Balka, Christie and Rose, Andy, “Twice Blessed: On Being Lesbian or Gay and Jewish”. Beacon Books, 1989.
Before you say, “Here he goes again on his Jewish stchick”, read this review. I am going to say; once again, that you can substitute any minority group for the word “Jewish” and this book maintains its relevance as a way to understanding yourself.
Andy Rose and Christie Balka have assembled an amazing anthology of writings about and by lesbian and gay members of the Jewish religion. Here are personal testimonies, oral histories and essays that include accounts of coming out and growing up, interpretations of the Bible, a mother’s reaction and eventual understanding and acceptance of her son’s homosexuality, a lesbian rabbi’s personal feelings about having to be in the closet, a description of a commitment ceremony, an essay about parenting and so much more. It is a virtual encyclopedia of living as a double minority.
“Twice Blessed” challenges and informs and is a wonderful resource for every person and each community which works toward liberation and renewal. As much as I read, there is always a copy of this book near me as it is, for me, the answer to so many questions. The introduction by the editors alone is worth its weight in gold. Whenever I feel at odds with my religion and with God, I reread it and it always has something new to say to me.
The entries in the book are sound arguments for identification with and claiming acceptance by a religion that has always held one of its major tenets to be non-conformity. (We don’t eat pork and seafood, do we?)
Judaism is one of the world’s first organized religions and it is always in need of fresh thoughts and ideas. We, the gay and lesbian populating of the world, can provide just that. We have been raised by the very nature of Biblical law to value social justice and the equality of all men. We spearheaded the civil rights movement because we know what racial hatred can do; we have integrated into the larger society and at the same time maintained a separate identity. We, like gays and lesbians, are everywhere and like gays and lesbians we are invisible until asked to expose ourselves. Our religion is very different and many know little about us but more important than all else is that we exist. To exist as a Jew and a gay person is a double bind that does not have to be. We are all family and we want to be included. So what if we observe the Sabbath differently and we circumcise our males, so what if we pray in a strange language. This is our heritage and just as Catholics burn incense and sprinkle holy water, we observe our rituals. Like most we believe in a supreme being and we worship and adore him. Maybe we have trouble reconciling faith and sexuality; it is not much different than eating mashed potatoes with roast beef. It all mixes together it form a whole and we want to be part of the whole.
I cannot recommend this book enough. It has been my Bible since it came out and I never tired of it. Just as it answers questions, it poses others. It increases awareness of who we are and how we became who we are. Finally, it is one of those rare books that makes you think and to me that it is the true purpose of literature.