Charles was dark, heavyset and in his late thirties, unkempt in blue jeans and a rumpled white sweatshirt, not at all my PlayGirl fantasy. But, then, I wasn’t his. Compassionate and to the point, he looked me up and down and asked, “Are you Jewish?”
Having been born into a generation of Jews with a contemporary knowledge of the Holocaust, family memories of Eastern European pogroms and firsthand experience of anti-Semitism, I couldn’t help but react to Charles’s question with a genetic spark of paranoia. “Is it good for the Jews?” my mother would always ask in response to most world and local events. For her, it generally wasn’t.
Trying to wipe my upbringing from my mind, I nodded.
“Then you’ve got to meet Roy Salonin!” he exclaimed.
I raised my eyebrows.
“Roy Salonin. He runs a gay Jewish group. It’s called Naches.” He pronounced it na-kess. Charles scribbled a phone number on a scrap of paper and shoved it across the desk at me. “Call him,” he insisted.
Next I knew I was back on Peel Street, Charles having already faded into some recess of my past. Cars pushed past me up the steep hill. Crushes of McGill students swallowed me up and spit me out as they rushed to class. I was oblivious to it all. A gay Jewish group? A gay Jewish group? Called Naches? Talk about chutzpah! Naches is a Yiddish word that expresses the joy a parent only gets from children. For a moment, I wondered how much naches I would bring my mother when I told her I was gay. Only for a moment. With my next breath, I felt calmer and more alive than I had felt in months. A gay Jewish group!
For the next eight years, Naches formed the cornerstone of my gay experience. I attended weekly meetings and became one of the group’s organizers. I demonstrated with fellow members to protest police raids on gay bars and bathhouses. I wrote provincial and national legislators on behalf of the group to press for equal rights. I manned the Naches booth at the city’s early Gay Pride celebrations. I let my name be used in articles in the Montreal Gazette and Canadian Jewish News, then sifted through the resulting answering machine messages — all ugly or obscene.
The hateful comments didn’t matter. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I belonged and was comfortable with who I was. No one was going to take that away from me.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish