Raphael, Lev. “Writing A Jewish Life: Memoirs”. Carroll & Graf, 2006
Gays always seem to have trouble in claiming both their religious and sexual identities. For many of us, we leave religion behind when we realize that we are gay because we feel that religion has no place for us. Lev Raphael tells his persona story of claiming both and his personal road to self-acceptance. Because we are gay, we often feel separated from our community and our family and sometimes even from ourselves. It takes a great deal of honesty to be able to reconcile ourselves with our basic religious beliefs but Lev Raphael shows that is can indeed be done.
With deep insight and crystal clear prose his search is explained in “Writing a Jewish Life” and although he does not give s a road map on how to do the same, it is easy to look at what he has done and adapt it to our own lives. We must rise above some of the issues of society such as race, religion and gender and find a shared humanity that will bring us together.
Raphael’s book is a memoir but it is more than that. It is a guide to self understanding. He uses his own life story so that he can better understand himself in terms of his religion, his homosexuality and his life as a writer. As the son of Holocaust survivors he had to be able to rise above the inhumanity of man in order to find the basic goodness of man and in effect, this is something that many of us do everyday. We look for the good in mankind and hope to be able to fit that good into our own lives. Raphael, as am author, is able to use his skill as a writer to overcome the sense of alienation he has felt as a gay Jewish man. He is able to create his own sense of history.
For myself, there were parts of this book that were achingly painful as I have gone through so much of what Raphael has endured. Ostracized in my own mind and feeling that my religion did not want me, I ad to find my own place where I could share the beautiful heritage of m people and my religion with my homosexuality. There is no easy fit nor is there an easy fix. It is all about self compromise. Of course some of that self compromise is dependent on how far “out” a person is. When I came to Arkansas, I had to decide if I should just be out or return to the closet until I ad built up a new circle of friends and established myself. I had already done this once before in New Orleans and then again when I moved to Israel. Coming to Arkansas, however, presented a greater challenge. I did not choose to come here; I was brought here by the National Guard after I sustained much of the wrath of one of the greatest natural disasters of all time, Hurricane Katrina. I had reconciled myself to my faith by leaving it. Now in a new place with new people, my own sense of community was with my synagogue or temple. Could I risk being out? I looked at it as not so much a risk because I was not comfortable not being myself and decided to be who and what I am and if anyone had trouble with the fact that I am gay, then that was their problem and not mine. I accepted myself and thereby expected others to accept me and they did. So many of us have wished for acceptance before we have accepted ourselves and it just doesn’t work that way. After reading Raphael’s book, I knew I had done the right thing.
Jews will always be haunted by history. There are so many issues in the Jewish past—the promise land, the chosen people, the Holocaust, the wars in modern Israel and anti-Semitism. But we must rise above the past and embrace the present in order to have a better life in the future
Just as Lev Raphael has accepted himself, so I have tried and so must all of us aspire to do, The implications of religion on sexual identity are strong but they can be dealt with and once one rationalizes who and what he is, life is that much easier.