Once upon a time, 33 years ago, I was clearly a troubled youth. I was 14. My parents wanted to help. Could I just tell them what was going on?
In a terrible miscalculation, I told them. I came out as questioning.
My mum panicked and sought out advice. She turned to her mother’s Catholic friends who suggested a hard line approach. My mum could push me towards heterosexuality by the strategic use of homophobic harassment. Her contacts further urged her to use “tough love” and throw me out of the house.
She tended to agree with the bigots, but she balked at making me homeless. I look back and know now that it’s possible to love and hate at the same time, in the same breath, as the same gesture. I spent four years in a perfect synthesis of maternal Catholic love and hate.
Things improved dramatically after I left home. My mother eventually, mostly came around. And then, with little warning, in 2002, she died.
My dad, who had virtually no speaking part in this drama, never talked about this. I don’t even know if he knew what was going on. I’ll never know. He died in June.
According to Kiddushin 17b, there is a Rabbinic law that allows a Jewish convert to inherit from his gentile father. He splits the inheritance with his brother so that the gentile gets the religious items and the convert gets money.
We delayed my dad’s funeral for a few weeks due to travel difficulties. My brother proposed stretching this out to at least five months. Instead, I took over planning. I booked a Catholic church, a priest, an organist, a florist, and a caterer and made arrangements with the cemetery. The priest asked which readings to use. The organist asked what hymns to play. My brother did not respond to these questions, so I did. I listened to hymns on YouTube and read gospel verses, searching for something at least inoffensive.
My dad was Catholic. His friends were Catholic. I stayed close to the community norms of what he would have expected and presumably wanted.
The sages say, in the case of ‘a convert and a gentile who inherited the property of their father, a gentile: the convert can say to his gentile brother: “You take the idols and I will take the money.”’ But I took the idols and placed them for the funeral. I wrote a check to the Catholic church, whose schools educated but harmed me. Whose followers tormented me and loved me. Whose hospitals are allegedly right now gambling that they can safely but illegally deny every kind of healthcare to trans people, because they have deep pockets and trans people don’t.
I didn’t want the idols, but I couldn’t escape them while also doing right by my dad. I tried to pass them off to my brother, but didn’t. Kiddushin says, ‘Once idols have come into the convert’s possession, it is prohibited for him to exchange these objects with his brother, as he would thereby be benefiting from idolatry.’ They’re mine now, but any benefit is counterbalanced by harm. I could atone for this on Yom Kippur, but I feel I shouldn’t have to. This is the opposite of what I felt when actually doing the planning. It had to be done, so I did it.
The end of a difficult relationship brings intense focus to the difficulty. Here is a murky not-knowing. But the missed conversation about my teen years feels like a relief. It’s better not to know. There were no good answers. I took only those idols that I had to take.