I recently read an article written by Jay Michaelson entitled "Coming Out: It's the Jewish Thing to Do at Chanukah." Mr. Michaelson is Jewish and gay. He tells us that Chanukah is a "coming out" holiday - both in its origins and its contemporary forms. He goes on to talk about being open and honest with oneself and one's values, and demanding that difference be accommodated.
I can see some similarities with being gay and Jewish, especially at this time of the year. I grew up in New York City, which has the largest Jewish population in the world. Until I was 19 years old, I honestly thought that the Jews were the majority of people in the world. It wasn't until I left New York to move to a small college town in Ohio that I learned otherwise.
I did not specifically hide my Jewishness, but I did not know how and when to express it. Now, living in Indiana, most people assume I am Christian. I am bombarded with Merry Christmas greetings. I am asked if I have bought all my Christmas presents. How do I respond? Do I mumble yes, or do I say "I don't celebrate Christmas?"
Just as most people think I am Christian, most of them also assume my son is straight. When asked if he is married and I say no, they say that they're sure that he'll meet a nice girl soon.
In the past few years, I have started to fight back. The last time someone wished me Merry Christmas, I told them I do not celebrate Christmas. The last time someone asked me if my son was married, I said he's gay and he's not allowed to get married. These may not seem like the most gracious of replies, but they are honest answers.
As I light the candles on my menorah, I think about how the Maccabees fought against the status quo - how they were determined to be true to themselves and their religion. Chanukah was the first battle for religious freedom. Then I think of the GLBT community and how they are fighting for their freedom and their rights. The more things change, the more they stay the same. And as I am learning that it's okay to be who I am, we have to urge GLBT people to come out and be true to themselves. As Jay Michaelson goes on to say in his article: "To celebrate Hanukkah today is thus a form of coming out: admitting difference, recognizing that one is not the same as everyone else and, hopefully, celebrating the unique gifts that being different offers."