As I reflect on the role that the Jewish faith plays in my life, I would first have to reflect upon how I became a converted member of the Jewish faith. As a young child growing up in suburban Central Ohio, I was raised by a beautifully loving and conservative Christian Baptist family. Over my formative and youthful years, I would learn how important my faith was to me, my family, and those around us. God would also serve as the head of our family’s core values, and we would navigate through the journey of life.
As I grew and developed, I recognized who I was wholesomely and in the most profound ways, loving myself in the deepest of ways to put forth that love and energy into my friends, family, loved ones, and the world itself. This would make me pridefully live in my truth as a young gay man. Through the beauty of living in my reality, I began to reflect on the many important things, my religion being one of those key pillars in my life. I reflected on my Christian faith in the most appreciative and respectful ways. I began to question if this would be the continued faith I would represent myself as, knowing there were direct conflicts between their beliefs and who I was.
As I sought new religious practices, life would relocate me back to Central Ohio a few years before the pandemic. I would find my new residence directly next to a Moishe House. I often attended their events and was introduced to Rabbi Alex Braver at Tifereth Israel Temple. Rabbi Braver was a guiding example of what was the embodiment of what it meant to be a member of the Jewish faith. He is Gay, Married, and he and his husband have a beautiful son. I began to inquire about the practices and steps to become a part of the Jewish faith and would meet to express my devotion to making the Jewish faith fabric of life as it pertained to my religious practices.
Feeling convicted in the most paramount of ways, a feeling toward the Jewish faith and people, I was overwhelmed by knowing I found my spiritual home in this faith in the way I no longer had toward Christianity. Welcoming into Shul continued to bring an overwhelming sense of peace and love. It served as a piercing emotion that God had led me to exactly where I am supposed to be and where I begin to learn and grow to be as a Jewish man for the remainder of my life proceeding forward. I was home in a faith I never knew I was ever without, and it was a blessing to feel that sense of belonging and knowing.
This would begin a year-long process of attending classes, learning Hebrew (fully and completely working on it), participating in Young Jewish Columbus, and leaning into the many wonderful people at the Tifereth Israel congregation. I would grow not only to learn the commandments of the Jewish faith but would begin to incorporate them into my daily life and affirm them throughout all aspects of my life. My faith in my new teachings was further tested when our world entered a global pandemic, and we were all quarantined in our homes. At that time, I had just relocated back to Chicago and would have no proper interaction with a synagogue in the Greater Chicagoland area. I would also be unable to complete my Jewish confirmation due to the global pandemic.
I dug deep into love, compassion for what we were all experiencing and going through, and the faith that we would all get through this covid-19 crisis. During this time, it was a consistent reminder that there was no other God but God; ultimately, he was and is in control. The observation of the Sabbath brought more profound meaning, and loving your neighbor became more prosperous as we interacted with one another, limited to a screen versus face-to-face, as we were all gathered so often. It is all this that led me to Chicago Sinai and as a resident of the Gold Coast neighborhood. As the world began to reopen, I would have the blessing from my Rabbi in Columbus, Ohio; to proceed with my confirmation with Rabbi Limmer, Rabbi Greene, and Rabbi Zin and officially grow in my Jewish family here in the Greater Chicagoland area.
My Jewish journey was not easy, as it has not been for our people for many decades. Still, these experiences allow us to lean into and on one another without judgment, in love, compassion, thoughtfulness, humbleness, and support. On this holiest of holidays, Yom Kippur, it is a proud blessing to stand before you all and share my journey and my proud fondest of speaking on this beautiful day as a confirmed Jewish man. I have incorporated these principles and many others into my daily life, guiding many journeys throughout life and as a proud Jewish man. I embody what it means to be Jewish; therefore, I carry that throughout my life, most proudly and Boldy.
I look forward to continuing my Jewish journey here at Chicago Sinai and sharing in friendship with all of you. Remember to lead with light during this high holiday season; consequently, you brighten all those around you.