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Losing my religion

When the Orthodoxy my boy had loved rejected him, what could he do but walk away?
Illustrative. Gay pride rainbow Star of David sticker. (iStock)
Illustrative. Gay pride rainbow Star of David sticker. (iStock)

I am writing in response to Rabbi Yair Hoffman’s December 7th article in Yeshiva World, “Growing Movement to Rein in Open Orthodoxy — The OU Controversy.”

I don’t usually share my personal thoughts online, but I am making an exception as I don’t know of any other way to express myself on this very important topic.

First and foremost, being gay is not a “sociological trend.” It is not a choice but a way someone is, how Hashem made them. My 23-year-old son came out to his family last summer, after years of struggling and soul searching. He said he knew he was gay from a young age but could never actualize these feelings while he was in yeshiva and living a “typical Orthodox life.” We did not know what he was going through and that will always pain me, as his mother, knowing I could have supported him if I had known. We are a very close family and I berate myself for not knowing, but how could I have known?

He made aliyah when he was 19, after spending a year at Yeshivat Hakotel in Jerusalem. He served in the IDF for a year and a half as a “mifaked (commander)” in Totchanim (artillery). This is where my son “came out” to his friends.

Open Orthodoxy is here to stay. What do you expect us to do with our children, Rabbi Hoffman? Ignore them? Not to celebrate joyous occasions with them? My experience as a mother of a gay son has not been an easy one. Yes, as his mother, I am “out,” as are his father and siblings and other members of our family. My road has sometimes been a lonely one and a personal emotional journey. I love my son with all my heart and soul and want him to live a healthy, full life, filled with love and acceptance.

A local prominent rabbi advised me that there are “medications and therapy for this problem” and “that maybe one day he will choose to meet a nice Jewish girl and marry.” How damaging is that advice! Please don’t tell other parents that!

Our community is filled with people who outwardly live a “Torah life” yet willingly commit adultery, abuse their spouses and children, steal money, cheat the government, cheat in business, and yet they are considered “good standing members of our Jewish community. They exemplify “Torah values?”

My son wants to remain connected to Hashem and he is, very deeply, but cannot accept that the Torah considers him an abomination. He is leaving traditional Orthodoxy as traditional Orthodoxy has left him first and has turned him away. My son is no sinner. He is one of the finest human beings I know.

There needs to be a change. We need to address the issue of our children who are gay and lesbian. Again, they are who they are, not by choice. So I say to a prominent Orthodox rabbi: No! It is not the same as eating treif or not keeping Shabbos. It is not like an addiction or a mental illness. For my son and all the other children, there is no choice but to be who they are.

Do I need to move to Riverdale to daven at the Hebrew Institute (HIR)? Is there a place for me to daven, a place where my son will be welcomed and accepted?

It is incumbent upon leaders and laypeople alike to find true compassion, and not just lip service appeals to conditional tolerance, the norm of our communities.

About the Author
Jami Nelson resides in Cedarhurst, NY, is a proud mother to four children and grandmother to three. She enjoys cooking, listening to the Grateful Dead, and spending time with her grandchildren. A doula for over a decade, Jami works with women before during and after the labor, and is greatly passionate about childbirth and helping women.
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