“Judaism can uplift queerness:” Q&A with Justice Fellowship alum Emily Piff

Published Jun 28, 2021

Emily Piff (she/her) lives in Chicago, IL, where she participated in the Avodah Justice Fellowship in 2019-2020. Emily attended college in Atlanta, GA at Agnes Scott College. She now works as a Data Analyst for the Chicago Transit Authority. Emily is passionate about the amazing city of Chicago, where she likes to read and go to the library, organize for social change within her community, and take walks in the park. 

What was the Justice Fellowship like?

I found out about the fellowship from my friend Rose Silverman who participated the year before me. I organize at JCUA (Jewish Council on Urban Affairs) with many Avodah Alums and have heard great things about this fellowship, which excited me and really pushed me to apply.

It was a really awesome experience — I learned a lot and made really great relationships. I gained a new perspective on the Jewish world and the world as a whole. I have a Jewish social justice lens through which to see the world and I’ve been using it since. 

The most meaningful thing I took away from the fellowship is that I am supported by my Jewish ancestors and faith. There are many things that I see wrong in our society, and it was inspiring to see that Jewish people have been fighting against these wrongs for centuries. Judaism supports LGBT+ people, supports community care, and pushes us to find ways to live without harming other people. 

How does your queer identity intersect with your Jewishness?

Growing up in Alabama, I felt obligated to hide my queerness, which paralleled the way I felt about my Judaism. I felt like I shouldn’t talk about it because of how dominant Christianity was in the South. Those were two things that made me different, but I grew to be proud of them. 

How did you learn to be proud of your identity?

I left Alabama and went to college in Georgia, at Agnes Scott College. Going to a women’s college, being LGBTQ+ was the norm. This gave me the comfort to explore my gender and sexuality in a way that was exciting rather than scary. Because it was a different environment, I was able to learn and experience what it meant to be a proud Jewish person and a proud gay person. It’s so important to have spaces like that. 

I also had many people support my growth, especially Kristian Contreras, who worked for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Agnes Scott College. She was a mentor and friend who supported me personally and in my roles as President of Hillel and Student Representative on the Scottie Safe Zone Committee for LGBTQ+ students. Kristian made a big impact on my life by helping me grow into the queer Jewish person that I am today, and I am so grateful to know her.

Are you involved in queer and/or Jewish community now? 

When I moved to Chicago, I tried to get really involved in the Jewish and queer communities, including where those intersect. I am involved with the Silverstein Base Hillel, where I can learn about the intersections, difficulties and joys of being queer and Jewish. I also attend different events with Keshet. 

What advice do you have for younger, queer Jews?

I felt I had to wait to live my life, but things are changing rapidly for the better. I would tell them to find spaces where they feel they belong. Young people should look for people that make them feel their best. 

What sort of impact do you want to make?

Something that’s been awesome about Avodah is that I have made so many queer Jewish friends. It taught me that there’s so many different types of Jewish people. The fact that Judaism can uplift queerness — I can’t imagine how many lives that saves. I want to carry that forward.

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