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Yet as he began living an active life in the gay community in New York City, his Jewish identity took a back seat. In February 2008 he stopped wearing tefillin. On that day, he literally marked his departure from Orthodox Judaism with a tattoo on the spot on his arm where he used to wrap the black straps. His tattoo artist, an Israeli named Yoni Zilber, inked “besiyata dishmaya” in Aramaic. Littman was required to write that notation, which means “with the help of heavens,” on every paper he turned in at yeshiva.
“You’re Jewish, you’re not allowed to have a tattoo,” people would tell him.
“Well, I’m not allowed to be gay, either,” he’d respond.
Today, Littman said, “I feel like I freelance in Orthodox Judaism.” He keeps kosher and observes the Sabbath, alternating his attendance at Orthodox and gay synagogues. He spends the holidays with his parents or with his siblings and their children, who, he said, have come to accept him.
‘It’s a way to celebrate,” Brian Delshad said of Jewbilee, He’bro’s Christmas Eve celebration. “It’s a night where typically we have nowhere to go. As Jayson says, forget ordering the Chinese food tonight, just come out to this!”
Delshad, 27, works in real estate development and was raised in the Conservative tradition. His parents used to warn him against showing his Judaism too strongly, for fear of the social consequences they experienced being Persian Jews in a largely Muslim culture. For Delshad, hiding his Jewish identity was akin to hiding the fact that he was gay, which he did until he came out at age 19. “Now it’s like, oh wait, both these two things — I mean, maybe it’s because we’re in New York City, I don’t know — but they’re both turning out to be pluses. There’s community involved behind being Jewish, there’s community involved behind being gay… it’s seen as a good thing. I feel very lucky in my adult life to have experienced that,” he said. “I constantly will come across guys who are like: ‘Oh, my God, you’re Jewish. That’s awesome. You guys make good husbands.’” Delshad laughingly calls these men “bagel chasers,” a term coined by Littman.
Like Littman, Delshad found that coming out pushed his Jewish identity to the background for a while. After he came out, he focused on forming an identity and on finding a place in New York City’s gay community. “If I didn’t have such a strong Conservative and yeshiva background, I might have forgotten [my Jewish roots]” he said. “So Jayson’s there to remind you, ‘Hey, you can do both!’ While you’re trying to figure yourself out, why don’t you come over to a He’bro party? Discover it all at one time, you know?”