Openly gay orthodox Jews get their say, support

Published: December 8, 2011

For the 1st time, support group for orthodox LGBT Jews is allowed to distribute materials, info at Orthodox mental health forum.
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HAUPPAUGE, NY — The 15th annual conference of Nefesh International, an association of Orthodox mental health professionals, was a study in inclusion.

Dr. Judith Guedelia, the director of Shaare Zedek Medical Center’s neuropsychology unit, became the first woman to receive the conference’s Esther Solomon Mental Health Award. Several participants noted the increased Chasidic representation. And three openly gay men for the first time were permitted to set up a table. Members of Jewish Queer Youth, a support group for Orthodox and formally Orthodox LGBT Jews, they distributed informational materials and debated — and occasionally berated — conference participants.

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The JQY members were allowed to participate in last weekend’s conference at a Long Island hotel only as individual advocates raising awareness, not under the banner of an organization. And only after a special appeal to Nefesh.

"They wanted to talk about their struggles as homosexuals in the Orthodox world,” said Simcha Feuerman, a marriage and family therapist in private practice in New York and the president of Nefesh. “Mental health professionals should be aware of those voices.”

Feuerman noted that as an organization that abides by halachah, or Jewish law, Nefesh cannot support any organization that "normalizes” homosexual behavior.

“On the other hand, we certainly have great compassion and interest in the challenges and struggles that persons with homosexual desires and orientation experience,” he said.

The inclusion of openly gay men at the conference represents yet another shift, however incremental, in the willingness of the Orthodox community to candidly discuss homosexuality. It also comes as Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing, or JONAH — an organization that promotes reparative therapy for Orthodox gays — did not participate in the conference after its controversial appearance last year. JONAH co-founder Arthur Goldberg told JTA that he had a prior engagement in Florida.

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