The entire Jewish community was shocked to witness a spike in antisemitic vandalism in November, with incidents reported in Montreal and Toronto, and at three synagogues and a Jewish community centre, as well as at non-Jewish sites, in our nation’s capital.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) worked closely with targeted institutions and local police to ensure effective measures were taken to protect the community in Ottawa, and the police arrested a suspect who now faces serious criminal charges.
While these ugly crimes remind us that antisemitism – the world’s oldest hatred – still exists, solidarity demonstrated by many proves we are not alone in this battle. Countless leaders, including the prime minister, various members of Parliament, the mayor of Ottawa, police officials, the United Way, and leaders in the Christian, Sikh and Muslim communities, have denounced these incidents. In so doing, they have reminded us of the value of our efforts to build bridges with non-Jewish leaders and communities. Our voices are stronger when united in common cause. From the many communities whose interests, values, and concerns we share, I highlight just three recent examples of CIJA partnerships making an impact.
In October, CIJA was honored to meet with His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. Numbering some 10 to 20 million globally, Ahmadis face persecution in much of the Muslim world. In Pakistan, they are denounced as “non-Muslim,” face systemic discrimination and are the target of harassment and terrorist attacks.
CIJA has built a relationship with the Ahmadiyya community of Canada, with whom we have established dialogue and joined in calling on the Canadian government to prioritize religious freedom abroad. The caliph (a non-political position) recently commented on the thriving Ahmadi community near Haifa and underscored his community’s belief in the need to respect all faiths. Canadian Ahmadiyya leaders have shared both their appreciation for Israel as the freest country in the Middle East and their opposition to boycotts targeting the Jewish state.
CIJA continues to enjoy warm friendships with several major Christian organizations, including the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and various mainstream Protestant denominations.
Last November, CIJA and the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus launched a partnership agreement with CCCB, including a shared commitment to join forces in countering antisemitism and hatred in all its forms. We’ve since worked with CCCB on issues as diverse as Holocaust commemoration, the persecution of Middle East Christians and – in a unique Jewish-Catholic-Evangelical-Muslim partnership – a campaign calling for a national, well-funded palliative care strategy. This latter issue is especially crucial given Canada’s aging population and evidence that far too many patients cannot access high-quality end-of-life care.
We have also mobilized the support of various Christian groups and others, including Sikhs and Muslims, in our effort to strengthen Canada’s hate crime laws. Currently, vandalism targeting places of worship is automatically treated as a hate crime with serious penalties, a designation not applied to incidents involving community centres and schools associated with an identifiable group. Working with our interfaith partners, we are urging MPs to support Bill C-305 to close this loophole in the Criminal Code.
And, while Canadian society has witnessed a generational shift regarding LGBTQ rights, many in this community continue to face bigotry. CIJA is proud to be part of the four-member executive committee overseeing Trans Equality Canada, a coalition leading the advocacy efforts for Bill C-16, which extends hate crime and anti-discrimination protections to the transgender community. This historic legislation passed the House of Commons in November and is now with the Senate.
CIJA’s role in this campaign is unique. We’re the only ethnic or religious community organization at the forefront of what is, arguably, the most important issue concerning the Canadian LGBTQ community today: the rights of transgender Canadians.
This work mirrors the efforts of local CIJA offices and grassroots Jewish groups across Canada building ties with their respective LGBTQ organizations and Pride festivals. For their work in Montreal, our team received an award from the LGBT Chamber of Commerce of Quebec.
These relationships don’t just advance human rights. They help ensure we have allies within the LGBTQ community when anti-Zionists attempt to import their bigoted agenda into Pride, just as, in October, Halifax Pride voted down a resolution to ban any mention of Israel from its events.
This is just a sample of the partnership work we’re doing to build a better society for the Jewish community and all Canadians. But it’s a work in progress, and there are countless communities with whom we will seek opportunities to strengthen ties through issues of common cause. If you have suggestions or would like to get involved, connect with us at [email protected].
Shimon Koffler Fogelis chief executive officer of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
Citing both changing social practice and traditional Jewish values, the international association of Conservative rabbis passed a resolution on May 22 calling on Jewish institutions and government agencies to embrace the full equality of transgendered people.
The Rabbinical Assembly’s Resolution Affirming the Rights of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People begins, “Whereas our Torah asserts that all humanity is created b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s divine image….” It discusses historical evidence of “non-binary gender expression” in Jewish texts dating back to the third-century Mishnah. It calls on synagogues, camps, schools and other institutions affiliated with the Conservative movement to meet the needs of transgender people and to use the names and pronouns that people prefer. It also encourages Conservative institutions to advocate for national and local policies on behalf of transgender people. In light of its passing, the Jewish Independent spoke with several local rabbis from across denominations about the resolution and about transgender inclusivity in their communities.
“The statement feels comprehensive and as positive and embracing as it should be,” said Rabbi Hannah Dresner of Or Shalom, which is part of the Jewish Renewal movement. “We need always to try to get to the heart of what the halachah (Jewish law) and the mitzvot are trying to do for us. The way they were concretized in another century does not limit them for all time. Halachah is a process. I think it is beautiful when any part of the community pulls up a chair at table and says we are participating in the ongoing evolution of halachah. This is at the heart of what it means to continually create Torah, to turn Torah over and over, to continually participate in the exchange between the Holy One and human beings, which is God giving the written Torah and our response by taking it in and answering in the voice of our humanness. This is at the heart of what the halachic process is and should be in any sphere.”
LGBTQ people are fully welcomed at Or Shalom, and people are called to the Torah by their preferred gender identification. Or Shalom is currently working on infrastructural and ritual changes to be more explicitly and fully inclusive of LGBTQ people in all spheres. “There are alternatives that are easy and sweet,” said Dresner. “We just have to do our work.”
When asked what he thought of the Conservative resolution, Rabbi Dan Moscovitz of Temple Sholom, a Reform congregation, replied with typical humor: “Great, welcome to the party.” He said he views the resolution as a return to the deep values of the tradition, not a departure. “This is at the core of who we are commanded to be as human beings – to find the tzelem Elohim (image of God) inside of each individual and to not be confused or distracted by outside appearances, generalizations or labels,” he said.
