You’ve heard it, right? How contemporary Israel is a land of extremes, part Miami Beach-like hedonistic secular and part Tehran-like super Orthodox religious, with nothing in between.
Those of us who live here know the picture is much more complex. Yes, the picture of where the extremes in Israeli culture are is indeed accurate, but the depiction of there being nothing in between couldn’t be farther from the truth.
This is especially true in the gay community here in Jerusalem. Here’s a ‘secret’ that is seldom talked about — since the chance that any one particular child might turn out to be same-sex attracted is more or less random, larger families are more likely to have a gay child in them than small families. And, as religious families tend to be large, the chance of their having a gay child in them is substantial.
Once, Orthodox people might tend to just stay in the closet, but ‘the times they are a changin’’. Any kind of coming out process is likely to be especially hard for people from an Orthodox background who desire to stay connected to the community they grew up in. People might come ‘partially’ out of the closet, with some people knowing about their sexual preference while others do not. The Jerusalem Open House in the center of the city (https://www.joh.org.il/) is a special place that seeks to provide the kind of support for LGBTQ Israelis, including ones in the Orthodox world. Founded in 1997, the Open House’s offerings include a medical clinic and counseling resources. Its mission is not limited to people who identify as only religious or secular. Mikie Goldstein, the first openly gay Masorti rabbi to hold a pulpit, is a former chairman of Open House. He now leads Congregation Adat Shalom Emanuel in Rehovot.
As a straight person, I seek to be an ally of the LGBT community, and as a spiritual caregiver, my personal mission and the mission of my organization HavLi (“Give me Your Hand”) is to function as a bridge between the US and Israeli spiritual care communities, both of which have tremendous potential to enrich the other. The US community is the one that is much larger and has a long legacy of developing into a profession with individuals with special expertise and qualifications.
(Spiritual care — sometimes referred to as pastoral care or chaplaincy, and, in Hebrew, as לווי רוחני — is the field of professionals who provide spiritual support to people around death, aging and illness, especially in hospitals and nursing homes.)
This week at the Open House, one of my most beloved spiritual care teachers — the Rev. Mary Martha Thiel of Hebrew SeniorLife in Boston — will be speaking about her own research and experience about caring for LGBT people amid illness and aging. There will also be instruction from experts from the Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York.
People interested in the Thursday morning sessions can visit our Facebook Event page (https://www.facebook.com/events/1201844386618225/).
Making our little nation a place of peace and love — one that is neither Miami Beach nor Tehran, but Israel — is a process, one that will take place not merely through the large political acts that we are used to around the peace process, but also with small ones of individual love and healing. We all should be educating ourselves in how to be more part of a loving rainbow.