A Happy Dilemma for Gay and Lesbian Jews

Timothy Kincaid

March 21st, 2008

gaystar.bmpSometimes you come across a problem that seems more of reason for celebration than a reason for concern: My raise put me in a new tax bracket; My friends are throwing me a birthday party on the day of American Idol results; All the candidates for my congressional district are supportive of my rights, have great ideas about the economy and local jobs, and all have a creative solution for Iraq.

What’s a guy to do?

The Jewish Daily Forward reports just such a dilemma for gay Jews. In the 70’s, the major branches of Judaism were not supportive of their gay members so separate synagogues were established.

But since that time our Jewish brothers and sisters have achieved incredible support from the leaders of their faith. The Reconstructionist and the Reform branches both endorse marriage equality (under civil law) and the Conservative branch allows rabbis to determine whether they will perform same-sex ceremonies. Only Orthodox leaders are not supportive of gay equality.

But now gay synagogues face a serious question:

As the mainstream Jewish world has increasingly accepted gay and lesbian Jews, gay-and-lesbian-founded synagogues like Bet Haverim have grappled with questions that go to the core of their identity: How accepting should they be of straight members? Can they accept straight members and still remain distinct? Is there still a future for gay and lesbian synagogues, or will they slowly merge into the mainstream?

You see, it seems that straight Jewish families like the friendliness of gay synagogues and want to join. They aren’t worried about what the neighbors may think nor are they squeamish that someone may look at them funny. In fact, some seem more at home than in a more conventional synagogue.

Oy vey!

Now I do recognize that this is a genuine issue of concern. It truly does continue to be of vital importance that gay Jewish kids growing up in non-supportive families have models to look to.

“There are people who reach out to us from all over the world — from phone booths in [the ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn enclave of] Boro Park, e-mails from Kansas and Pakistan,” Cohen said. “The fact that there is a gay synagogue gives people hope in an incredible and lifesaving way.”

But, nonetheless, too much support and inclusion is a problem I’d gladly welcome in the Christian faith.

So to our gay Jewish readers I say, “Congratulations on your terrible problem. And thank you for creating within the Jewish community in America some of our strongest allies.”

Ben in Oakland

March 21st, 2008

I know will anger the we’re-gay-so-we’re-special-and-have-a-unqiue culture crowd, but I believe the whole point of gay liberation is the precise opposite of that– we’re gay and we’re not so “special” because of that. in other words, no one really cares.

I think it is wonderful that straight families want to join gay synagogues.

Stefano

March 21st, 2008

Now I do recognize that this is a genuine issue of concern. It truly does continue to be of vital importance that gay Jewish kids growing up in non-supportive families have models to look to.

I view this similar to Afro-Centric organizations. Inclusive, rather than segregationist, but not to the extent that they subvert their unique identities.

Whether someone is heterosexual or homosexual sexuality is, admittedly, just one strand in a life in which our lives have more similarities than dissimilarities among people. Yet, this does not require denying the dissimilarities or pretending to not notice or express the dissimilarities.

Emily K

March 21st, 2008

Huzzah for our gay-straight “problem!” It reminds me of straight people who like gay bars better than straight bars. And I’m told that even the straight square-dancing club in Philly visits the gay square-dancing club to learn new moves!

The orthodoxy is becoming more tolerant. Chasidism is not, but the issue is being expressed loudly and publicly for the first time in these communities. “Trembling Before G-d” was only the tip of the iceberg – only the start.

Jason D

March 22nd, 2008

Ben, I gotta agree with ya.

I don’t think the gay community will disappear, per se, but I do think a great deal of the gay community was spawned in reaction to discrimination, oppression, fear of violence, etc… As social and political equality continues, there will be less need for gay-specific places. Which is a good thing, and pretty much the whole point of our “agenda” as it were.

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