A New Jersey-based organization called JONAH, or Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing, claims they can help people to “journey out of homosexuality.” Founded in 1998, the organization offers counseling to those struggling with “unwanted same sex attractions.” This week, as the Times of Israel reported, closing arguments started in a lawsuit against JONAH. The basis of the suit is that it violates New Jersey’s consumer fraud laws, claiming that homosexuality is a disorder of which one can be cured.
This is not the Judaism I know, and it is certainly not the Judaism I practice. I was raised Conservative, and attend services every Shabbat. I am the daughter of a gay Jewish woman, who belongs to a synagogue whose Rabbi is also a gay Jewish woman (visit their website here). I grew up with strong Jewish values and strong humanistic ones — ones that taught me that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being gay. There’s also nothing wrong with being gay and Jewish.
Genesis 1:27: “G-d created man in his own image, in the image of G-d he created him; male and female, he created them.” If this is true, why should any organization — especially one that describes itself as being Jewish in nature — try to rob someone of the identity that g-d has created for them? Being gay is not a ‘lifestyle’ or a choice, as too many people seem to think it is. It is a part of your being, your soul. It is not shameful, and it should not have to be hidden. To publicly identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or any other sexual or gender orientation takes bravery. It is a difficulty that some people struggle with their entire lives. To then tell these people that who they are is wrong is in and of itself, wrong.
While Reform, Reconstructionist, Masorti, and Conservative movements of Judaism accept homosexuality, Orthodoxy — like the Orthodox sects of all major religions — still grapples with this. Many Orthodox rabbis have accepted that a homosexual Jew is still a Jew. They should therefore be regarded with the same dignity and respect as their straight counterparts. There are those, however, who continue to demonize homosexuality.
Just a few weeks ago, the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis made an announcement calling for full inclusion of Transgender people in the Jewish community, in response to celebrity Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out. This decision should be seen as a lesson for other communities – it is imperative to accept the members of your community for who they are.
In the beginning of June, Tel Aviv held its annual Pride event. Attended by tens of thousands, the celebration brings together Jews and non-Jews, gay and straight people alike, and about a million smiles. Israel is currently the only state in the Middle East where the LGBT community enjoys the same rights as the straight community – they are protected by anti-discrimination laws, their civil marriages are recognized, they can serve openly in the IDF — the list goes on. While many in the Orthodox population certainly look down upon this particular festivity, the celebration of love is one that should never be denied.
The founders of JONAH should be ashamed of themselves, not only for what they have done and what they have preached, but for having the audacity to call themselves righteous Jews. I am disappointed that there are members of my religious community who follow this train of thought and try to pass it on to others. I hope that, in my lifetime, the idea of conversion therapy sees itself to the grave. I hope that the LGBT community will find acceptance in all communities, religious or otherwise. I hope that my generation will foster a better environment to those who simply want to love and be loved for who they are.
There is infinite beauty in love, and Judaism teaches. Leviticus 19:18 tells us to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and Psalm 34 asks “Who is the one with a passion for life, loving every day and seeing the good?” At the end of your life, would you rather be remembered for the love you gave, or the love you stole (JONAH, here’s looking at you) from someone else?