The resolution is largely the same as that passed by the Reform movement in November 2015. As early as 1965, the Women of Reform Judaism called for the decriminalization of homosexuality. In 1977, Reform’s Central Conference of American Rabbis adopted a resolution calling for legislation decriminalizing homosexual acts between consenting adults, and an end to discrimination against gays and lesbians. In the late 1980s, the primary seminary of the Reform movement, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, changed its admission requirements to allow openly gay and lesbian people to join the student body. In 1990, gay and lesbian rabbis were officially affirmed and, in 1996, so were same-sex civil unions. In 2000, a resolution followed fully affirming sanctified Jewish unions for same-sex couples and, in 2003, there was a resolution affirming the full acceptance of trans- and bisexual people, a stance confirmed and elaborated in the 2015 resolution.
“We have trans members, both adults and children, who we embrace and welcome fully,” said Moscovitz. “We call up to the Torah by preferred gender and gender-neutral pronouns which are present on our gabai [person who calls people to the Torah] sheet…. All bathrooms are multi-gendered or non-gendered.”
Moskovitz cited the case of a bar mitzvah boy who now identifies as a female and was offered a mikvah ritual as a transitional symbol, as well as a new Hebrew name and the reissue of the bar mitzvah certificate as a bat mitzvah.
The Conservative movement has been slower to change its position on LGBTQ sexuality than the Reform. In 1990, the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS), which sets halachic policy for the movement, stated their desire to “work for full and equal civil rights for gays and lesbians in our national life.” Nevertheless, the CJLS maintained a ban on homosexual conduct, the ordination of homosexuals as rabbis and same-sex marriage unions until 2006, when LGBTQ people were first admitted for rabbinical ordination; in 2012, the Israeli Masorti (Conservative) movement followed suit. In 2012, the CJLS allowed same-sex marriages, with the U.K. Masorti movement following in 2014. The 2016 resolution is a milestone for the Conservative movement.
Rabbi Jonathan Infeld of Congregation Beth Israel, which is part of the Conservative movement, applauds the new document. “Kevod ha’ briyot [the dignity of all created beings, cited in the CJLS resolution] is very important…. For me, the over-arching concept of respecting all human beings and making them feel welcome, bringing them into the Jewish community is vitally important and is the keystone of the resolution.”
Infeld said the resolution is an expression of foundational Jewish values. “It is critically important to recognize the humanity and holiness of every person and that’s the essence of the resolution,” he said.
Beth Israel has private, non-gender-specific washrooms available, and calls to the Torah for an aliyah are done on the basis of the gender with which the person identifies, he noted. “We don’t loudly announce our stance so much as we are very happy to have trans and gay people in our synagogue as a natural part of the social fabric of our shul, by being warm and welcoming to everyone who walks in the door,” he said.
Speaking to the JI only days after the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub, Infeld said, “The Orlando massacre is another reminder of the need to fight discrimination on every level and recognize the humanity of every person.”
Unlike non-Orthodox denominations, Orthodox Jews maintain traditional rabbinic stances against homosexual conduct, and behaviors such as cross-dressing or identifying with a gender aside from one’s birth gender. Nevertheless, there are a number of Orthodox rabbis and Jewish groups that are openly LGBTQ and/or call for greater inclusivity in Orthodox communities. And, in recent years, a number of Orthodox statements have been issued – mostly from within the Modern Orthodox world but also from others – calling for the expression of love, support and inclusion of LGBTQ people without condoning LGBTQ behaviors.
“We do not judge anyone here,” said Chabad Rabbi Shmulik Yeshayahu of Ohel Ya’akov Community Kollel. “We love and welcome everyone. We follow the Orthodox halachah that the Torah only allows union between a man and a woman, but gay, lesbian and transgender people are welcomed in our community and no one will judge them or condemn them. We do not ask questions about people’s behavior or police them. We love people, and we do not make everything they do or don’t do our business. We have had and do have gay and lesbian couples here and, in the past, even one Orthodox gay couple, and they were not judged, no one is saying anything to them. Everyone is welcome here.”
Vigils, like this one in Minneapolis, were held across North America to express grief and solidarity with the victims of the shooting in Orlando. (photo by Fibonacci Blue)
Still reeling from the latest gun attack in Tel Aviv, which killed four people last week, we awoke Sunday to the horrific news from Florida that a gunman had murdered 49 people in a gay nightclub in Orlando.
We whose job it is to put feelings into words struggle, though it seems nobody on social media lacks an opinion on gun control and the Second Amendment, homophobia or Islamic extremism, to which the murderer professed allegiance.
Immediately began the familiar cycle of Facebook solidarity, official condemnations and vigil-holding. President Barack Obama, who on the last such occasion of mass death declared, “Enough!,” had to conjure something original to say in this instance.
It is a peculiarity of the American political and cultural system that such tragedies are, it seems, accepted as a sad but unavoidable fact of life. Vested interests in the gun industry, which fund the powerful National Rifle Association, control members of Congress and have a not-insignificant base of grassroots Americans.
The murderer had been on the radar of intelligence authorities, yet he was able in the last two weeks to legally purchase a Glock pistol and a long gun, as was apparently his right as an American citizen.
When, in 2012, a gunman killed 20 children in Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, some thought that would be the turning point, the moment some sense of sanity would be applied to guns in the United States. Nothing of substance changed and, if not then, it probably never will. Indeed, gun sales increase after such incidents, as the Wild West of American founding lore finds new life in the 21st century – self-preservation through firepower.
There are perhaps few who can as readily empathize with the LGBTQ community as members of the Jewish community. Jewish individuals and institutions are routinely targeted in Europe. Such incidents are far fewer but not non-existent in Canada and the United States. The ghosts of the 1994 Jewish community centre bombing in Argentina haunt us still. And Israelis are routinely attacked and killed by terrorists.
Though thousands of kilometres away from Orlando, the gay community and allies in Vancouver came together for a vigil Sunday night, as they did across North America. When an attack like this takes place against a small minority, it has particular resonance for members of that group even if they have no immediate connection with the victims. As a newspaper, we join with Jewish institutions and individuals in Canada in expressing grief and solidarity with the victims, the survivors and their loved ones, as well as with the entirety of the LGBTQ community here and everywhere.
After such tragedies, it sometimes seems that the particularity of the victims is downplayed to glean a universal lesson for humanity. We hear phrases like “injustice for one is injustice for all.” In his remarks Sunday morning, Obama said: “This is a devastating attack on all Americans.”
