"I Am Not an Anomaly": An Ode to Intersecting Identities and a Diverse Jewish Community

February 18, 2020Amanda Ryan

Baruch atah, Adonai eloheinu, Melech haolam, she-a sani Yisrael.

“Blessed are you, Adonai, Sovereign of the Universe, who made me a Jew.”

Every day, I recite that blessing, full of thanks for following the path that I have, for committing my life to Judaism.

I think about how in recent months, due to personal trauma, I have been resting in my Judaism to get through it. I find comfort and strength through loving and elevating all parts of myself – including my Jewish identity, my Mexican ethnic identity, and my bisexual(ish) identity. All of these give me purpose and meaning that I haven't had before.

The times that I have felt a conflict between my identities is when I have bought into the thinking that Jewish equals white-Ashkenazi and/or straight. The more pressure that I put on myself to fit into that narrative, the more at odds my identities are, and the more shame I felt for not identifying with them.

But then I take a step back and remind myself that Judaism is wildly diverse and expansive.

When I acknowledge the reality that we, as Jews, don't have one skin color, one nationality, one sexual or gender identity, or one political ideology, my identities are uplifted, celebrated, and in harmony with each other, and I feel strengthened as a whole because of their intersection.

A number of things have helped me get to a place where I felt more accepting of my own identities and able to take shame and doubt and transform them into strength and courage.

The first was finding a group of other Jews that shared identities similar to mine. Being in Jewish spaces and not finding anyone who isn’t white or doesn’t identify with any part of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum is often exhausting. However, once I found my people through the Union for Reform Judaism’s JewV'Nation Fellowship – other Jews of Color, including Jews with some form of queer identity – it was easier to realize that I am not alone and that my experiences weren't in isolation.

The second was contextualizing my knowledge of white supremacy, Jewish immigration history, and the history of my own congregation (and of my city at large). Once I was able to see the connection between these things, I could then reflect on why certain things happen within our Jewish spaces and what I can do as a Mexican bi(ish) Jew to help change them for the better.

To my fellow LGBTQIA+ Jews, Jews of Color, and Jews who see themselves as both: The biggest piece of advice I can give is to remember your history. Whether it is Latinx or Chicano history, LGBTQIA+ history, Black history, and/or Jewish history, all of these histories are powerful and sacred, and we are blessed to continue in those footsteps.

Further, get used to giving yourself compliments. People with intersectional identities like ours are often told to hide parts of ourselves to fit in, but remember: It is because of everything that you carry with you that you are great – and exactly who you need to be.

And to our allies in the Jewish community, you can better serve other Jews of Color and LGBTQIA+ Jews by realizing that your Judaism, often seen through white and straight lenses, isn't the only way to be Jewish.

Please remember that your Jewish sets of knowledge, education and experiences are valid, but they are not the only ones. And while removing the blinders to hear the stories of marginalized Jews may be uncomfortable at first, it is ultimately vital to implementing audacious hospitality in our congregations.

When our synagogue and Federation boards broaden their scope and add Jews of varying racial, ethnic, gender and sexual identities to their tables, the Jewish community as a whole is strengthened.

I strongly believe that Judaism will only thrive when our leadership is as diverse as our constituents. Other Jews, like me, who exist with these identities will see ourselves reflected in leadership and have more confidence to enter Jewish spaces, knowing others like us will be there.

When you see me – a Mexican, bi(ish) Jew – enter your space, know that I am not an anomaly, that there are many more like me with beautiful intersecting identities who want Jewish spaces where we can be our full, authentic selves. Honor us for who we are, and our communities will flourish because of it.

Want to hear more on this topic from Amanda Ryan? Check out her episode of Wholly Jewish, a podcast about our complex and nuanced Jewish identities. A new season will air this spring.

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