victim Demeaned and Put on Notice for Misconduct at Hebrew Theological College

Hebrew Theological College Dean Doctor Esther Shkop demeans student survivor of sexual abuse and puts her on notice for having the audacity to talk about her experience. Kaylie's* (a pseudonym) courage is to be applauded. The college's actions are outrageous.

Kaylie*, an 18 year old College student in Chicago, had recently posted this image on her Facebook page with this caption:



“I'm a survivor of sexual abuse.

This is not a new thing. I've been a survivor as long as you've known me.

Are you going to change your opinion of me just because three evil people took advantage of me?

Are you embarrassed of me? Are you willing to share our story?

Let's see who my real friends are.”

Just a few hours ago, Kaylie* received the following email from one of the dean’s at her school with the subject line “Breaking all Boundaries”:

From: Esther Shkop <shkop@htc.edu> Date: Thu, Feb 28, 2013 at 12:11 PM Subject: Breaking all Boundaries To: [REDACTED] Cc: "olstein@htc.edu" …