This is a necessary and true statement, but we shouldn’t only universalize our solidarity. The shooting was a deliberate, targeted attack on gay people and Obama’s remarks included articulate expressions of solidarity with the LGBTQ community. He did not, for example, make the same mistake he did during the Paris attacks, when he referred to Jewish victims as “a bunch of folks in a deli.” The Jewish particularity of the victims in Paris and the particularity of the Orlando victims’ sexual orientations must be recognized in order to confront the prejudices that underlie them.
Liz Lorie, left, and Amanda Krystal. (photo by Hayley Bouchard, Little Cat Photography)
Writers of romance, fantasy, science fiction and horror reinvent many a classical tale with a slant towards their chosen genres. The new play by Lisa Simon, A Modern Fairy Tale, is yet another such retelling, and it has an original twist. This musical parody spins the old tales in a new light, inclusive of LGBTQ concerns and gender-neutral terms.
For starters, a romance is blooming between a female Wolf and Red Riding Hood, but they encounter several roadblocks on their love journey. Granny mistrusts Wolf – the animal-people’s rights are at stake here. Other beloved fairy tale characters populate the play – Snow White and Boots the Cat, gay princes Chuck and Cinder, Alice and Hatter – each one with their own set of problems.
Many of the performers are amateurs, attracted to the project by their love for musical theatre and their social convictions. Among them are Jewish community members Amanda Krystal and Liz Lorie, two young University of British Columbia students.
“We met at the show, didn’t know each other before,” Krystal said.
“Now, we do many things together,” added Lorie. Both provided the Independent with the inside scoop on the show.
Krystal, a microbiology student, is playing Alice. “It’s a pretty big role,” she said proudly. “I’d call it a supporting lead.”
Krystal learned about the auditions for the play through the Vancouver Public Library audition list. “I took dance and music theatre classes at school and I’m still doing tap dance. I wanted to audition for musical theatre so I left my email with the library list. I wanted to be in the Fringe, but the shows of the Fringe are all during midterms. When I learned about the auditions for this show, I thought it would be great, and not interfere with my studies.”
Lorie is in the play as part of the ensemble. She is studying English and thinking about the master’s program. She came to Vancouver from Toronto via the fine arts program at UBC Okanagan.
“Originally, I wanted to study art at Queen’s University in Ontario,” she said, “but they canceled the art program I wanted because there was not enough money for the arts. I got into the Okanagan program, and it was very good but, like in Queen’s, there was not enough funding. Interesting courses got canceled, the instructors left, so I switched to English in Vancouver.”
She noted that art programs are not getting sufficient funding anywhere in Canada. “Art is so important, specifically theatre arts. We are all isolated, but theatre brings us together. It’s therapeutic.”
She encountered the same problem – a limited budget – with this show, but despite the lack of monetary recompense, everyone is very enthusiastic and pitching in wherever they can, she said.
Krystal, besides performing, is an assistant choreographer. “My sister is into professional dancing,” she said. “She and I and Damon [Jang] choreographed three tap dances for the show.”
Lorie, with her artistic background, helped with numerous artistic tasks. “I worked on the posters and on the stage sets,” she said. “There are several sets: a ballroom, a book shop, a hat store, a cottage and a couple of others. It’s a complicated set. I also made my ice crown – I play the Snow Queen.”
Excited to be in the world première of the show, both Krystal and Lorie pointed out that the novelty of the play, while liberating, can be nerve-wracking, too.
“We improv a lot,” said Krystal. “There is no history of famous actors playing our roles. I would do something new, not in the script, and Lisa [Simon, who is also the director] would say: ‘Oh, good, keep it.’ I never know what will happen at the next rehearsal. We all come from different directions to this play, and it’s fascinating to see it coming together. But it adds some pressure, too.”
The fairy tale aspect of the show unites the participants.
“Using fairy tales was a great idea,” said Krystal. “Everyone knows them, can relate to them. Most of us first met them in the Disney versions but, in this play, seeing them from a different perspective is interesting. Some of the changes are in your face, while others are not.”
Lorie elaborated: “Fairy tales are for everyone, and we all draw from them, but they allow lots of creative leeway. In the end, it all comes to the concept of acceptance, to finding out who we are and standing for who we are, to accepting everyone despite their racial or sexual differences.”
The philosophical spotlight of this production translates well into the performers’ experience.
“It’s a light musical comedy,” Krystal said, “but it touches on many dark topics: bullying, anxiety, depression, various sexual orientations. The story focuses on the imaginary animal-people rights, but we all can recognize someone we know.”
“It’s geared towards the LGBTQ crowd, but we hope it won’t turn off the other audience,” said Lorie. “It’s a very eye-opening show for everyone, much more than just an LGBTQ event.”
Last year, Yad b’Yad, Hillel BC and others joined the Pride parade. This year, they will host a booth at Sunset Beach, which will allow them to engage more in discussion with festival-goers. (photo from Hillel BC)
The Jewish contingent in this year’s Vancouver Pride celebration is inviting everyone to participate. Yad b’Yad, the Jewish LGBTQ organization, will have a booth at the festival site on Sunset Beach, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 2.
The parade runs from noon until 3 p.m., culminating at the Sunset Beach site. Jonathan Lerner, who is coordinating Yad b’Yad’s participation, said the decision was made to participate as a booth rather than to march in the parade, as the community has done beginning in 2010.
“We have messaging we want to get out,” said Lerner. “While it’s great to march in the parade, you only get to pass people by for a few quick seconds and maybe, if you’re lucky, you get to hand them something. For us, we wanted to be able to have conversations with people, meet people, introduce ourselves, tell them where they could come find us, have discussions with members of the queer community and the Jewish community. So, we felt like a booth would better serve that purpose.”
Yad b’Yad will be giving away items, offering face painting, a spinning wheel with prizes and an educational component, he said.
The presence of the group on Pride day has a dual purpose, he added.
“It’s incredibly important for LGBTQ Jews to see us there and know that resources do exist for them,” Lerner said. “It’s also important to show that the Jewish community supports the queer community. There are a lot of other ethnic and religious groups that participate. It’s important for us to have a presence there and show that we stand in solidarity with other minority communities and support them when they need it.”
Yad b’Yad is Hebrew for hand in hand, which is meant to symbolize the two communities working together and the two identities that many people have, Lerner said. Yad b’Yad is just about a year old and represents a solidification of the community’s approach to LGBTQ issues, which until now was more ad hoc.
