What Cannot be Defined: This Pride, Reflecting on the Queerness of Jewish Life
For Albert Closas Oliveras, Jewish life has to be exciting, beautiful, and queer. This Pride Month, they're reflecting on the power of diverse Jewish gatherings like JDC's Junction Annual.
By Albert Closas Oliveras - Global Community Manager; Moishe House Barcelona | June 21, 2023
Jewish life contains multitudes –– at least, that’s how Albert Closas Oliveras sees it. While attending the Junction Annual in Berlin this past February –– a yearly conference organized by Junction, the JDC pan-European initiative that empowers young Jews to take part in European Jewish life –– Oliveras saw that young Jews weren’t stuck in the past; they were embracing their diversity to build a vibrant Jewish future. This Pride Month, Closas reflects on this powerful experience, and what it means to approach Jewish life from a queer perspective.
My Jewishness is like most people’s Jewishness: an evolving journey. I proudly identify as a queer Jew, an observant Jew, a progressive Jew, and a diasporic Jew.
And after so many years, so many decades, and so many centuries, it feels like we’re at a point where we’re defining “Jewishness” for ourselves — and to me, that’s exciting.
We are a diverse community. If we don’t acknowledge this fact, we’re just pretending that our realities do not exist, that we don’t exist, that our Jewish siblings don’t exist. So, “diversity” means affirming that our Jewish community is multifaceted, and that my own Jewish identities are many. I don’t even know them all, and I don’t know how they will evolve.
With every year, my understanding of queerness, and of my own queerness, changes. I love that queerness means –– at this point of my life –– what cannot be defined. I love my queerness because it’s an integral part of my identity and how I interact with the world. I cannot separate my queerness from my daily life, and I choose to see this as a blessing.
Jewish life also cannot be defined –– it’s too rich and complex for that. This was confirmed for me when I attended the Junction Annual in Berlin in February. The last time I’d attended the Junction Annual was in 2019. And after that, I wanted more. I said, “I can’t wait to come back next year.”
But that never happened. Instead, the pandemic happened.
That’s why I was excited for this year’s Junction Annual. After three years of pandemic, it felt so right to be in person again. We missed it. I missed it.
I saw for myself the richness of European Jewish life –– which, in its diversity, escaped definition. And it was fitting that this year’s gathering was all about “diverse identities.” I cherish the connections I made with the other young Jews, those who came from so many different countries. Though their experiences and perspectives were so different from my own, I found it nourishing to learn from them, and share my own perspective, too.
Junction put me in conversation with the rest of European Jewry, and I brought insights from these conversations back to Barcelona, my home. I saw that, though we might have different identities, we all had similar dreams and struggles.
Like the Junction Annual, I think that Pride Month needs to be a time of dialogue. Ultimately, queer people are queer people all year long. But Pride Month is also about cis and straight people. It’s a time for them to educate themselves, to have conversations with themselves and their communities, to unlearn in order to learn again. From a Jewish perspective, I would love to see Pride month used as a time of tikkun (repair) for those who are not LGBTQIA+.
We also need a dialogue across time. We have to understand that LGBTQIA+ Jews have existed forever: They’ve always been an integral part of our Jewish community, and still are.
We see this when we study our tradition. I love studying Talmud and Torah. I love struggling, battling with the texts. I love finding myself in the text, studying it with others, and hearing how they understand a discussion or parashah. I love being a part of a centuries-old conversation that is rich in complexity and debate. I love studying sources that future generations will study, knowing they’ll engage them in ways both similar and different.
I always bring my own Torah to the text. I bring my whole self, and look for my experience, my values. If we believe that LGBTQIA+ Jews are relevant to our communities, then we need to ask how we can make them a priority: How do we create a dialogue between LGBTQIA+ life and Jewish life and history?
At work, I’m lucky that I get to create this dialogue. I work at Moishe House –– a proud JDC partner and a global program that provides space for over 70,000 young adults to create meaningful, welcoming communities for themselves and their peers.
We have to understand that LGBTQIA+ Jews have existed forever: They’ve always been an integral part of our Jewish community, and still are.
At Moishe House, I ensure that our residents can bring as much of themselves as they want to Jewish life. My favorite part of this work is organizing retreats and conferences, where I help create spaces for celebrating the diversity of our participants. I was fortunate to join our first-ever Queer Retreat, held in the U.S., where our participants got to inhabit a space that embraced and affirmed their intersectional identities.
I feel equipped to do this work not only because of Junction, but because of all of the other pan-European Jewish programs I’ve participated in. They’re where I see the future of Jewish life here in Europe.
And what does this future look like? Better Jewish life means joyous Jewish life. It means that no matter how you choose to identify, you have the space to navigate your Jewish identity. It means that you’re welcomed, not judged –– that you aren’t seen as “other.”
And it has to be exciting. It has to be beautiful. It has to be safe, hopeful, and queer –– a place where we build the Jewish future we both want and deserve.
Albert Closas Oliveras (they/he) lives in Barcelona, where they grew up. They currently work at Moishe House as Global Community Manager, mentoring young adults to build the Jewish communities they want to see, all over the world. Albert is an educator and is passionate about conversations on sexual and gender diversity, consent, intentional community building and Judaism.