Gay, Orthodox Jewish, and proud: A new movement takes to Facebook

Poster for the "Our Faces" campaign. Image published on the Facebook pages of the Bat Kol and the Havruta organisations.
Poster for the "Our Faces" campaign. Image published on the Facebook pages of the Bat Kol and the Havruta organisations.

Homosexuality and strict religious practice usually don’t go well together. And that is certainly the case for gays and lesbians in Israel’s Orthodox Jewish community. But LGBT members of the community have decided to speak out in a new online campaign called "Our Faces".

This campaign includes photos and testimonies from observant gay men and women who say that their sexuality and their religion don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Bat Kol, an organisation of lesbians who are practicing Orthodox Jews, and Havruta, a similar group for Orthodox gay men, launched the campaign jointly on Facebook. It brings together 44 people — some of whom are coming out to their community for the very first time. There is a photo of each participant as well as a small bio including his or her name, educational background (often at religious schools) and marital status. Then, each participant tells the story of how their family came to accept their sexual orientation.

Bat Kol and Havruta wrote a statement to go with the campaign. A short selection reads:

"There is someone to talk to. You have friends who are like you. We gays and lesbians who grew up in Orthodox households understand how lonely you can feel, how alientated and how suffocated. We know what it is like to figure out little by little that you are different from other people."

Yehudit, one of the campaign participants. 

While Israel’s LGBT community is experiencing wider acceptance than ever before, Israel remains a country of paradoxes. Gay marriage was legalised in 2007 and surrogacy in 2014. But at Jerusalem’s last Pride parade, a Jewish extremist stabbed six participants. One teenager died from her injuries. The perpetrator of the attacks had already served a jail sentence for injuring three other people during a similiar incident at the same parade several years earlier. In 2009, two people were shot at a LGBT centre in Tel-Aviv.

"We wanted to send a message of hope to observant gays and lesbians who face rejection from their families"

Daniel Jonas is the president of Havruta.

The idea for this campaign came from our belief that people will be more open to changing their minds about gay and lesbian people if they know one personally. If you don’t have contact with anyone in the LGBT community and you just hear about them from the media and other people, you will be more close-minded than if you actually know a friend, neighbour or teacher and learn later that he or she is gay and or lesbian.

We also want to show that there are gay and lesbian people everywhere, even in religious communities and families. The 44 men and women who volunteered for this campaign come from all over the country, have different backgrounds and went to different schools, but all of them are both gay and observant.

All of us are also from so-called modern Orthodox families. In the ultra-Orthodox community, it is still almost impossible to come out.

In his portrait, Daniel Jonas explains: "When we finished dinner on the evening of the holy day of Simchat Thorah, I told my parents that I had a boyfriend. My heart was beating so hard...but I couldn’t continue to lie. A few minutes later, my father served us all whisky and made a toast: 'Lechayim!' ('To life!')."

In the Torah, homosexuality is considered a sin

I’m married to a man who also comes from an Orthodox family. Our relationship doesn’t prevent us from being observant. We are lucky that our families accept us as we are. They came to our wedding, which is not the case in every family. In the Torah, it is written that it is forbidden for two men to have sexual relations together and some people continue to invoke these passages as reason to look down on us and exclude us.

However, just after that passage in the Torah, it is also written that women must purify themselves at a ritual bath on days that they have their period. According to the Torah, not doing so was considered as sinful as a gay relationship. But personally I have never heard of a rabbi who asks women to do this.

Our goal is to bring hope for a better life to observant gays and lesbians who are facing rejection from their families. This project is actually an extension of a project we did last August. We published a list of names of students at religious schools who were openly gay or lesbian in a conservative newspaper. Our action garnered a wide response. Some parents were upset and called schools to complain, saying that this injured the school’s reputation.

These two campaigns are ways for us to respond to what happened at the last Pride Parade in Jerusalem, when an attacker stabbed participants, as well as to comments from an Orthodox rabbi who equated murder and homosexuality… How could you associate the two? We are currently in the process of planning our next action, which will definitely include hanging posters of this type in the streets to reach a maximum number of people.