Jewish Under 40: The Experience of Jewish Queerness


Beth Tzedec Congregation in Toronto, Canada has started a new series in which it encourages young congregants to share their voices and perspectives about being Jewish under 40. In the first installment, congregant Pearl Cohen shares her story about being Jewish and queer. Read it below.


Like so many others, I inherited my membership to Beth Tzedec. My Bubbe (grandma) and Zayde (grandpa) were members before I was born. My parents were married in the Rabbi’s office. It was my first shul (temple) as a baby before my parents moved our family to Ottawa, where I grew up. When my partner and I eventually moved to Toronto and were shul shopping, we went to Reform synagogues. They were lovely and spiritual and inclusive – but I am a Conservative Jew.

I always had to leave my queerness at the door when I went to shul as a teenager, which eventually meant I stopped going. But I never stopped wanting that connection, that community.

My familiarity with social exclusion and systemic persecution didn’t originate in my queerness, but in my Jewishness. Being Jewish means I have a framework for those struggles against oppression and how it shapes our daily lives. Being queer isn’t just about sexuality or gender. Like Judaism, it’s a perspective that influences how I move through the world and society.

As Jews, our very existence feels like an act of defiance and survival. Despite how willing we are to assimilate, we carry in ourselves an “otherness” that we often hide to access respectability and acceptance in the world. But when we walk into a shul, we know who we are, and we know that we belong. Despite differences in our traditions, our diasporic roots, our politics, we are all Jews.

I still struggle to feel that unity and equality within the Jewish community. I still find myself singled out at times in our community for being queer, as if it differentiates my Jewishness from other members’. But the thing is: My Judaism is queer. My queerness is an essential part of who I am, as much as my Jewish identity. These identities are intertwined and, in many ways, inseparable for me. I wouldn’t be as queer if I wasn’t Jewish.

Conservative Judaism has changed since I was a teenager. Experiences of LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and so much more) Jews have shifted from embarrassed silence to tolerance to, finally, acceptance. I want us to move forward, to keep going from acceptance to celebration. And more than just words, we need to take deliberate and meaningful action to include LGBTQ+ people in synagogue life – in both ritual and community. Same-sex marriage is one of the first steps that we can look forward to, but it isn’t the be-all end-all of LGBTQ+ inclusion.

June was Pride month in Toronto. Pride is about resistance, liberation, fighting against oppression and I can’t think of anything more Jewish than that. The recognition of LGBTQ+ pride at synagogue shows the strides that our shul is making in inclusivity and the respect and love they have for their members. It also demonstrates the support the community is willing to give. It means that when I step in the door, I can say, “This is all of me.” No part of my identity is left outside.

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