'Growing up Jewish taught me to question everything - including my sexuality'

2016-02-05
Currently, I’m in rehearsal for a one-man show called Run at the Vault Festival. It’s about a Jewish teenager called Yonni who runs away from home to furtively meet his boyfriend. And the story goes, when the director and writer put their heads together to think about casting, a number of people came back to them and suggested me. Of course I was flattered, but I also thought, no prizes for guessing how they came to that conclusion: a gay Jew to play a gay Jew. But if my family, with its abundance of queer relatives, is anything to go by - it might be more of a compliment than I first thought. What I love about RUN is that it depicts a same-sex relationship that isn’t laden with the struggle of generations or torn apart by religion. In fact it’s a love-story that celebrates queer love. Yonni feels Jewish and gay in equal parts and in this play those two things aren’t at odds with one another. And what I think Stephen Laughton (a gay Jewish man himself) does so successfully is suggest that they actually go hand in hand. Yonni starts to fall in love with Adam in part by conceiving him as his own angel Gabriel. I’m not a practising Jew. But I grew up in a Northwest London Jewish community so I’m very culturally Jewish. People often ask what that means and I respond: 'I answer a question with another question'. Even from a religious perspective, it’s instilled in you from a very early age. Each Passover, the youngest in the family is asked to recite ‘The Four Questions’ interrogating the significance of all the symbols and customs of the festival. And, for me, therein lies the reason why being Jewish and being queer go so well together. It’s a tradition of dissecting, analysing and questioning. People often talk about Jewish neuroses but that’s really just a symptom of never taking anything at surface value. In a culture when you aren’t asked to call your mother but interrogated with “why wouldn’t you call your mother?” it makes total sense to me that Jews are inherently queer. Now, before I get the religious fanatics breaking down my door, I should say that I’m a firm believer – nay, an evangelical believer – in the Kinsey scale and fluid sexuality. So I’m not saying that Jewish people are more enlightened, or biologically gay. I’m just saying that growing up in a culture where you are constantly encouraged to question, it’s not a huge leap for most (secular) Jews to ask: “why wouldn’t I sleep with someone of the same sex?” And then maybe to try… and then… well, we all know how that one ends. Words: Tom Ross-Williams RUN plays at the Vault Festival 10-14 February at 7.45 (& Sat Matinee at 4.15) for tickets please visit: vaultfestival.com.  Follow Tom on Twitter @tomrosswilliams or visit tomrosswilliams.com. More stories: London's biggest gay sauna set to be demolished Finally, the gay Disney Prince love story we always wanted is here