By Alison Walsh, Parents of Jewish Gays and Lesbians
I love Chanukah.
The family all come together to spin the dreidel, munch just a few too many chocolate coins and sing as one in the light of the flickering candles on the old family menorah.
Chanukah is wonderful not just because it is such fun but also for its meaning.
Publicly facing down oppression and standing up for our identity.
Chanukah is the festival which proudly celebrates the survival of Jewish Souls.
Can a child be gay and Jewish? The meaning of Chanukah is all too relevant today as we face the question of ‘how far we try or not to keep all Jewish Souls in the community’?
As many gay children are born in our community as in any other.
This Chanukah is the time to face up to today’s threat that our Jewish gay children see no future for themselves in the Jewish community.
Is there a place in our hearts for our gay children? Whether or not our gay children can feel that they belong to the wider Jewish family depends on what they grow up hearing in conversations at the Shabbat table, in Shul, at school.
“Jewish Parents of Gays and Lesbians” was set up in May 1996 to be there for all those parents who wanted to talk in confidence to other parents and hear how they coped.
Whatever difficult feelings we may go through as parents on learning of our child’s sexuality, we understand that we need to accept our child’s sexuality.
We are proud to be Jewish and want our children to feel accepted by the Jewish community and not made to feel outsiders because of their sexuality.
Sadly, I hear stories of Jewish schools and Shul communities who make gay children and their families feel uncomfortable and not belonging.
Sometimes, this is because of harsh words or actions.
Sometimes, it is not that anyone has said anything cruel or judgemental but more that no words of positive understanding are heard.
Perhaps wrongly, our sensitivity as parents of gay and lesbian children leads us to read into this silence, prejudice and rejection.
It is probably this silence which explains why so few gay children or their parents are willing to disclose their situation to their Rabbi or anyone in their Shul community.
The wall of silence works to reinforce stigma and cruel gossip.
Not belonging, shame and fear are feelings which drive our gay children away from the Jewish community.
A gay child who once was happy to go to Shul every week, may leave home and rarely choose to go to Shul and Jewish events. A child whose identity is Jewish and Gay can feel that there is no space in the Jewish community for him or her.
This brings me back to the subject of Chanukah and the threat of losing people from the community.
Unless we as a Jewish community break down the wall of silence and recognise our gay children, we will lose ever more Jewish souls.
It is a moral hazard as the initial number of lost Jewish Souls from among our gay children is then added to by siblings and friends whose divided loyalty and discomfort with the community’s treatment of a loved one can weaken their own Jewish commitment and pride.
Will we treat gay children and their families in ways which we would hate ourselves to be treated?
To quote Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, “Compassion, sympathy, empathy, understanding – these are essential elements of Judaism. They are what homosexual Jews who care about Judaism need from us today.”
Do we fear normalising being gay? Why? Are we hoping to force the gay child into an unhappy heterosexual marriage, which would itself store up further unhappiness for all concerned?
Some Orthodox Rabbis worry for their own position if they publicly acknowledge and show understanding and support to Jewish Gay children and their families.
This is sad and is at the root of the problem. This is where you can help and you don’t need to have a personal connection with a gay child or family member (although you may well do, even if you don’t know it), just the courage to keep alive Jewish values of respect and love.
“Parents of Jewish Gays and Lesbians” would like every synagogue to make available our contact details.
We have a post card size piece of publicity which if it went up on the Shul notice board would publicly signal to gay children and families, that there is a voice of understanding and that they are not outsiders to the community.
If you may be prepared to contact your Shul or Rabbi on our behalf to ask for this, then please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone Alison on 0780 6636089
Chanukah is a time to be proud of our Jewish identity and there is no reason why that identity can not be Jewish AND Gay.