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I found my fit at JUF, and no one is more surprised than me

Local young adult reconnects to Judaism through YLD Pride

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(photo credit: Alden Voelker)
I grew up in Mendota Heights, Minnesota, among neatly manicured lawns and a thriving Jewish community where it was easy to take my Jewishness for granted. I was born into a proudly Jewish family, but wore it like an undersized t-shirt. Perhaps being gay filled so much emotional space that I never thought I would be immersed in a Jewish world. 

Looking back, in Jewish spaces, I always felt like an outsider. I wasn't part of a "Jew crew" at school, I didn't enjoy a moment of Hebrew school, I didn't go to Jewish summer camp, and every step of the way, I felt apart from the world that was handed to me. 

Brewing underneath was my being gay. At 17, I decided it was time for the first "coming out." Now, liberated from a pointless secret, I had a whole new world to explore. New rules, new ideas, new history; it was all waiting for me. I grew into these gay spaces filled with a history of repression, perseverance, joy, and a style all of its own-sound familiar? 

In college at Boston University, I was busy exploring living on my own in a new city as a newly-minted Gay Young Man. My Jewish life was cast aside, the doors to Hillel left untouched, while I was digging into a world I felt in control of. I was born a Jew; Hebrew school was the base of my childhood, and my Bar Mitzvah framed my adolescence, but I got to hold the reins of my adult, gay life. Eventually, the dog caught his tail. 

As a young adult in Chicago, I was comfortable in my gayness, comfortable in my employment, comfortable in my social life. Maybe it was time to try on that old t-shirt again? I wanted to find something that was as gay as it was Jewish. Queer Jews are a niche of a niche, but luckily, a city as large as Chicago stacks the deck. That's how I found YLD Pride at JUF. 

My first YLD Pride event was nerve-wracking. I saw on Facebook that they were hosting a Pride Shabbat dinner at the Lincoln Park Base Hillel with Rabbi Megan GoldMarche, and I showed up completely solo. Feeling the pressure under my finger from pressing the gate buzzer was just enough to force second thoughts, but I got buzzed in, walked up, and pushed open the door. I told the people (wo)manning the door it was my first event, and they immediately took me under their wing. 

Soon, I couldn't remember why I had been so concerned? I was ushered from group to group, introduced to people, and placed at a table so the dreaded "new lunch room" table search didn't have to take place. Surrounded by other queer Jews, I realized that I could combine these two parts of myself to the betterment of them both, and I knew I wanted to stay involved. 

I decided to come back for more events-and boy, did I. Through YLD Pride, I've been able to form a whole world of Jews from across the LGBTQ spectrum, all united by the double bond of our queer stories and Jewish stories, vodka sodas and Manischewitz delightfully mixing into a 21st century cocktail. 

Looking ahead into my future, seeing all of the Pride-focused JUF groups and offerings coming down the pipeline, I can see that the undersized t-shirt just needed a bit of stretching out-and it'll keep growing with me, too.

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