The community’s first participation in the Pride parade, in 2010, was spearheaded by Hillel BC, with support from the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and other community groups, including synagogues. Lerner, who is director of operations, administration and finance for Hillel BC, explained Yad b’Yad’s mandate.
“We started out to provide resources to queer members of the Jewish community and to advocate for the Jewish community within the LGBTQ community, because we still see a lot of antisemitism within that community,” he said. “Once we established the group, Yad b’Yad, it was a decision among the organizations that had been involved before – including Federation, CIJA [Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs], Hillel – that Yad b’Yad as a group should sort of lead the charge” in organizing Pride day events.
“We encourage all the agencies to come out to the booth, be part of the celebration,” Lerner added. “If an organization wants to come and be part of the booth, maybe bring with them a couple of pamphlets about their organization, they are absolutely welcome to do so.”
Potential volunteers, or anyone seeking additional information, can email [email protected].
Organizers estimate 180,000 people marched in the Tel Aviv Pride parade, June 12. (photo by Robin Perelle)
Alberto Lukacs-Böhm dabs a handful of birds onto the sunny sea-to-sky poster he’s painting for Tel Aviv Pride.
To live openly as a gay man in today’s Tel Aviv is to be free, he says. “It’s like to drink a fresh, clean water. That’s freedom.”
The 65-year-old is one of seven seniors gathered around a table at the Tel Aviv gay centre on June 11. The members of Golden Rainbow (Keshet Zahav) are chatting and painting as they finalize their plans to march together in the city’s 17th annual Pride parade the next day.
For Lukacs-Böhm, the path to freedom was somewhat complicated. Though he knew he was gay from a very young age, he married a woman in Hungary to avoid upsetting his mother, a circus illusionist who cried when he told her he’d kissed a boy at age 13.
He returned to Israel in 1988, the same year the country decriminalized homosexual sex. It was time, he says, “to take back my life in my hand.”
“From very young, everybody knows I’m a gay,” he explains, “[but] it was always complicated to be gay.”
“Is it still complicated to be gay?” I ask.
“Nooo,” he says, his face lighting up in an ear-to-ear smile.
“To speak about homosexuality or lesbian or transgender – it’s absolutely normal in Israel,” he says.
* * *
It’s day two of a five-day press trip to Israel, sponsored and entirely funded by the Israeli tourism ministry to show off Tel Aviv Pride to 43 journalists from around the world.
Day one began with an exuberant tour of gay Tel Aviv, led by Shai Doitsh, chair from 2012 to 2015 of the Aguda, Israel’s national LGBT task force. For the last decade, Doitsh has also been working with the tourism ministry and the municipality of Tel Aviv to market the city as a gay destination, a project he initiated in 2005, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Doitsh paints a rosy picture of Tel Aviv as one of the most accepting cities in the world, a year-round gay haven, where as much as 25 to 35 percent of the population may be gay, he claims.
Tel Aviv is a gay hub, both in Israel and throughout the region, he says, pausing repeatedly on Rothschild Boulevard and its surrounding streets to point out gay-friendly venues and the abundance of rainbow flags flying throughout the city for Pride.
He lists the many rights and benefits enjoyed by gay Tel Avivim, such as protection from workplace discrimination (introduced throughout Israel in 1992); the right to serve equally in the military (considered deeply important in a culture that requires military duty and prioritizes serving one’s country); the right to adopt your same-sex partner’s children (though surrogacy and marriage remain off-limits under the purview of ultra-Orthodox rabbis who frown on gay families); and Tel Aviv’s gay centre and Pride parade, both supported and funded by the municipality.
The gay community has a strong presence in Tel Aviv and in the city’s secular politics, Doitsh says.
“Our movement and our fight for equality is definitely the most successful in Israel” among the country’s minority groups, he says.
* * *
Doitsh may have a vested interest in trumpeting Tel Aviv’s gay appeal, but every gay, lesbian and transgender Israeli I’ve interviewed in the last few weeks has echoed his assessment. The city genuinely welcomes and supports its LGBT community, they say, or at least those members who more closely match mainstream norms.
It’s also a bubble that bears little resemblance to the rest of Israel, they all agree.
“Being in Tel Aviv is a bit like being in New York and pretending you see the entire United States,” says Moshe Zvi who, with his partner Eyal Alon, has joined the crowd gathering in Meir Park for the city’s Pride parade June 12.
“It’s a state within a state,” Alon says.
“I call it a bubble of sanity,” Zvi says.
Organizers tell us that 180,000 people are expected to gather in Meir Park to march in this year’s parade, making it the largest Pride in the Middle East and Asia.
As the marchers begin to file out towards Bograshov Street, Alon and Zvi tell me about some of the tensions that simmer beneath Israel’s seemingly gay-friendly surface.
Though Tel Aviv is a more liberal, secular city, Israel’s relatively small ultra-Orthodox Jewish community wields a disproportionate amount of political power in the national legislature due to the nature of Israel’s coalition politics, which rely on small-party support to pass most initiatives.
The ultra-Orthodox hold “almost a monopoly on power concerning marriage, cemeteries, conversion,” David Goldstein says.
Goldstein, 73, moved to Tel Aviv five years ago from San Francisco, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Now a member of the Golden Rainbow group, he says he feels much safer here than in the United States. But Tel Aviv is a bubble, he readily agrees.
It’s a secular city founded by Jewish businessmen who wanted a city of their own, he explains. Jerusalem, in contrast, is a holy city. Tel Aviv is anything but, he says, though it’s holy to the gay community and others who encourage diversity and a cosmopolitan lifestyle – anathema to the ultra-Orthodox community’s strictly religious worldview.
“They’re a very closed community,” Zvi says.
Being gay is “illogical in their way of thinking,” Goldstein says. “They would say, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that you’re this way.’”
Though he doesn’t consider the ultra-Orthodox mean-spirited in their anti-gay views – it’s “not the hatred that I find among [the] American right-wing,” he says – their steadfast repudiation of gay families makes life outside Tel Aviv less hospitable.
In one of Israel’s few headline-grabbing anti-gay hate crimes, an ultra-Orthodox man notoriously stabbed three people in the Jerusalem Pride parade in 2005, as protesters, mostly religious Jews, lined the route. Jerusalem Pride persists, I’m told, but it’s both more political and more tense than Tel Aviv’s cheerful take on the event.
