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The Big Jewcy: Goldie Goldbloom – Author, Mother, Queer Frum Jew

Goldie Goldbloom is an author, mother, and a queer frum Jew living in Chicago. Originally from Australia, Goldie spends the majority of her day being a full-time writer and mother. Lots of laundry, and long evenings. She took an hour out of her morning to talk to us about what it means to be a frum, queer Jew. Read More

By / June 6, 2011
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Goldie Goldbloom is a writer, mother, and a queer frum Jew living in Chicago.  Originally from Australia, Goldie spends the majority of her day being a full-time writer and mother.  Lots of laundry, and long evenings.

Goldie is the author of The Paperbark Shoe, winner of the 2008 AWP Award.  She will be teaching classes at Northwestern in their MFA program. She is the Simon Blattner Visiting Professor in Creative Writing at Northwestern University for 2011-2012.  Her story can also be found in the anthology Keep Your Wives Away From Them-Orthodox Women Unorthodox Desires.  She lives in Chicago with her 8 children and two cats.  Each evening the family meets on her bed for story time and to pray the Sh’ma.  She is truly an inspiring woman because of her very existence.  I am honored and privileged that she took an hour out of her morning to talk to me about what it means to be a frum, queer Jew.

What does it mean to be a Queer Jewish Person?
Goldie Goldbloom-I live in a Hasidic community.  In that community there has been no dialogue, or recognition of queer Jews in the population.  Growing up, there was an inner division of parts; my queer part and my Jewish part and they never fully came together.  I Couldn’t stand in either place and be comfortable “out”.  Especially in the last year, I’ve been more hopeful of wholeness.  The door of the Orthodox community is slightly open.  There’s been a number of recent events where orthodox leaders have been open to dialogue with queer Jews. Most rabbis are compassionate. I think with more Jews coming out to their local rabbis and, at the same time, being unwilling to leave their communities, the leadership has become more interested in discussion. And on a grassroots level, many of the congregants are very accepting of GLBTQ Jews. That’s not just acknowledgement but acceptance.    That sort of change makes me feel like it’s going to be okay.

The Chicago Orthodox Community I live in is Hasidic.  As far as I know, I was the first out queer person in the community.  People come to my house for Shabbos, specifically, to out themselves to either me or my kids  because they know that my house is a safe house.  I do think there are other resources in the community but by my visibility is helpful to people who are still struggling with coming out in a community where it’s still not always safe to do so. Harvey Milk had it right-just stand up and own it.  Simply saying you’re queer in the Orthodox community is a radical act. But the more people who find the strength to do it, the less possible it is for the community to say that frum queer jews don’t exist. Me being out has helped other people and will continue to be helpful to people.  Whether I’m a well-known writer or not.  There was a young person in my son’s school who is an out young man.  There was talk about what to do with this student. they decided that the more attention they placed on it the more were publicity they were giving to gay issues in general.  They decided it would be best to leave it alone and ignored him.  He didn’t get kicked out, and it helps for people to see that there are other kids who are queer. As a result of him being out, some other boys felt more able to say they are gay too.  I am grateful to be able to help people create a whole and healthy life for themselves.  I am grateful to be living in a time when it is becoming more and more possible to integrate the various parts of oneself.

Did you ever feel that you had to chose one or the other?

Most intense time is in the Anthology [Keep Your Wives Away From Them-Orthodox Women Unorthodox Desires].  There was extreme pressure in my life.  I felt as if I was about to lose everything.  I felt like I would lose not only the the queer part of me, but the Jewish part as well. I was scared of losing my Jewish life which I worked so hard to get.  I feel like I did a good job at this [straight] life I’d worked hard at it but wasn’t fully myself. I was really petrified of losing the queer part of me.  I had a strong feeling that I wouldn’t have a real life if I never was able to love and be loved, this turned out to be correct.  I would just be instead of being.  You have to come to a place of internal strength were you say you are not willing to cut off a part of who you are.  When I was younger I really wanted to be a part of the frum community-but you are told that you have to follow every community norm otherwise you can’t be considered frum -Says who?  I can be frum!  It has to do with me and my relationship with G-d, not other people.  When that happens, when you can stand up and say that you’re not willing to lose who you are-then you can be really free.  I don’t need anyone’s approval to be frum and queer.

Did you have to reshape your Jewish identity to work within your queer identity?

Not really.  I have strong, straight forward, simple belief.  Once I was able to say that I don’t have to wait for anyone’s approval it didn’t change the way that I related to yiddishkeit.  I still practice the same way.  I even feel  the greatness of G-D more, and his appreciation for diversity.  Obviously God loves the way that things can be different from one another not just the way that they can be the same.  I have a deeper appreciation of what I had, rather than a reshuffling of connection to Judaism or G-D.

You don’t seem angry with God, which is amazing.

Before I left Australia for America one of the most important things I learned from my rebbe was that I was going to see a lot of things in America.  He told me, “Just remember that the things you are hearing and seeing are from Jews and not from Judaism or God.”My belief in Yiddishkeit and in G-Dliness is a very simple one and is unaffected by people’s (sometimes) ugliness.  I’ve never felt angry towards to God.  What I experience, in terms of negativity in the community, is just a person exercising their choice.  That choice has nothing to do with my relationship with G-D.

Why is it important for the broader Jewish community to “see” Queer Jews.

There are queer youth who kill themselves because they feel they cannot be part of the Jewish community.  They feel rejected from their family and their community.  The idea that even one person would die because they are not accepted. I cannot bear it.  That is one major and fundamental reason why the Jewish Community needs to see us.  Because there are Jews who are queer within the frum community that rise up and are out but, so many more of them, most of them,  leave, and they lose the source of their spiritual and familial connection.  Honestly, the idea that every soul is precious is one of the underpinnings of my deep love of yiddishkeit.  The fact that these rejected people are hurting, angry, lost and not having the connection that they might have is horrible.  There is a story told by the Baal Shem Tov  in which a person was considered to be working on Shabbos.  The town wanted to know the proper punishment and the Baal Shem Tov said, you should love him even more-That is the foundation stone of yiddiskeit.  Not the negative, but positive.  Love, acceptance, tolerance.  Those things are what drew me to Orthodoxy in the first place.  When Hillel was asked to teach Torah on one foot he said, Love, the rest is commentary.  Love your fellow Jews.  Every shul should be loving and accepting.  That’s the way the world should be, shuls can be, community can be.  Can you imagine if that’s the way the world was?  G-d would be jumping for joy in heaven!

So What is your idea of Jewish Community?

You tell me yours first.

In my ideal Jewish Community, if I could create one, the message that “We accept all” would truly be embraced.  I would walk into a shul and see other brown faces.  I would see  queer couples.  People would be participants in worship and not spectators.   The music would be engaging, meaningful, and inspire you to sing along rather than listen.  There would be movement in prayer.  There would be children running around.  There would be people of color.  There would be young people engaged in their Judaism.  There would be old people.  People who wear kippahs and hair coverings would pray next to people with bare heads and arms.  It would be a space rather than a place where people connect with one another as well as with God.  It would be just as much about what happens outside of the 4 walls of the shul as what happens within its walls.

Yes! That’s exactly right! My vision of an ideal Jewish community is one in which the idea that every person is truly part of one whole, part of G-d, part of life, is an idea that is expressed in reality.  It means that every person loves every other person equally, no matter what.  There is not  a need to distinguish one person from another- just a love and appreciation for each other and for God.  An appreciation and love for Torah and mitzvos and a G-dly life that runs deeply, that we’re not just doing what we’ve been doing until now, by rote, but that every day is new, fresh and full of delight.