Reflections on Tisha B’Av and finding a place for the LGBT Jew

On the eve of Tisha B’Av, I will be listening to the reading of Megilat Eicha (Lamentations) at Chabad. Why does it matter where I am hearing it, as long as I hear it, right? I must say there is something special about being surrounded by Jews who get it; a rabbi who gets it. The “just come and daven” philosophy, deeply entrenched in Chabad Houses every where, has made many a person frum. It has made my partner frum and it has kept me on a frum path, as well. I am forever grateful to the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson ZT”L, a rav whose love knew no bounds and who transformed Chabad into what it is today.

When I lived in Connecticut, Chabad was there. When I lived in upstate New York, Chabad was there. When I lived In England, Chabad was there. When I lived in France, Chabad was there. When my partner lived in Florida, Chabad was there, and embraced her as she was becoming observant. When my partner was in China studying for her EMBA, Chabad was there. And in my town, though sadly too far for me and my family to regularly walk on shabbos, Chabad is there. And so I write these words to them – for Hakarat Hatov must be given to this movement and its rabbis.

When one thinks about all of the tragedies that have befallen our people, especially as we reflect on those events during the Nine Days, one cannot help but find joy in a shul that loves every Jew, that welcomes every Jew, that understands the true meaning of ahavat Yisrael and k’vod habriyot. And so I say to the frum world out there – IT IS POSSIBLE! One can have a frum shul that welcomes every Jew, even the LGBT one like me;  without judgement, or finger pointing, or marginalizing, or shaming – “just come and daven.” Isn’t that the way things should be?

Why do I write these words? Why is any of this relevant? The answer, I submit, can be found in the words of Moshe Ibn Ezra: “Words emanating from the heart are able to enter the hearts of others.” A belief, I contend, that is at the core of the Chabad movement. Every time I have attended my local Chabad shul, I have heard the rabbi speak of love for one’s fellow Jew, of not judging others, of welcoming all who enter, and of finding a place for each and every one of us. And so I speak from my heart, to the frum world out there – learn from Chabad, learn to embrace your fellow Jew, even if he or she is not like you.

I am sure there are many who ask while reading this: Why? Why should my shul, my community, welcome the LGBT Jew? The answer is simple; because we are your fellow Jews and because not doing so is too great a burden for our people to bear. The loss of life and destruction depicted in each and every sentence of Megilat Eicha tears at one’s soul. The cadence we hear as it is read, the story it tells; one can actually feel the destruction of Jerusalem, and the demise of our ancestors. The Talmud and our sages offer so many different opinions as to why Jerusalem was destroyed and why we suffered so. The most often cited reason though is sina’at chinam, coupled with the lashon hara that follows this blind hatred.

As we reflect during these nine days on all of this, we should ask ourselves: How does this relate to our world today? Sina’at chinam is alive and well in the frum world, so is lashon hara; and for the LGBT Jews, and their families, the impact of these is so great. So I must humbly urge frum communities everywhere to find a way to embrace us rather than shun us. As I have written before, this is an issue of pikuach nefesh, and the suicide rate since last Rosh Hashana speaks to this; many of those young people were struggling with their sexuality. Were you part of the community that pushed them away? Were you that rabbi?

Rather than comfort each other, we tear each other asunder. Rather than love us, we are hated, and whispered about, or even publicly shamed; as are the families of LGBT children. Just read Hannah Dreyfus’s article in the Jewish Week from April of this year, Despite Gains For LGBT Jews, Frum Families Still Feeling Alienated. This is how all of this relates to our world today. The loss of life, the death and alienation of our youth, is unacceptable and it is one of the greatest tragedies of our time – but it does not have to be so. Each of you reading this can change that.

“Remember my afflictions and my sorrow… my soul remembers well, and makes me despondent. Yet, this I bear in mind; therefore I still hope: Hashem’s kindness surely has not ended, nor are His mercies exhausted. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! ‘Hashem is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I have hope in Him.’ ”  (Eicha, Ch. 3, 19-24 – Artscroll Tanach Series).

Hashem has not given up on us as a people. We are here even after the destruction of Jerusalem, and still here after our most recent destruction, rising from the ashes of the Holocaust. Follow by example, do not give up on us or your ability to break the chains of blind hatred in the frum world. Be kind. Be merciful.

I have hope in you.

About the Author
Shlomit is a career prosecutor -- one who believes in seeking justice for others. She holds a degree in Judaic Studies from Brooklyn College and a law degree from Hofstra (1998). She is a yeshiva high school graduate (Central/YUHSG,1988). Shlomit recently spoke on a panel at the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America) on the necessity for inclusion of the LGBT community in the Orthodox world and the impact that exclusion has caused to that community.
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