What Being a Queer Jew Means to Me

By: Hayley Goldberg  |  May 10, 2024

By Hayley Goldberg

I almost refused to apply to YU. I almost did not accept admission here. I was not very keen on the idea of coming to YU after seminary. Maybe it was because I went to public school my whole life and could not see myself at a religious, Jewish institution. Perhaps it was the greater cost of being an out-of-towner at YU. Yet, the real answer was simple: when I heard of YU I knew one thing about the school; they were not allowing a club for the LGBTQ+ students. At other schools, I would be harassed for being Jewish, at YU I would be harassed for being queer. There were no safe options to be both. 

My experience being a queer Jew has been a wild roller coaster ride. I have always known that I am Jewish. I may not have always practiced the mitzvot of the Torah, but I was always proud to be Jewish. From a young age, I went to Hebrew school on Sundays and learned the aleph-bet. I learned to read prayers, not to understand them. I knew how to read my Torah portion, but I could not tell you what the story was about. I learned that Shabbat was this holiday that only the super religious Jews kept, a day in which they were not allowed to use their phones. I grew up knowing that I came from a long line of people who went through the worst experiences a person could imagine and still came out stronger in the end. I had enough knowledge of Judaism to understand that I needed to pass it on to my future children one day, G-d willing. After years of feeling such a strong pull towards my Jewish heritage and religion, I finally asked all the questions I was afraid of asking. This led me on my journey to seminary and a religious lifestyle. However, before I realized that I wanted to be a religious Jew, I realized that I was queer. 

Queer can have a negative connotation to it when used in a negative context. On the other hand, it can have a beautiful meaning with so much power embedded within it. To me, queer means being myself authentically. I have never liked to use specific labels for myself within the LGBTQ+ community because it makes me feel trapped within confines that I cannot make my own. In order to combat this feeling of being stuck, I use the term queer as my own identity. When that term becomes too ambiguous for others to understand, I often translate it to bisexual: having attraction towards both men and women. I get questions as to how I knew this about myself, but it was the same way that anyone else may figure out that they have a crush on someone. Butterflies were not reserved only for the opposite gender. I was lucky enough to grow up in an accepting community and family where no one was turned away for having a crush on someone of the same gender. Even so, it was not easy to admit these feelings to those around me. In middle school, I joined my school’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) “as an ally.” In high school, I was out and proud to be the president of the newly renamed GSA (Gender Sexualities Alliance). Over the course of a few years, I learned an immense amount of information about one’s gender and sexuality that I began to feel I could sit comfortably within my own. I no longer felt as if I was hiding from those around me out of fear of being made fun of. I could confidently say that I was queer. After all of this internal searching, how was I supposed to decide to go to a school that would shut me down for being my true, authentic self? 

It took some convincing from friends, but I reluctantly applied to YU. I felt as if my Jewish journey was not yet complete and I needed to put half of myself on the back burner in order to understand the other half. I do not regret that decision. Coming to YU has been one of the biggest blessings that has ever been handed to me. During my first day on campus, I met another queer student. Something as simple as a laptop sticker was enough to clue me in. This friendship led me right to the YU Pride Alliance (YUPA). I could hardly believe that all this time there was a community, albeit forced underground, for people like me. Had I not met the right person with the right sticker on their computer, who knows if I would have found out about YUPA. With the existence of this club, I no longer felt divided. I no longer had to hide my Jewish identity from my queer identity or vice versa. I quickly became invested in the club and knew that I wanted to share all it had to offer with everyone I could possibly reach. Two distinct, and often controversial, identities within myself are now able to join harmoniously because of a club that tries so hard to exist. It is there for the students who want to meet people like them. It exists to educate others on LGBTQ+ topics. It brings joy and laughter to the community within YU. It celebrates people who are often harassed or bullied. It allows a safe space for asking questions. It brings allies into the community to stand with us. It creates unity, and most of all, it creates a home. 

I almost refused to apply to YU, but I am so glad that I never let my Jewish identity and queer identity collide. Without the existence of YUPA, so many students would not feel safe to be on campus, myself included. I am Jewish and queer. No one can separate those two parts of me.