Let there be light
Coming out is not something you really plan. Like that T-shirt about
shit, it just happens. Another thing I've learnt, coming out doesn't just
happen once, it's something I've had to do many times in many different
contexts and still continue to do. I've come out as a Jew to non-Jews; as a
feminist to sexist work colleagues; as a lesbian to myself, the woman I fell in
love with, friends, family, other lesbians, co-workers, the homophobic taxi
driver; and lastly, the big one, as a Jew to my lesbian friends.
For years I hid my Jewish identity in the lesbian scene until one night,
oops, out it popped! And then there was no going back.
This is how it happened. We were at the "big Four-O" birthday
celebration of a friend. It was the late '80's and the Goddess was big in the
Sydney leso community. Women were uncovering their lost Earth Mother
spirituality, re-creating and realising the power of ritual. After food,
drinks, funny speeches and great entertainment, someone suggested we honour our
friend's new era by sitting in a circle around a central altar of candles for
lighting. The idea was that each woman from the circle would step into the
centre, light a candle and then say something to acknowledge the achievements
of and make a wish for the birthday girl.
Now I have to say that my girlfriend and me felt a bit uncomfortable about
doing this. Each for different reasons. She wasn't into too much of any
religion having sworn off it after a backlog of aweful childhood Sunday school
associations. I was brought up with loads of very rich orthodox Jewish culture
that I'd been suppressing to be able to hang out with the Sydney leso scene.
The early 80's when I came out was a time when no one wanted to talk about
race, culture, or religion. We were building a radical separatist feminism.
Reasserting the Amazon ethos, going beyond and before patriarchy and that meant
that everything else got swept aside. We mostly wore overalls, questioned
lipstick and high heels, invented political correctness, and didn't deal with
difference. You could summarise my reaction glibly as "internalised
It wasn't mandatory to be in this ritual, it was proposed as,
only if you want to," but you know what peer pressure is like.
Anyway we weren't going to be in it and consequently, sat uncomfortably outside
the circle. There must have been about fifty or so women in the local community
hall where we had been partying. We reckoned there were about a third of us
So it began. One by one, women got up from their cross-legged position on
the perimeter and stepped into the increasingly candle-lit centre to
acknowledge our friend and light yet another. Her courage, creativity,
commitment, strength, determination in recovering from serious illness,
sensitivity, friendship. Wishing her health, happiness, fulfillment, success,
Despite our skepticism, something was happening. Momentum was gathering.
The words, the dancing flames, the hearts of women opening to this meditation
on our friend. Suddenly it struck me. The candles, these sacred flames on this
special occasion, no one had blessed them. The ritual needed this blessing. My
unease grew, lower belly stirrings getting stronger, and then it burst!
"I've got to do something about those candles, just got to!" I
whispered to my girlfriend. "O.K." she said, "but be nice, don't
do anything to upset them." "Don't worry, this won't hurt them, just
tidying up a loose end!" I said and off I went. Propelled from my chair
and drawn inextricably towards the glowing centre.
"I'm coming from outside this circle into the inner circle within in
order to bless these candles" I said not knowing where these words came
from. "When I see candles on a special occasion, as a Jewish woman, I say
a Hebrew blessing that I'd like to share with you now. Light in Judaism
represents the feminine aspect of G-d, it's called the Shekhinah. We have a
feminist version of the blessing when lighting candles. There are other Jewish
women here who might like to say this with me."
There I was kneeling in front of the mini universe of lights with women's
disbelieving faces behind. Then moving my hands in an outward circular motion
three times. Starting together in front of my eyes, spreading apart like the
forcefield pattern of a magnet. Noticing how the flames danced in unison with
the movement of my hands - away and then together. Then hands in front of my
"Brukha Yah Shekinah, Elohaynu Malkat ha'olam, asher kid shatnu
b'mitzvotayha vetzeevatnu l'hadlik ner shel Yom Tov."
"Blessed are You, Eternal, Sustainer of the Universe, Who has
sanctified us by your commandments, and inspired us to light the festival
I remember finishing off by wishing our friend a joyous future filled always
with light. Turning around to exit the circle I saw a multitude of reactions,
felt the shock of a new focus on me. I almost ran out back to my seat &
safety of my partner. What had I done? What did it mean? Suddenly it wasn't
just about blessing the candles, something we did every Friday night and on
festivals. This was public, not domestic. This was somehow very out there and
exposed, but to friends with whom I'd already shared so much, so why not this?
Apart from the two other Jewish lesbians in the group, I knew that no one
else there would have heard Hebrew before. They probably had thought it was
weird, very foreign and shocking for them to hear their seemingly Anglo friend
say this strange gobbledygook - almost like speaking in tongues? I know I
shocked some of them, in fact I totally shocked myself! As I was doing it I got
that deep goosey feeling I'd had before when it seemed like angels were
hovering close by smiling!
In fact, I noticed that most of the women couldn't even talk to me
afterwards. There was very definitely very little eye contact going on. There
were only three comments. One friend who thanked me and said how she'd gone
goosey too; another non-Anglo woman who said how great it was to have heard my
language and know that she was not the only one who was different; and one of
the other Jewelles who kissed and hugged me! My partner said, "Very nice,
We left. I was in shock, couldn't sleep properly for about a week. I had
constant flashbacks and slow motion reruns trying to process what this meant.
Totally blown my cover, exposed my difference in a really fundamental way. Was
it politically correct to have resorted to such a patriarchal religion to do
what I did, bless the candles? But I just had to, it came from somewhere very
deep and very important. This suppressed expression of my birthright as a
Jewish woman had been unleashed and realised in this space of sisterhood. Yes,
I finally understood it, I'd come out as a Jew in the lesbian community.
So here I am in a Dykehardt café about ten years later, finally
writing this story. Today is Friday and the last day of Chanukah 1999, the
"Festival of Lights", a celebration of freedom and survival, of
Jewish identity and independence. I'm also thinking about the meeting I'm going
to on Sunday with about ten or so other Jewish lesbians and gays. We're
planning the first ever Jewish float for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
2000. Apart from a very big rainbow coloured Star of David our other theme is
to dress up like dancing menorahs!
So I'm thinking, yes, lesbian and gay Jews do bring light. We challenge
both our Jewish community's homophobia and our homosexual community's racism
and xenophobia. We uncover our own internalised anti-Semitism. We speak the
unspeakable. We share our joys and pain and extend the boundaries of human
empathy just a little and hope that others can journey with us towards light.
Yes, I do believe we are twice blessed!
is one of Dayenu's founding members, and our float-design & construction