Releasing Your Burden: The Eshel Shabbaton

As we’ve explored in earlier posts by and about Orthodox Jews who are also LGBTQ (including a round-up of blogs, a video from hip-hop artist Y-Love, what it;s like to come out at an Orthodox high school, and an interview with the first out gay Orthodox rabbi), being Orthodox and LGBTQ is complicated. Luckily, in recent years there have been a growing number people and organizations providing support, safe space, and resources for LGBTQ Orthodox Jews and their families. Esheldedicated to building “understanding, support, and community for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people in traditional Jewish communities,” is a prominent example of the work being done by, and on behalf of, LGBT Orthodox Jews.

Creative Common/Paolo Crosetto

Creative Common/Paolo Crosetto

In January 2013, the author of this post attended a shabbaton organized by Eshel. These reflections originally ran on his blog, Orthodox, Gay, and Married JewWe’re grateful for the opportunity to share his powerful post.

Like angels in the sky
in a garden full of glory
the galaxies so brilliantly related
ultimately high
on that first page of our story

The shabbaton started with davening on Friday night. I had been to support groups in the past, both for JQY or Jewish Queer Youth (an organization based in NYC whose primary objective is to give support to young men and woman struggling with issues related to being LGBT; please see for more information) and a non-religious (and non-agenda driven) support group for gay married men (if you would like information about this group, please email me). When I went to these groups, which had about 10-20 people, I was scared and overwhelmed.

Fast forward to Eshel. Walking in on 120 or more people made me feel like a deer in headlights. At first I stood in the back of the shul and observed. I couldn’t bring myself to sit down. As davening continued with the singing of kabbalas Shabbos, I suddenly found myself feeling the warmth of the room rush through my body. There were opening remarks that further made me feel like I was finding a new family.