“MY BIG GAY JEWISH CONVERSION”
A Personal Journey
Simon is a gay Catholic man from the West of who has never truly felt accepted by his own church. This was a problem that Matthew, his Jewish boyfriend from North London, had never had to face. Simon considered converting to Judaism and he started with a trip to the local Rabbi where they talked about issues like circumcision, among other things. Simon wanted to get to Judaism’s homeland: Israel and so he jumped on a plane to Tel Aviv, ‘the gayest city on Earth’, where he met gay people from all walks of life, including gay soldiers in the IDF. Then he went to Jerusalem, where the story here was very different. Extreme views towards homosexuality are everywhere and Simon felt this at an uncomfortably close proximity. Then, he had to make a decision that would change his life forever.
Simon’s religion didn’t seem relevant to his lifestyle until he met his Jewish boyfriend Matthew, whose synagogue allows same-sex marriage. Simon therefore goes on a personal journey as a gay man to discover if he could convert to Judaism, and whether it was worth sacrificing his Catholic upbringing. He started by talking to a variety of people, including other gay Jewish men and a Rabbi, before going to Israel. (I find this extremely interesting in that so many gay people leave religion rather than embrace it).
As Simon delves deeper, he faces big doubts especially in Jerusalem where he is faced with more conservative and hostile views. Finally Simon visits one of the holiest sites in Christianity, where Jesus Christ was believed to have been resurrected and there he met a trainee Catholic Priest, to question his own faith. He realized that if he became Jewish, he would have to. give up the Catholic core belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God and he wonders if he could do so.
While the title “My Big Gay Jewish Conversion” (produced by BBC One) sounds playful, we see the serious question of whether there is a place in modern mainstream religion for gay people.
Simon’s local rabbi in London was happy to marry Simon and Matthew and didn’t appeared too concerned about the explicit interdiction in Jewish sacred text against gay sex (which he more or less brushed off as the spiritual equivalent of a parking infraction). The main sticking point was that Simon would have to be circumcised.
In Jerusalem, Simon was confronted by hardliners who told him to his face that his orientation was an “abomination”. One scholar described homosexuality as a lifestyle choice and recommended that Simon have his doctor prescribe pills to fix the problem. He became so upset that he decided not to convert.
The documentary fails to adequately explore the Catholic faith in which Simon had been steeped growing up in Ireland. Had he always been religious? Was his moral code tested when he realized he was gay? I wanted the film to explore these issues. A little more background would have put his theological problems into context. Simon says he still looks back on his younger years “with fondness”, but became disillusioned when he realized being gay meant he could never marry in the eyes of God. This changed when he met Jewish boyfriend Matthew and found that Judaism offered an answer Catholicism could not, but that would mean becoming Jewish and renouncing his former beliefs including that Jesus is the son of God.
Simon’s aim in making the film is to help other gay people struggling to reconcile religion and sexuality. “They are afraid to be who they are because of their religious background and afraid they may be shunned from their communities if they act on their sexual impulses.”
We see that there is much to gain from converting to Judaism, including being allowed to marry in the eyes of God. But there are sections of the community that would never accept his lifestyle and he would have to turn his back on the core religious beliefs he has known all his life. We see that these sacrifices were simply too great for Atkins to take the next step.