It is getting easier to come out in other parts of Israel, Alon says. But it’s still easiest in Tel Aviv, where the ultra-Orthodox community is smaller, wields less power and seems more resigned to surrender the secular city to its wicked ways.
* * *
Then there are the more obvious, if less willingly broached, tensions.
Of course, Tel Aviv is a bubble, says Tal Jarus-Hakak who, with her partner Avital, was a lesbian feminist in Israel long before their nine-year legal battle successfully set a precedent allowing gays and lesbians to adopt their partners’ children.
Tel Aviv may be a cheerful, colorful, tolerant city with beautiful beaches, clubs, an increasingly well-established gay community with more and more families and businesses, and “an amazing, vibrant” gay culture, they say, but 60 kilometres away there is war, violence and poverty in many areas of Israel.
I’m sitting with the Jarus-Hakaks on the deck of their Vancouver home a few days after my return from Israel, a country they left in 2006 because, despite all their attempts to change its policies through protest and democratic means, they found the pace of change too slow and life there too traumatic, especially raising three sons.
Staying inside the bubble of Tel Aviv is “a survival mode,” Tal says. But it can get uncomfortable, too.
“Is that why you moved here?” I ask.
It’s hard to live outside the bubble – with consciousness – but it’s hard to stay inside the bubble, too, she says. Many people would call us traitors for saying this, she adds, but we’re not speaking against Israel. We’re speaking for Israel, to try to do things differently, she says.
Hadar Namir says she doesn’t want to go back to Israel either. One of Israel’s pioneering lesbian activists, Namir has been on vacation in Vancouver since April.
“I’m not wishing to go back,” she says. “I’m not comfortable with the human rights situation in Israel. That, for example, Arab-Israeli citizens are remote from being equal – and this is authorized by the government for years.”
Namir, who spent 15 years working with Israel’s Association for Civil Rights, draws me a map of the country. She places Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean coast, adds Haifa further north and Jerusalem about 45 minutes east, inland. Then she adds the occupied territories.
The map, unlike anything I saw during our ministry-sponsored tours of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, fills with fences and checkpoints, until it’s a messy, convoluted ink-blot puzzle. She tells me stories of families divided, cut off from each other and their land or forced to take long detours to tend their olive trees, if they can tend them at all. She says there are different legal systems in the occupied territories: one for Jewish people accused of committing a crime and a different system for Arab people. She talks about inadequate government support for Arab cities, and difficulty accessing health care.
“Some gay men say, ‘let not interfere our fight for LGBT rights with other fights.’ Not me. I don’t believe it,” she says.
“I don’t want to simplify things,” she hastens to add. “It’s much more complicated” than good Israelis and Hamas terrorists. “And I do understand the desire for a Jewish state,” she says.
But different people have different narratives, she says: Independence Day for some is considered a disaster for others.
* * *
One commonly repeated narrative in Israel and around the world is that Arab communities kill gay people, further distinguishing Israel as a gay oasis.
Most of the Israelis I met in Tel Aviv hesitated when I asked them if gay Palestinians would be marching in the Pride parade.
There must be some gay Palestinians here, Zvi and Alon say, after a brief pause.
“I don’t think it’s easy being a gay Arab anywhere,” Zvi offers. “As in everything, I think life in Israel is easier than life in Palestine.”
Alon mentions a gay Palestinian party in Tel Aviv, and some gay-known coffee shops in Ramallah. But they’re discreet, he says.
Karl Walter, one of our tour guides, says there likely are Arabs participating in the parade, but quietly. They wouldn’t be able to go home, he tells me, “because the Arabs would kill them.”
Arabs “crush” gays in Gaza and in Ramallah, he asserts.
The reality, says Samira Saraya, is more complicated.
Saraya lives in Tel Aviv as an openly gay Palestinian woman. She is also an actress, an activist and a nurse who, in 2003, co-founded Aswat, a group for gay Palestinian women. She also attended the first monthly gay Palestinian parties in Tel Aviv.
“It’s complicated to live in Tel Aviv and be an Arab as well,” she tells me by phone, a week after my return from Israel. “Living in a kind of militaristic society…. On the other hand, I really love the people around me. But the moment we get into politics, it’s complicated.”
I ask her if Tel Aviv’s gay-friendly embrace extends to gay Palestinians.
“If you are willing to bargain your identity, if you are willing to be more Israeli, less Palestinian,” she says. “It depends.”
I ask if she has faced discrimination within the gay community.
“Of course,” she replies. She recalls one experience doing outreach to high school students with a mostly Jewish LGBT organization and hearing a fellow presenter say he wouldn’t date an Arab.
In the gay community, she says, “they don’t see that there is a connection between being oppressed for your sexual identity and your ethnic identity.”
As for the common refrain that Arabs kill gays, she says it’s too easy to paint Israel as democratic and gay-friendly against a backdrop of Arab homophobia. She says she enters the occupied territories as an openly gay Palestinian and no one has ever hurt her.
“I go as a lesbian to Ramallah, as well, and to Nazareth, and do not face homophobia or somebody cursing me because I’m a dyke.”
Palestinian society is “chauvinist and homophobic,” she says, but there are Palestinian people in the occupied territories living their lives as openly gay and nobody is killing them. Some of her friends are even out to their families, she adds.
Though Saraya says many Palestinians who live in Israel go to Tel Aviv Pride, it’s almost impossible for gay people from the occupied territories to get permission to attend. “Less and less people are permitted to come to Israel,” she says. “There are checkpoints and restrictions and protocols.”
* * *
I ask Namir what she thinks of the Israeli tourism ministry flying me and 42 other journalists from around the world to Tel Aviv for Pride.
Tel Aviv is a genuinely gay-friendly city, she says, and the municipality really does support the parade, the community centre and even a shelter for LGBT youth. “I do believe the credit is there,” she says. “I’m totally respectful that the minute that we decided to go out of the closet in 1993, they were opening the doors to us.” But it’s still “pinkwashing,” she says.
Tal Jarus-Hakak agrees. The ministry brought you over to show “the nice part of Israel, how tolerant we are,” she tells me.
It’s “part of their propaganda to show Israel as a gem in this area” – the only democratic country in this area, she says.
But Israel is the only democratic country in that area, Avital interjects.
“But even if that’s the case, it does not take off of Israel the responsibility for what it’s doing in the occupied territories,” Tal replies.
“There’s nothing wrong about the parade in Tel Aviv and nothing wrong about people coming to the parade,” Saraya says. “What’s wrong is trying to use the parade to cover the other violations that Israel do every day. This is pinkwashing.”
Zvi isn’t so sure. He doesn’t think showing off Pride necessarily detracts from the Palestinian situation. “I think mindfulness is in order,” he says, “but I’m glad people are coming to Tel Aviv. God knows Israel could use some good publicity. Should Tel Aviv not get this kind of feedback? I want tourists to come here.”
Walter, our guide, vehemently rejects any suggestion of pinkwashing.
“The thing to understand is that the gay parade and all that we’ve accomplished is for us,” he says, “not for tourism. It’s not for show. It’s not a PR stunt. It’s the most visible expression of freedom in the world – the only free gay community in the Middle East. People tend to forget that. We don’t.”
Gay rights in Israel have nothing to do with the Palestinian situation, he says. “If anyone uses the term pinkwashing, you immediately know that he’s a racist and a homophobe. He doesn’t have the decency to say that my foes – they did something good.”
Tourism ministries in other countries also show off their best traits to visitors, Goldstein points out.
He, too, finds the pinkwashing criticism unfair.
“I think the critics of Israel – they’re really against Israel to begin with,” he says. “People who have an axe to grind and [are] trying to besmirch Israel any way they can. So, any good points, they say they’re doing it to fool the people. I think it’s a bit antisemitic to say that.”
* * *
Back in the seniors’ room at the Tel Aviv gay centre, Lukacs-Böhm cheerfully cleans up his paints and prepares for another day in his gay paradise.
“For me, [to] be free is to drink cold, clean water when I want and how I want,” he says, with a smile.
Robin Perelleis the managing editor in Vancouver of Daily Xtra, Canada’s gay and lesbian news source. This story first ran on dailyxtra.com on July 2.
Hundreds of thousands came out to watch Toronto’s Pride Parade on June 28 despite the inclement weather. (photo by Najin Lin via facebook.com/pridetoronto)
Years ago, at a particularly low point, Chaim Silver (not his real name) was so desperate to be straight that he ingested a white powder that a naturopath had sent to him by mail, claiming it had “cured” a lesbian of her same-sex desires.
“I actually took it,” Silver laughed over the phone. “It was before anthrax, before 9/11.”
Silver is Modern Orthodox and came out to his parents when he was in his late 20s. While they’ve never explicitly rejected him, he said their approach has always been, “We can fix this.”
Over the years, they’ve oscillated between encouraging Silver to marry a woman and presuming he’ll accept a life of celibacy. “They’ve said to me, ‘You’ll just make your life about your siblings’ kids,’” said Silver, who is now in his 40s.
They’ve also suggested he try reparative therapy, a controversial practice that aims to make a homosexual person heterosexual. But, more than anything, Silver’s sexual identity is something about which his parents, plus many people at the Orthodox synagogue he attends in Toronto – most of whom, Silver believes, know about his sexuality – say nothing.
He once went away on a trip with a non-Jewish boyfriend, he noted, and nobody in his family acknowledged it.
“At synagogue, if I’m single, celibate and alone … I don’t think anyone actually cares … they’ll give me aliyot. But if I’m going to have a partner and want a life that’s celebrated, I don’t think that can happen in orthodoxy.”
On the whole, Silver said he’s grown pessimistic about the notion – touted by activists such as Rabbi Steven Greenberg, dubbed the only openly gay Orthodox rabbi in North America – that Orthodox Judaism can make space for homosexual people. “The two seem incongruous to me. [Being gay is] this innate thing that’s felt to be prohibited,” Silver said. “Not everything can be fixed in life. As you get older, you realize that some things just suck.”
Silver’s cynicism and his parents’ denial are arguably more acute because of Orthodox Judaism’s strict adherence to Torah, but anecdotal evidence shows that many Jewish parents from more liberal denominations are also uncomfortable having an LGBTQ kid and default to silence on the matter.
Justine Apple, executive director of Kulanu Toronto, a Jewish LGBTQ social and cultural group, said Jewish parents, ranging from secular to Modern Orthodox, have reached out to her, seeking counsel about their children’s sexual orientation. “People who are Orthodox tend to have a harder time dealing with this but, at the end of the day, it’s an individual process,” she said. “There are still so many parents in the community who know their kids are gay but are very secretive about it.”
Apple said when she herself first came out, her family, who have since made huge strides, didn’t want to hear about her personal life, making her feel “invisible.”
Many parents won’t ask their LGBTQ children about their romantic lives due to internalized homophobia and ignorance about what it means to be gay, she said. “A lot of parents equate being gay with what happens in the bedroom. But queer Jews, like any Jews, connect to their loved ones on multiple levels – emotional, spiritual, intellectual.”
Parents should recognize that being gay isn’t a choice and doesn’t negate that “we still have Jewish values, we’re still connected to family, community,” Apple said. “It’s important for parents to give kids support, make them feel part of family gatherings and ask them what’s happening in their personal lives.”
Apple said she reached out to several LGBTQ Jewish colleagues and friends to see if their parents would speak to the CJN about their experiences of their children coming out, but all of the parents declined. “It seems to be a sensitive topic for parents, more so than for their children,” she noted.
Maya Benaim (not her real name) came out a decade ago to her parents, who belong to a Conservative synagogue. She joked that she wishes they had taken some kind of course. “They didn’t understand it, and I wasn’t the person who could explain. It was too personal for me,” she said.
Over the years, her parents have rarely inquired about her partners and haven’t known how to act when one of her relationships ended. “I learned not to mention stuff.… I’d be going through tremendous pain from a breakup and would have to hide it from them,” she said.
Benaim, 30, said she’d be happy for her parents to seek external support – “anything that would contribute to understanding and de-stigmatizing and improve our relationship” – but she’s adamant that the onus not be on her to “hold their hands” through the process. “I’m already in pain enough from them not understanding,” she said. “I’d really appreciate if the community stepped in for that sort of thing. I think that’s what being an ally is about – doing that work so the people who are the victims of misunderstanding or hate don’t have to.”
Toronto social worker Elsia La Caria works with adolescents and young adults. She said for someone who’s come out, negative reactions from parents typically aggravate existing issues. “The person is often already struggling with feelings of not being accepted, so when the people closest to them don’t provide the right support, this can exacerbate their feelings of loneliness, sadness and feeling excluded,” she said.
Regarding parents’ silence about a child’s sexuality, she said, “this can reinforce the idea that they’re different in a bad way, that they don’t belong anywhere.”
Rabbi Michael Dolgin is senior rabbi of Toronto’s Reform Temple Sinai Congregation, where he and associate Rabbi Daniel Mikelberg officiate at same-sex weddings.
Canada’s legalization of same-sex marriage has helped affirm that “same-sex life is consistent with a focus on family, continuity and other Jewish values that I think, in the past … people assumed [LGBTQ people] were breaking with,” Dolgin said.
While parents of LGBTQ kids occasionally seek his guidance, Dolgin said young people nowadays generally seem more comfortable “being out,” and the North American Federation of Temple Youth, the youth group affiliated with the Reform movement, is widely considered a safe space for LGBTQ youth to participate without “the stress of having to choose between being Jewish and being homosexual.” The best response to a child who has come out is to love them, to listen and to work toward “an open, understanding relationship in which they can express their feelings,” he added.
Apple stressed that parents have a responsibility to educate themselves about what it means to be gay and Jewish. Kulanu’s doors are open to those seeking a safe space to discuss this, she said, but support is offered on more of an informal basis and she may refer families to Jewish Family and Child Service, and non-Jewish organizations such as PFLAG Canada and the 519, a Toronto agency that “respond[s] to the evolving needs of the LGBTQ community, from counseling services and queer parenting resources to coming out groups, trans programming and seniors support.”
“Right now, our goal is primarily to run events for the LGBTQ community and its allies,” said Apple.
Resources geared to Jewish families in this situation are only available in Canada “in pockets,” and are less abundant than in the United States, she acknowledged.
There’s a need in the community for more “open forums [for parents] to share their fears and concerns,” Apple said, adding that she sees future opportunities for Kulanu to develop a network to help parents who are struggling.
Indeed, Silver’s sense of hopelessness is tied, at least in part, to location. Toronto’s Jewish community is quite religiously conservative, unlike New York’s, where a Friday-night minyan of Orthodox LGBTQ Jews launched last year, he said.
Dating has been tough as it is – a secular Jewish partner couldn’t understand why Silver wanted to belong to a world that didn’t accept him, while a non-Jewish boyfriend wouldn’t give up Christmas – without the added problem that many in his position have left the Orthodox community or remain in hiding. “Many of us have simply disappeared,” he said, “so it’s not an issue the Orthodox community feels they have to face.”
Rabbi Noah Cheses, assistant rabbi at Shaarei Shomayim Congregation, one of Toronto’s largest Modern Orthodox shuls, said that supporting young people and their parents as the former share their sexual orientation with family and friends is an issue he cares deeply about. “But I try to take a line that distinguishes between supporting and endorsing. It’s a fine line. I can support an individual with the struggles he or she has, but I’m reluctant to endorse a lifestyle or culture that runs in opposition to a verse in the Torah, though I understand that being gay is not a choice,” he said.
Having recently moved to Toronto from Connecticut, he said he knows of several groups and online networks that support LGBTQ Orthodox people and their families there, but he isn’t aware of similar organizations in the Toronto area.
“On many different social and gender-related issues, my sense is Toronto has been not as advanced as many modern Orthodox communities in the States,” he said.
– For more national Jewish news, visit cjnews.com.
Created in 1984, Holy Blossom Temple’s “rainbow chuppah” was inspired by imagery from the story of Noah’s Ark. (photo from cjnews.com)
Had they gotten engaged one year later, Orrin Wolpert and his husband, Mitchell Marcus, would have been married by the rabbi at the downtown Toronto synagogue to which they now belong, the First Narayever Congregation.
The traditional egalitarian synagogue changed its policy on allowing same-sex weddings in June 2009, 10 months after the couple planned their ceremony. At the time, Wolpert and Marcus were involved with the Narayever, but weren’t members, unwilling to belong to a shul that disallowed gay weddings. They asked a Reform rabbi they both knew to officiate at their August 2009 wedding, and subsequently joined Narayever in accordance with the synagogue’s new stance.
“I feel really strongly about the shul,” said Wolpert, who comes from a traditional background. “It’s an amazing community of passionate Jews who are very traditional in their practice yet very inclusive in their approach … the membership is very intellectual, very socially progressive … we feel totally included there.”
Wolpert worked on the Narayever’s board for two years, ran its social action committee, helped draft the language on its website and attends services with his husband and their two-year-old twins about once a month. The congregation honored them with an aufruf prior to their wedding, a brit milah for their son and a simchat bat for their daughter.
Wolpert and Marcus’ sense of total acceptance by their synagogue is not anomalous, but neither is it the norm.
Given the traditional Jewish view that homosexual sex is biblically prohibited, the issue continues to be sensitive for many synagogues and, in some cases, one that requires an overhaul of entrenched values.
Over the past decade or so, as Canadian legislation and large swathes of public opinion have come to recognize the rights of homosexual couples to marry and access attendant legal benefits, Canadian synagogues across denominations have been confronted with the expectation to assert where they stand on LGBTQ inclusion. Given the traditional Jewish view that homosexual sex is biblically prohibited, the issue continues to be sensitive for many synagogues and, in some cases, one that requires an overhaul of entrenched values.
And it’s not just the question of whether to allow same-sex marriage. Synagogues and rabbis across the board are increasingly establishing – both formally and informally – positions on their overall approaches to including LGBTQ congregants in matters such as ritual participation, educational programming and use of language.
While levels of acceptance vary widely among synagogues and rabbis – even within the bounds of a given denomination – there appears to be a general shift toward emphasizing practical inclusion of LGBTQ congregants above rigid adherence to biblical text. Reform, Reconstructionist and progressive, non-denominational synagogues across North America have generally embraced LGBTQ members as equal participants, both by officiating at same-sex weddings and offering full involvement in ritual and executive proceedings.
In 1999, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the principal association of Reform rabbis in Canada and the United States, green-lighted same-sex marriages, but left the decision whether to officiate at them up to individual rabbis. For some Reform leaders, therefore, change has been more gradual.
This past April, Rabbi Yael Splansky became senior rabbi at Toronto’s Reform Holy Blossom Temple and the first rabbi in the synagogue’s history to perform same-sex weddings. “For years here [as an associate or assistant rabbi], I wouldn’t, out of respect for my senior colleagues, officiate at same-sex weddings,” she said.
Splansky explained that Holy Blossom has long supported the LGBTQ community in other ways. The shul is an ongoing sponsor of Jewish LGBTQ group Kulanu’s Pride Parade float and it supported gay Jewish men afflicted by AIDS in the 1980s and early 1990s.
While gay marriage itself remains a sticking point for a lot of rabbis, there are many who nonetheless view the welcoming of LGBTQ Jews as both an ethical and practical imperative.
The drawing of lines around “acceptable” and “unacceptable” forms of inclusion continues to be quite common among synagogues. While gay marriage itself remains a sticking point for a lot of rabbis, there are many who nonetheless view the welcoming of LGBTQ Jews as both an ethical and practical imperative.
“If someone with an interest, commitment or curiosity about Jewish life knocks on our doors, we’ve got to let them in,” Splansky said. “Some [rabbis] do it with full pleasure, while others do it grudgingly, but everyone’s got to do it … just looking at the numbers, we can’t afford to lose anybody.”
Her comment is in reference to the 2013 Pew report on American Jewry, a survey that indicates rising rates of secularism and intermarriage. Perhaps for this reason as well, the Modern Orthodox world has also seen a shift toward shelving views on homosexuality as sin and ushering LGBTQ Jews into the fold.
In 2010, close to 200 Orthodox rabbis signed a statement of principles regarding homosexual Jews. Drafted by Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot, a member of one of the largest organizations of Orthodox rabbis, the Rabbinical Council of America, it affirms that although same-sex unions are “antithetical to Jewish law,” individuals with “homosexual inclinations should be treated with the care and concern appropriate to all human beings,” including acceptance in synagogues. It further acknowledges that homosexual Jews in the Orthodox community often face serious emotional and psychological challenges and that, especially among teenagers, the risk of suicide is greater.
Rabbi Aaron Levy, a Modern Orthodox rabbi at Makom, a non-denominational, grassroots Jewish community congregation in downtown Toronto, won’t perform gay marriages, but he said Makom is “a very queer-inclusive community,” with a number of active LGBTQ members. Last summer, Makom held a Shabbaton to honor the upcoming same-sex wedding of two members, which included an aufruf and learnings on queer issues and Judaism.
“Nature provides a minority of people whose sexuality is different, and halachah has to, at some point … come up with a credible response.”
“In terms of where I am vis-a-vis my own approach to traditional Jewish law and my understanding of where the Orthodox community is in grappling with LGBTQ issues … I don’t think I can perform a gay wedding,” said Levy. Still, he noted, “Nature provides a minority of people whose sexuality is different, and halachah has to, at some point … come up with a credible response…. Even if communities aren’t thinking as much about queer issues on the level of possible reinterpretations of halachah, they’re thinking about the social dynamic of becoming more welcoming.”
Boston-based Rabbi Steve Greenberg has garnered recognition for being the only known, openly gay Orthodox rabbi. Author of Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition and executive director of Eshel, an American organization that functions as a national support network for LGBTQ Orthodox Jews who wish to remain committed to tradition, he has performed a same-sex, halachically observant wedding for a Toronto couple and will officiate at another one in Toronto in August.
“ … it’s premature to expect the Orthodox world to sanctify or celebrate what most in it still believe is a prohibition…. I think it’s sufficient to have Orthodox rabbis support a same-sex couple’s Jewish life once they’re married.”
“I do it because, being gay myself, I feel a responsibility for young people, that there should be some way to commit in a fashion that’s real and that your family can celebrate,” Greenberg explained. “But I think it’s a mistake to presently expect [other] Orthodox rabbis to do this … it’s premature to expect the Orthodox world to sanctify or celebrate what most in it still believe is a prohibition…. I think it’s sufficient to have Orthodox rabbis support a same-sex couple’s Jewish life once they’re married.”
Greenberg emphasized that Orthodox rabbis have a responsibility not to dismiss LGBTQ individuals by telling them to pursue a heterosexual marriage or to opt for a life of celibacy. Such responses, can, particularly for young people, cause extremely harmful outcomes, such as depression, self-harm or substance abuse, he said.
“This cannot be a process by which we throw arguments at each other. We need to take a human read of what it is to discover oneself to be gay, lesbian or transsexual and figure out if the community can find ways – either within halachic norms or within a sense of responsibility to shift them – to make way for people who aren’t choosing their sexual or gender identity, but living it.” He suggested that Orthodox rabbis can instead say things such as, “God is merciful. There are 612 mitzvot you can still try to do to the best of your ability … join my shul.”
Aviva Goldberg is the ritual leader at Shir Libeynu, an unaffiliated, inclusive congregation that formed in the late 1990s in Toronto as a place for LGBTQ Jews to worship comfortably. Raised in a Modern Orthodox home, she turned to Reconstructionist Judaism as an adult and came out as a lesbian at age 38 (she’s now 65). Goldberg recalled how, two decades ago, even at a Reconstructionist synagogue, she and her partner weren’t allowed to come up for an aliyah together to mark their anniversary. While great strides have been made, she said, the community still has a way to go overall.
“I’ve heard some rabbis say, ‘Anyone can come to our shul.’ Sure, but do you talk about issues affecting LGBTQ members? Do any of your liturgies relate to them? Do you perform same-sex weddings? The answer is, of course, ‘No.’ It’s more like, ‘You can come to our shul, but leave your life behind.’”
“Toronto’s Jewish community is generally very conservative…. I’ve heard some rabbis say, ‘Anyone can come to our shul.’ Sure, but do you talk about issues affecting LGBTQ members? Do any of your liturgies relate to them? Do you perform same-sex weddings? The answer is, of course, ‘No.’ It’s more like, ‘You can come to our shul, but leave your life behind.’”
For some LGBTQ Jews, this perception sparks a rejection of “mainstream” synagogues in favor of wholly inclusive, non-denominational congregations like Shir Libeynu. For others, like Wolpert, a more traditional synagogue that accepts LGBTQ congregants, but doesn’t strictly define itself as a “gay shul” holds greater appeal.
“My gay identity is only one part of me,” he said. “The rest of me also has to be satisfied by my religious home.”
– For more national Jewish news, visit cjnews.com.