Unapologetic: Gay, Jewish and Radically Rabbinical
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because two things can be true at once.
By Viviane Feldman
Adi Alouf never thought twice about how the rabbis in her community looked while growing up in San Francisco.
“I definitely grew up in an environment that was hyperliberal and accepting, and rabbis looked all different types of ways,” she says. “I knew more lesbian rabbis growing up than, like, straight male rabbis.”
Alouf comes across as easygoing and self-assured. She was known among her Jewish friends as “the Jew,” and her passion for understanding her religion in an academic way has always made her stand out among her peers. Spending summers in Israel with her family helped her feel connected to her religion in a deeper way.
I really hope that people draw on religion and religious tradition to combat religious hate with religious love.
She describes her relationship to Judaism as “familial, cultural and kind of ethnic,” and to her it didn’t seem like a choice — it was always a part of her. Alouf’s most formative experience with Judaism was her bat mitzvah, the coming-of-age ceremony for Jewish girls. She “loved every minute of it” and wondered how to continue being onstage and leading the community. Her mom told her that being a rabbi was a real possibility for her.
Alouf didn’t come out until her freshman year of college. Much of her childhood and teenage years were filled with desire for a boyfriend. “I thought I, like, crushed on boys all the time,” she says with a smile. “I would wish for boyfriends and world peace. You know, like, if I had a wish.”
As Alouf grew into her identity, she knew that her sexuality didn’t change or diminish her ability to analyze religious texts or practice Judaism. “I’ve never really felt like I needed to shift one identity to make room for the other,” she says.
The most surprising reaction to her coming out was from her Israeli grandfather. “My grandpa, when he found out, he’s kind of this old-school Israeli, was not into it,” she says. “But then, the next time I saw him, he was like, ‘You know, I can’t wait to dance at your wedding no matter who you’re marrying.’”
Alouf believes that LGBTQ Jews and Jews with intersectional identities who face more complications being themselves can help the broader Jewish community in the fight for social justice. She sees many solutions to the world’s problems within religious teachings and practices.
“I really hope that people draw on religion and religious tradition to combat religious hate with religious love,” she says. “And to not see religious community as an archaic traditional thing of the past, but rather as the precise thing that’s going to launch us into a better future.”
Alouf is now teaching Jewish studies at a middle school and leading the school’s efforts in becoming LGBTQ-safe while figuring out how to be herself among her students and co-workers.