By Rabbi Ariella Rosen
Note: This blog post was featured as part of our #HeshbonHodesh: Tamuz monthly newsletter.
Right out of rabbinical school I moved from New York City to the Philadelphia suburbs to begin a pulpit job. The life shifts contained in that move were profound (and I don’t think we talk about them enough): from city to suburban life, from being a student to being a working professional, from an immersive peer community to an environment in which being a single 20-something without kids was far from the norm. While I cared deeply for the shul and the people I had the privilege of serving, I felt out of my element and far away from the world that had felt so nurturing and essential to my emerging adult self. (New rabbis in new communities, I FEEL you.)
I felt a need to build a life for myself outside of my job, to help anchor myself in things that felt familiar. I joined an ultimate frisbee league (my preferred non-Jewish outlet for fun). I strengthened friendships with friends in Philly who were part of my “before” life, and got to know their friends. I visited NYC on days off, or pretended I still lived an urban life, walking the streets of Center City Philadelphia for hours on end. And it helped, but it also made me realize something else.
It felt like I was living a dual life.There was nothing deceptive about it, but I didn’t feel whole at any one time. This dissonance ended up being a tremendous gift: feeling not-at-home in my new life forced me to face another way in which I didn’t feel at home with myself, thus beginning the long-coming process of recognizing that I was queer.
After years of working hard to integrate “rabbi” into my identity, I now needed to integrate this other foundational aspect of who I am and to allow all of these pieces to coexist simultaneously. I recalled the message we learned in school that we can never really not be “rabbi,” and realized this same truth applied to my being queer as well.
I wasn’t giving my community the fullness of who I was, and I wasn’t giving myself that gift either. It was time to put myself back together, more complete than before. I came out to myself, then to a few friends and family members, and slowly, slowly, to others in my life. It was hard, and it was essential.
Fast forward to May 2018 when I arrived at the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center for a retreat for early-career women of the RA. I made a conscious decision that week to show up fully: as a rabbi, as a queer woman, as a human being. While I don’t know how explicitly I named my queer identity that week, I FELT out, and that made all the difference in how present I was able to be, and how transformational the experience was. (If that was all, dayenu. But in that conscious openness, I connected deeply with another one of our RA colleagues, who is now my fiancee. #ThanksOurRA.)
I’m grateful to have been shaken so fully out of what I knew, so that I could come to better know myself. And I’m grateful to our RA for working to offer us spaces to fully integrate ourselves: rabbis, LGBTQ+ and/or any other aspects of ourselves that we’ve uncovered as we’ve moved through our lives. We absolutely have more work to do (especially in supporting our trans and non-binary siblings in living their fullness), and may our own personal uncoverings be our guide. We have momentum propelling us forward. Let’s keep it up. Happy Pride!
Rabbi Ariella Rosen (she/her) is Senior Jewish Educator at Hillel Ontario, serving students at the University of Toronto. She lives in Toronto with her partner, Rabbi Becca Walker. Rabbi Rosen was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2015.
Read the other blog posts in this series: