Posts filed under ‘Identity’
Tirtzah is proud to be a part of Eshel, which will be hosting it’s first Orthodox LGBT community Shabbaton this January.
Eshel welcomes gay and lesbian traditional Jews to join us for this first-ever shabbaton, being held January 21-23 at the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center, two hours from New York City. The Shabbaton will bring together Orthodox gay Jews of all kinds (including the ex-Orthodox and ‘Ortho-curious’) to an event aimed to create a community of support, learning, growth and leadership.
The shabbaton will include shiurim, zmiros, sessions on relevant to our lives as gay and lesbian frum (or formerly frum) Jews, wonderful ‘geshmak’ davening, delicious organic kosher food, and plenty of time scheduled to just hang out, sit by the fireplace on Saturday night, and get to know all the members of this growing community. This will be an informative, fun, and spiritually inspiring weekend.
On Sunday, we will convene a Leadership Development Day from 9am-3pm that will address the crucial questions regarding our shared commitment to a more welcoming Orthodox world. The day will include sessions for developing speaking skills, understanding grant writing, conducting effective meetings with community leaders, and learning about different community organizing models that can help us engage with the Orthodox community about the issues that matter most to us.
The operations of the shabbaton will be handled by Nehirim, which has run retreats for LGBT Jews for many years. The program for the shabbaton is being created by the Eshel board, which includes many leaders from the gay Orthodox world, including Rabbi Steve Greenberg, Mordechai Levovitz (JQYouth), Chasiah Haberman (Tirtzah), Miryam Kabakov (Keep Your Wives Away from Them), and others. There will also be “open space” time during the retreat for participants to facilitate workshops and conversations.
All food will be strictly kosher, the retreat will be shomer shabbos, and the davening will include traditional, mechitza davening. (Depending on community interest we may have davening alternatives as well; on the registration form, you’ll be asked what kind of davening you’d like to participate in during the weekend.) We will offer a variety of learning options, from traditional text study to workshops on issues of gay and lesbian interest.
Registration and Pricing
Pricing starts at $250 for the entire weekend, including room and board, and thanks to our donors, we have generous financial aid available. If you register before November 15, you can also qualify for EARLY BIRD pricing — simply enter “EARLYBIRD” as your coupon code, and you’ll receive $50 off your registration.
Complete Pricing information is as follows:
Dorm triple/quad (bathroom down the hall): $250
Economy (shared bath): Double $300, Single $350
Standard (private bath): Triple $275, Double $375, Single $450
Luxury (Weinberg building): Double: $425, Single: $500
Child in room: $150
Thanks to the generosity of donors and community members, no one will be turned away for lack of funds. The financial aid application will be available here in late October. All aid requests will be considered confidentially.
The shabbaton will be fully shomer shabbos: no electricity or musical instruments will be used in any program on Shabbat. The eruv is checked weekly. All food will be supervised kosher — cholov yisrael and pas yisrael is available upon request at an extra cost.
Faculty and Schedule
The retreat will begin at 4pm on Friday, just before Shabbos. We will post information about the exact schedule and faculty in November, 2010.
For directions and transportation information, please visit the Isabella Freedman website. To offer or request a ride to the retreat, we will create a Ride Board in November. The retreat center is available by train, and a shuttle is available for $15 from the Wassaic train station, for the MetroNorth train leaving Grand Central Station at 11:15am. For other pickup times or locations, Lakeville Taxi, (860) 435-8000, is available. Lakeville Taxi is a reservation service. Voicemails for the purpose of reserving rides must be left before 5pm and at least 24 hours in advance. Neither Eshel nor Nehirim is providing transportation to the retreat — we advise you to use the ride board, since there are always plenty of rides coming from New York, Boston, and other cities as well.
Questions? Please email us at email@example.com.
April 24th and 25th
Being Frum and Gay
This weekend, the Orthodox Community at Penn (OCP) and JQYouth (JQY), a group that provides support to LGBT Orthodox Jews (www.JQYouth.org) collaborated to develop a shabbaton aimed at addressing issues that gay and lesbian Jews face within the Orthodox community. The shabbaton built upon the format and ideas originally presented at the “Being Gay in the Orthodox World” panel that was held at Yeshiva University this December.
On Friday night, the invited speakers from JQYouth shared their stories in a general panel session. The evening began with a brief statement by one of the organizers from the OCP, and a message from Rabbi Mordy Friedman, the Orthodox Rabbi at Penn, framing the shabbaton as a weekend intended to raise awareness of issues that already exist within the Orthodox community, and that it is not intended as a forum to discuss halacha (Jewish law). The panelists then each discussed topics ranging from their experiences coming out to family members and rabbis, to issues faced by Orthodox Jewish lesbians, forming communities for LGBT Orthodox Jews, and forming more inclusive Orthodox communities. There were over 150 people in attendance, and the audience was generally supportive of the speakers, applauding after each panelist spoke. The panelists were then asked questions from the audience ranging from whether they envisioned themselves forming families, whether being gay and Orthodox creates a crisis of faith, and whether there are generational or communal differences in terms of levels of tolerance that the panelists have experienced. The session only came to an end after the Hillel building needed to close for the night.
After morning services, Rabbi Friedman held a brief survey of contemporary literature on homosexuality. Taking a neutral stance on the issue, Rabbi Friedman reviewed responses spanning from Rav Moshe Feinstein’s t’shuvah (response) stating that homosexuality reflects a deliberate act of rebellion against God, to contemporary approaches of Rabbi Chaim Rapoport and Rav Yuval Sherlo, that go so far as to deal with questions such as whether lesbian couples should wear hair coverings and observe laws of ritual purity.
In the afternoon, four sessions on various topics relating to homosexuality in the Orthodox community were held. From 5:00pm to 6:00pm a session on ally training was held by Nicole Riley, Shaina Adams-El Guabli, and Fran De La Tor, three straight female allies of the LGBT community who have had experience leading similar workshops in the past. Nicole, Fran, and Shaina facilitated conversation regarding LGBT-specific language and stereotypes of the LGBT community, as well as group exercises to provide various strategies. These strategies included how to respond when a friend comes out, and when one overhears derogatory comments, such as “That’s Gay,” used in different social circles.
Simultaneously, Josh Teplitsky and Justin Spiro held a discussion on language as boundary. During this session they discussed a statement that Josh has heard several times after speaking at the Yeshiva University panel that “We should provide sympathy to the struggling homosexual.” Josh and Justin engaged the audience in a discussion of what the word struggle means as well as when it is appropriate to provide and withhold sympathy for others. The audience discussed how religious struggles are not unique to LGBT Orthodox Jews and discussed their own struggles with issues of faith and sexuality. During the workshop, one of the audience members expressed her frustration with that statement and discussed how she was upset by the question posed to the panelists the previous night about whether they’ve experienced a crisis of faith. She stated that the crisis of faith shouldn’t only apply to the gay individuals in the community. Instead, she suggested that the crisis of faith should apply to the entire Orthodox community because there are community members who are suffering because of their sexual orientation. This sentiment was echoed by others present for this discussion as well as other discussions over the course of the evening.
Josh reiterated this point by making a distinction between a psychological struggle characterized by an individual experiencing distress over his or her sexual identity, and a philosophical/intellectual struggle that involves grappling with the halachik implications of a gay identity. Josh concluded by stating that when we view it as a philosophical struggle, then it belongs to the entire community rather than the homosexual individuals themselves.
From 6:00pm to 7:00pm Chasiah Haberman, founder of Tirtzah, a community of frum queer women, held a discussion on halachik questions facing Orthodox LGBT people. The thrust of the session was to build awareness of the technical challenges that a gay Torah-observer faces in a religion whose commandments presume heterosexual attraction. With Chasiah’s help, the group managed to pinpoint several areas such as mechitza (separation), nida (purity), shomer negia (touching of the opposite sex), and tzniut (modesty) that pose an interpretive challenge to the gay observant Jew. Chasiah rendered the discussion universal by asking everyone to mention a personal halachik challenge, demonstrating that it is all observant Jews, not only gay observant Jews, who struggle to observe halacha. The session was concluded with a reading from Jewish scholar Eliezer Berkowitz. Berkowitz tells an anecdote from Raba in which the Babylonian sage expresses that halacha is alive and eternal, and is always interpreted and reinterpreted by the Sages of the generation.
At the same time, Erez Harari and Chaim Levin held a panel discussion on reparative therapy. Erez, a student at Fordham working on a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and co-founder of JQY, discussed the history of therapies aimed at treating homosexuality, as well as the theory and research behind modern day reparative therapy. Erez critiqued the theory behind reparative therapy and the research that has been published in support of it. Erez then discussed the potential for harm when engaging in these treatments. Chaim followed with his personal experiences being involved in reparative therapy for several years and reviewed the techniques used to try to alter his sexual orientation. He concluded by mentioning how he was led to blame himself for not trying hard enough when his sexual orientation failed to change, as well as how his community ended up blaming him for “choosing” to be gay once he decided to stop attending treatment.
After the evening meal, Chasiah gave a speech to a standing room only crowd of over a hundred people. Chasiah discussed the notion of “hating your brother in your heart,” which appeared in this week’s Torah portion, and how this verse is interpreted to mean that you are so hateful towards fellow Jew that you aren’t even willing to engage him or her in dialogue about what it is that’s making you hateful. She then thanked the crowd for demonstrating ahavat yisroel (love of your fellow Jew) by being willing to attend the event and engage in a dialogue about these issues.
The shabbaton concluded with a screening of the film V’ahavta (And thou shalt love), an award-winning short film about a gay yeshiva student in Israel, followed by a discussion on how to create a more inclusive Orthodox Community. This discussion, moderated by Matthew Feczko and Isaac Alkolomber, two members of the OCP and JQY, generated a number of different suggestions by the audience, who seemed generally in favor of working towards creating a more welcoming environment for gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews at Penn. Suggestions ranged from reaching out to those who seem isolated, to speaking publicly against homophobic statements and creating joint events with J-Bagel, the gay Jewish group at Penn. A distinction was made during the discussion between implicit and explicit methods of inclusion, and the importance of understanding that for an Orthodox gay person, the implicit message is often one of exclusion, and that explicit messages are often necessary to make someone feel fully included. Some of the speakers expressed the hope that this weekend becomes a template for future programs at other campuses, schools, and synagogues. Isaac then closed the discussion by posing a question to the crowd, asking them how each of them plan on conveying this message of inclusiveness once the shabbaton is over.
The events of the weekend were widely considered a success drawing many people from diverse communities on campus. The event, according to one of the organizers, Isaac Setton, was a kiddush hashem as many people from many different backgrounds saw the Orthodox community coming together in support of the LGBT community. The Orthodox Community at Penn was able to organize and facilitate many discussions about the future of Orthodoxy and Orthodox education. One participant remarked, “One day, the people being educated at this event will sit on the board of shuls and schools and it will be up to them to make sure that when this issue comes up it is not a shock and is dealt with properly.” The people who attended the event were all glad they were provided with the opportunity to engage with this issue.
In an article for Yediot Achroniyot, Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, Rosh Yeshiva of the Hesder Yeshiva in Petach Tikvah, explores the exclusion of the “other” in the orthodox community. He argues that “The main issue facing the Torah of Israel today is the relationship with the ‘Other’. ” It is not only the “Othering” of the Gentile that we grapple with as a community, he says- but the “Othering” of our fellow Jews. He emphasizes that “those who are attracted to members of their own gender cannot be removed from the community.” He explores the idea, which has been written about by Dina Berman and Tamar Gan-Zvi Bick of Bat-Kol, that Pesach Sheini offers us a perspective that allows us to keep Halacha as it has been traditionally understood intact while finding a place for GLBT people in the Orthodox community. “We recognize”, he says, ” in Halacha there are many instances where the Halacha develops in order to redeem a human being from crisis. This development is always a limited, temporary one, and does not destroy the structural foundation. So it is with Pesach Sheini- Pesach Sheini does not speak towards changing the essence of Pesach, but about a solution to a crisis, in a way which is described well by the article…” By engaging honestly with the questions facing the “Other” in the Jewish community, he argues, we are able to find “at least partial redemption for a painful reality.”
The following is a guest post by Amalya- the teenage daughter of an Orthodox Lesbian mother.
“Which eye should I look in?”
It was not the first time I had been asked that question. My eyes are crossed and one tends to wander off while the other is focused. People often cannot tell if I am looking at them or the person behind them. Sometimes someone will ask me which eye they should focus on, which one I use primarily. The truth is that I use them both, just not at the same time.
Sometimes I use my right eye, and I see myself in shul, surrounded by people who share a large part of my life with me. People that dress the way I dress and eat the food that I eat. We have been raised the same way and understand what it is like to live the unique lifestyle of an Orthodox Jew. We can whine together about the difficulties of a selective diet and obligations that feel trivial or outdated. Here I am supported for my belief and dedication.
But there is something they can’t identify with. Because sometimes I use my left eye and I see something that my Jewish community does not understand. I see Provincetown , MA where hundreds of children of LGBT parents gather for one week every summer. These people understand what it is like to live with a secret, or to live in fear of prejudice and bigotry. And we gather to support and learn from one another. This is one place where I don’t feel like I have a secret. But still, out of the hundreds of families who congregate on the tip of Cape Cod every year, I have yet to find a Jew like me.
I use both my eyes, but I have not been able to make them work together.
“Please,” I responded, “look in them both.”
Video of segments from “Being Gay in The Orthodox World: A conversation with Members of the YU Community”
YU has not released an official transcript of it’s event this week in order to protect the privacy of participants. Several participants, however, have allowed footage of their comments to be shared on Youtube, and we are including these videos here. If others who were at the event are willing to share their comments, we will be sharing them as well.
View of the Audience:
Rabbi Blau’s Intro (we are waiting for permission to publish this)
1st Panelist: (pending permission)
Closing Remarks: Dr. Pelcovitz:
View of the Crowd at the end:
The following is a guest post by Tirtzah member Aviva Yael:
I spent about 15 years in the ultra frum community out to myself and the man I was married to, but no one else in the frum world. At that point I didn’t see any reason to be out to anyone… I decided that since I had decided to marry a man and live as if I was straight… there was no point to bothering with that level of honesty… even to my closest friends who would have understood. I always felt like this was a little bit wrong. People who loved me and thought they knew everything about who I am, were missing a huge chunk of what makes me… me. There was always this slight buzzing in my head of cognitive dissonance within my own life. I am no longer married and I am now out in every aspect of my life.
For me… (not necessarily for everyone) being out (didn’t say coming out) has been a gigantic breath of fresh air. I no longer feel a constant dissonance buzzing in the background of my life. When I walk down the street, go to work, take my kids to the park, sit at a shabbos table or daven in shule… I know who I am and am who I am… from the inside… all the way to the outside, top of my head to the tips of my toes… and I love that.
I also love the fact that by being out, I’m making the world a better place for others who are yet to come. Today, my wife and I had the women from our shule over for a women’s Rosh Chodesh Shalosh Seudos. We are out in the shule and pretty much everyone knows about us. It is a modern orthodox shule and a particularly warm and accepting community. I’m convinced that two of the women who came for shalosh seudos who come very rarely to our shule or are new to coming to our shule just got introduced to the idea that women can be orthodox and lesbian and choose to build a home together. They were lovely guests and now are more sensitive and aware that this can exist and be ok.
Have you ever wondered why this group is called Tirtzah?
Please join us on Sunday Feb 1st. at 10:00 am in Manhattan as we explore our group name, through text study and discussion. We will study the character
of Tirtzah in the Tanach, as well as the meaning of the name, and
discuss the ways in which Tirtzah’s story and the meaning of her name
can inform our lives and our interactions with the Jewish community
and with the Torah.
*Want to Attend?
This is a private event for members of our e-mail discussion group. If you are a frum L/B/Q woman who’d like to join us at this gathering, please join our e-mail list at http://tirtzah.wordpress.com/our-e-mail-list/ for more information. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if you need assistance or have questions.
We encourage you to RSVP to email@example.com.
*What is Tirtzah?
We are a community of frum queer women who gather to celebrate and study our yiddishkeit. We are committed to the value of shleimut (wholeness) and to supporting one another in observing a meaningful, integrated, honest and joyful Jewish life. We have a wide variety of religious backgrounds and identities, but we are all halachically-engaged observant Jews in addition to being lesbian, bisexual or queer identified. We come together to have social events, learn Torah, discuss topics relevant to our lives, and celebrate holidays. We have an active e-mail discussion group and a blog, and we hold in-person events in the New York metropolitan area. Find out more about us at http://tirtzah.wordpress.com
The JCC in Manhattan is starting this new group, led by former NYC-PFLAG president Phyllis Steinberg. Spread the word!
Are you a parent with a LGBTQ child or a LGBTQ adult looking to find an uniquely Jewish, safe space to explore family acceptance, discomfort and all the complex feelings associated with this process? Are you looking for a comfortable, understanding Jewish environment to discuss LGBTQ issues that might be impacting your family dynamic? This group is welcome to all, but specifically addresses the challenges of accepting a LGBTQ child into a religious family. Parents alone, children alone, and parents and children together are all welcome.
4 times on the 1st Wednesday of each month
Jan 7 – Apr 1
Location: The JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th St. (Program room assignments will be available at the JCC Customer Service Desk, in the lobby of the Samuel Priest Rose Building.)
For more information, or to register, please call 646-505-5708.
This is a guest post from Bas Avraham- a member of the Tirtzah community:
I don’t know how to tell people I am queer.
Not that it’s so hard, mind you. In fact, maybe it would be better to write that a different way: I don’t know how to tell people *how* I’m queer. It’s not simple, and it doesn’t have very much to do with identity politics, with my gender, or even with the biological sex of the people I want to have relationships with. At least, not right now.
I could try to explain everything, but in the end, I realized I can’t fit
all of that into something suitable for internet consumption. Instead, I am writing from where I am.
Where I am is in the middle of trying to find a chasan, a
groom, a partner in life. As anyone can tell you, it’s hard work. As a
convert in my late twenties who doesn’t have a lot of experience dating, it’s also a bit scary for me. I am new to dating, new to the frum world, and not exactly sure where I fit. Right now, I am spending a lot of energy trying to figure out whether I want to be in a more “yeshivish” community or in a more modern orthodox community. Truthfully, I don’t really understand why I have to make that choice, but it seems like it is important to most of the men out there, at least the ones I seem to be meeting.
In order to find people to date, well. At first, I didn’t have to find people. I dated the same person for a year and a half – a man, who was my first love and also the first experience I ever had dating an orthodox person. We met by accident, at a shul, and one of the first things I asked him was “how would you react, if you had a gay kid?” His reaction was interesting; not extreme, not scared. It made me more or less happy – the truth is, I was happy enough that he didn’t run away.
At the time when I met him, what I wanted was to find someone who would join me in trying to find halakhically (that is, legally, according to Torah law) viable ways to advocate for the queer frum community at large. At the bare minimum, I was looking for someone who would support my pursuit of that work. The substance of that work has already changed, as I learn more about the Torah and the obligations and ideas it has on the subject, but my committment to the work itself, to partnering with other Jews to try to be a community where all of us can try to serve Hashem “b’chol levavcha, u’v'chol nafshecha” – with all our heart and blood – is non-negotiable.
The truth is, he was dedicated to that work too. To this day, I don’t know what really went wrong in that relationship. But his horror at learning that I was interested in actually introducing queer frum Jews to one another, for the purposes of matchmaking, served, in an ironic twist, to hasten the end of my own match. To me, my dedication to that type of advocacy ought to have been a conversation. Instead, it was a shouting match, taking place over the course of two days. The temptation to “give in” was very strong.
But ultimately, the result of the argument – which side won – wasn’t what disturbed me. What disturbed me was that he was willing to ignore parts of reality in order to try to uphold a “Torah law”. And to me, since I believe that the Torah deals in the ultimate reality, enacting it and its laws in the world really do have to take all of that world into account. Whether there are good halakhic
arguments for queer matchmaking or not is really not the point. The point is that in considering the question, the people doing the considering need to include things like the following realities:
1. The existence of frum people who have feeling exclusively for people of
”non-halakhically optimal” genders – i.e., the continued existence of queer
frum people, whether they are interested in identifying as queer in a political way or not.
2. A concern that as many Jews as possible do as many mitzvot as possible.
3. A concern that Jews remain affiliated with other Jews.
4. A concern that we as a Jewish community give one another permission to
live our lives according to as many Jewish values as possible – this
includes the value of tznius (modesty/humility) which problematizes many
things that go along with secular dating.
5. A concern that people who are not permitted to get what they need openly
often do so in ways that are risky or life-threatening, and are almost always dishonest to someone, somewhere along the way.
6. A concern for the high suicide rate among all queer youth.
Since I believe that at least one act potentially involved in queer male relations is an issur d’oraisa (a Torah prohibition), and all bets are off as to the halakhic status of various things we women might do or relationships we might be in, the violation of a Torah prohibition is also one of these considerations – and obviously it is extremely weighty. Probably more weighty than most of the other considerations. But the other considerations are still there. They don’t simply disappear. The Torah is not an arbitrary document. It represents the will of G-d, and the last time I checked, G-d made the universe, with all the statistics and considerations and queer people in it.
After man no. 1 and I broke up, I joined a dating website - the kind where you hire a shadchan (a matchmaker), and the shadchanim match you up. I got matched after a good long while, and recently went on a first date with a new man. He seemed pretty interesting, so we went out again. Finally, on the third date, I asked him my killer question: “what would you do if you had a child who told you he was gay?”
Afterward, he told me his first thought was “what kind
of orthodox Jewish conversation is this?”
And I thought to myself, that’s just the trouble. Why isn’t this an
orthodox Jewish conversation? Is being orthodox really about being in denial?
I hope not.
Chanukah celebrates small things- a tiny leftover jug of oil, a small army, a slim chance. We celebrate the survival of Judaism and the Jewish people- who have always been vastly outnumbered by the nations of the world. We celebrate a world in which the importance of things is not measured by their size or their power- but by their righteousness.
As an Orthodox Lesbian I am part of a minority within a minority. The majority of people I meet, inevitably, find my experience to be different from theirs. Some of them wonder why I continue to live as I do. Wouldn’t it be easier, they suggest, to closet my identity as a queer person- or to abandon religion and live in a secular world that (they imagine) would better embrace me? Can’t I find a way to be less different- less of a minority?
I’m sure I could. But Judaism has taught me to celebrate the survival of a small minority, despite many difficulties, in a large world. In the time of the Macabees- the Jewish people could have chosen to disappear and become a part of the many. Instead- they resisted, maintained their integrity and identity as a small nation of jews, and persevered.
Sometimes it is hard for me to live as a minority in a world that does not always accept me. In the Orthodox Jewish world, it can be hard for people to understand my choice to live as an out lesbian woman, and sometimes those people make my life difficult. I have had to hear comments from people that I have found hurtful. I’ve had to worry that my family would reject me, and I find it hard to visit the neighborhood I grew up in- because I don’t know whether the community that nurtured my childhood and adolescence would continue to support me now. I know that there are places where I am not welcome to learn Torah, Daven, eat a Shabbat Meal, or set up a household. It is possible that it would be easier if I was in the closet, married to a man I did not love and could not love, and appearing as though I was like everybody else. I would blend in, perhaps- but it would be the wrong thing for me to do.
There are also communities, Jewish and otherwise, who are able to accept me as a lesbian, but who cannot respect my religious convictions or my Orthodox Jewish lifestyle. There are people who would love to “cure” me of my “oppressive” religion, which they imagine is at the root of all my problems- or who hope that one day I will “loosen up” and keep less of the Mitzvot. They find it difficult to believe that I have faith in a g-d who hears my prayers, gave my people the Torah, and sustains the world each and every day. Perhaps I could be more quiet about my frumkiet. I could live in a way that would make it less obvious- or abandon it altogether. I could become more similar to the people around me, stick out less, and find a place where it is always safe to be queer. But that also would be the wrong thing for me to do.
Fortunately, I haven’t had to make either choice. I have found small parts of the jewish world where I can feel fully comfortable and accepted as a queer person, while working to live my life according to the Torah I believe in. I have found a minority of people who would support me in living as my full self, and a few special rabbis and religious teachers who have supported me in seeking to understand how to live my life in a way that would be most consistent with my deeply held beliefs.
Today, as Chanukah is about to end- I look at my life and see that what has allowed me to survive thus far, has been the ability to celebrate these small things. My Jewish tradition, whose bearers have always been a small minority among the world religions, has taught me to celebrate the light that comes from a small jug of oil so small that it seemed, at first glance, inadequate to the task it was given.
Posted by queeryeshivameidel.