Jeff Leavell
On Becoming Jewish-ish, p.2

Moving to Los Angeles was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I moved here with my boyfriend - the Jewish one from my brother's wedding - and within three weeks broke up with him. I found a dying man while hiking in Griffith Park. He died while I sat there, holding his dog and praying over and over to God for everything to be all right. I don't know what I meant by all right. Just that everything would be okay. The man died. Eventually the paramedics arrived and I stood around holding the dog.

I quit my first LA job, which was taking out the garbage for the editors of a now-failed gay magazine - my official title was assistant editor. I then went to work as a driver for a production company, but got fired, got a bunch of other jobs and quit, until somehow I ended up working for a non-profit juvenile facility in the Valley. I started out as an administrative assistant to the director of family services and ended up being a case manager for adolescent boys who were placed in the facility for a variety of behavioral problems, gang affiliation and drug use. Most of the kids I worked with were either placed by probation or the Department of Children and Family Services.

I think I first began to truly understand who God was when I worked with those kids at the juvenile facility. It wasn't that I saw any huge miracles occur; in reality most of the kids failed by the program's standards. They usually went back to the same life that had brought them in. Many of them ran away from the facility, got high, stole, lied, all the things we drug addicts do. But I did learn that regardless of all their failings and "wrongdoings" I loved them.

Around June of 2003, I got rid of my TV, and became obsessed with a boy across the street who would stand in his window and watch me. And I started reading the Bible -- the New Testament, because I thought as a writer I should know it.

The more I read the Bible, the more I thought I was being watched, and not just by the cute boy across the street. I decided I should start with the Old Testament instead of jumping ahead. I was reading from the New International Version ("Words of Christ in Red Letters"). But I couldn't reconcile the God of the Bible with the God I knew in my heart, so I focused on the paranormal parts. I spent hours pondering Genesis chapter 6 because I wanted to know who the "sons of God" were and who the Nephilim were. Anything that talked about Angels and visitations obsessed me. And I started reading Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil.

Through June and July my obsessions with being watched grew. I started doing little "shows" for the guy across the street. I was also cruising the parks a lot. Here is a quote from my journal on July 15th: "Today has been all about dick! I fucked an older latino with a nice fat dick, then this 23 year old named E who was hot and wants to meet again, then I hooked up with this kid named Alex, he said he was twenty, we sucked each other off for a few moments then he moved on. M wants to come over and cuddle tonight. I'm just not in that space. Maybe it's the heat but I've been so distracted lately - I can't even write. All I want to do is go to Echo Park and cruise the hills and bushes. I'm in high predatory mode. I want to wake up tomorrow and spend all day at the park. It's an obsession. Is it the heat or addiction? I've called the local Chabad and I have an appointment with the Rabbi. We're meeting at Starbucks. I'm going to tell him I'm gay. I think it's important he know that right away. I'm also not going to read the Bible anymore. It's freaking me out."

In about six weeks my whole focus changed. I'm not going to say that I went to meet the Rabbi and never cruised a park again, cause that would be a lie, but, in between all my obsessions, I had found something new, and much of my time was spent trying to reconcile the God I was now learning about and the God I had always known. August 31st is my next real entry. It reads, "I'm going to Chabad to do Tefillin with the Rabbi. I think that God is evolving. Like through his relationship to us he has evolved, growing, and maybe that is why he needed to have us. I mean, why else would we be? We exist so that he can exist and grow. We all grow and learn through this relationship."

I think it's important to tell you about my first meeting with the Rabbi from the local Chabad. We met at Starbucks in Los Feliz. I was nervous. I didn't know what to wear so I went with LA casual: khaki shorts, a light blue T and sandals. I knew immediately who he was when he walked in. He stood out, dressed all in black with his black hat and big beard, the tzizis hanging from his shirt. He smiled at me right away. We talked for about an hour. I wanted to know about sin. I wanted to know about evil and about hell. He wanted to talk about other things, easier things, explained to me that sin and evil, these weren't things he was so concerned with. He told me that for each man's sins, another's mitzvahs would be there as a counterbalance. He never really told me about hell or evil.

I told him I was gay. He was very good at not reacting, just smiling, the face of total acceptance, and in his way, as much as he was capable, he was totally accepting. I have no doubts about that. He said that in this neighborhood I shouldn't think I am the only gay person he has come to meet. He told me that he has shown the movie Trembling Before G-d at Chabad and held discussions on it. I was glad to hear it, but what about sin? Did he believe it was a sin? Would I go to hell for it? He told me that he believed that God must love me so much to give me such a big struggle to overcome. That he believed that God must know how strong I am to be able to handle this being gay. He told me that he could not judge me negatively, only favorably with love and that no Jew should ever judge another Jew any other way. At the time, that was good enough for me.

The rabbi told me that if his son were gay he would believe that it was something that his son could overcome, and he would do everything in his power to help him overcome it. I had a hard time with that, but at the time was able to overlook it, to see it as a kind of acceptance. I did say a little prayer that his son wouldn't be gay.

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Image: Rev. Dennis McNally, New Adam

June 2004

Jeff Leavell

How I Finally Learned to Accept Christ in my Heart
Jay Michaelson

Playing Eve
Hila Ratzabi

Hyatt Regency Dead Sea Resort
Rowena Silver

Josh Breaks his Finger
Josh Ring

Mean to Girls
Dan Friedman

Our 450 Back Pages

David Stromberg

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From previous issues:

The Ritual of Family Photography
Amy Datsko

Wrestling with Steve Greenberg
Jay Michaelson

Tom Slattery