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September 15, 2014 / 20 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘gay’

New Hampshire House Squashes Bill Allowing Vendors to Refuse Serving Gay Weddings

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Imagine that you’re a kosher wedding hall, catering exclusively to Orthodox Jewish events, and you’re approached by two gay gentlemen who are looking to hire your services to cater their wedding (just before the Sefira). Well, if your establishment were anywhere in the state of New Hampshire, you could lose your operating license for refusing to accommodate them.

The New Hampshire House of Representative Wednesday defeated by a 246-85 vote a bill that would have allowed photographers, caterers and others to turn away wedding gigs if they had a religious objection to the marriage.

The prime sponsor of House Bill 1264, Rep. Jerry Bergevin, Republican from Manchester, said no one should be obligated to provide services if the transaction is repugnant to them, because of their religious beliefs.

“This bill is written to protect a person of faith when they leave their house of worship,” Bergevin told the Concord Monitor. “If a Jewish catering company refuses to serve pork, they should be able to. If a photographer wants to photograph only heterosexual couples, he would be protected to do so. If a photographer wants to photograph only same-sex couples, he would be protected to do that.”

But Rep. Barry Palmer, a Republican from Nashua, a member of the New Hampshire Human Rights Commission, told the Union Leader the bill was unconstitutional, illegal, immoral, and mean-spirited.

“I have a rough idea of what discrimination is,” he said. “This bill is illegal by state statute and illegal by federal law.”

New York legalized same-sex marriages back in June, 2011, but the New York law has a provision for businesses “being managed, directed, or supervised by or in conjunction with a religious corporation, benevolent order, or a not-for-profit corporation … shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges … Any such refusal to provide services … shall not create any civil claim or cause of action or result in any state or local government action to penalize, withhold benefits, or discriminate against such religious corporation, benevolent order, a not-for-profit explanation.”

“This should be a very alarming warning,” Rep. Bergevin said after the defeat of his bill. “It means we are moving into a brave new world. It may not be your ox being gored at the moment, but just wait, it will be.”

And said gored ox may not be the exclusive headache of Bergevin’s constituents. After all, “as New Hampshire goes, so goes the nation.” Political trends have a way of trickling down to the more populated states, where clashes against the background of newly legalized gay marriages could end up impoverishing religious businesses.

Surviving Bullying, Silencing And Torment For Being Gay In The Frum Community

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

It’s been more than six months since The Jewish Press published an op-ed titled “Orthodox Homosexuals and the Pursuit of Self Indulgence.” In the article, the writer, while not mentioning my name, calls me shameless and self-indulgent and suggests that I learn to suffer in silence. He was referring to an anti-suicide video I made for the “It Gets Better” project. In the YouTube video I talk about the endless bullying in my childhood, the trauma of reparative therapy and my suicide attempt as a result of a frum community that seemed to not want me to exist simply because I was gay.

My message was that, with time, with understanding friends and with self-acceptance, it gets better. I hoped to tell other kids who may be on the brink of suicide to stick it out, because life gets better; even for gay Jews growing up in the Orthodox community. This video never talks about private behavior, never mentions any assur activity, and certainly does not divulge anything about what I do behind closed doors. However, simply because I talk about how I was bullied for being gay, the author tried to make me feel horrible for simply sending a message of hope. He succeeded in embarrassing me and making me feel unwanted by this community.

I wish I could say that this is the exception. But the truth is that despite the fact that I would never talk publicly about private personal behavior or engaging in sin, the frum world seems to see me as part of a “gay agenda” simply because I won’t stay quiet.

My name is Chaim Levin. I grew up in a heimishe family in Crown Heights. I love my mother, my father and my family. I had always felt different and was the subject of relentless bullying by other boys for “seeming” gay. When I was 17 I confided to a friend that I was attracted to men and not sexually attracted to women at all. When it came out, I was thrown out of yeshiva. For the longest time I felt so alone because I truly believed that I was the only person battling this secret war. My older siblings were getting married and having kids, and all I ever wanted was to be a part of the beautiful world my parents had raised me in. My dream was to marry a woman and live the life my family hoped and dreamed for me. I would never have chosen to be gay; I could not imagine anyone growing up in the Orthodox world who would choose to be someone who doesn’t fit into the values and norms of everyone around them.

So do I think that I was “born gay”? I don’t know and I am not sure how important that is. What is important is that it certainly is not something that I chose or had anything to do with. And I felt immense pressure to somehow change who I was.

After much time and research I found a well-known organization that “specialized” in reparative therapy. This organization had endorsements from a wide range of rabbanim and I was sure that it was the answer to all my problems. The organization’s executive director told me that he believes everyone can change if they simply put in the hard work. I would have done anything to change, and this message was just the hope I was looking for. I spent two years attending every group meeting, weekend, and individual life coaching sessions they offered. My parents and I paid thousands of dollars. Every day, every session, I was working and waiting to feel a shift in my desires or experience authentic change. That moment never came. I didn’t change, I never developed any sexual desire for women, and never stopped being attracted to men. Instead, I only felt more and more helpless because I wasn’t changing. The organization and its staff taught us that change only comes to those who truly want it and are willing to put in the work. So if I wasn’t changing, I was seen as someone who either really didn’t sincerely want it, or would not put in the necessary work. In other words, there was no one to blame but myself.

The worst part of my experience in reparative therapy came at the end. In a locked office, alone with my unlicensed “life coach,” I was told to undress, stand in front of the counselor and do things too graphic to describe in this article. I was extremely uncomfortable, but he said that I must do this for the sake of changing and that if I didn’t remove my clothing I wouldn’t be doing the work it takes to achieve change. I would do anything to change, and so I did what he asked me to do. It was probably the most traumatizing experience of my life.

At Orthodox Mental Health Group’s Forum, Openly Gay Jews Get Their Say And Some Support

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. – 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 and a regular contributor to The Jewish Press, became the first woman to receive the conference’s Esther Solomon Mental Health Award. Several participants noted the increased chassidic 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 formerly Orthodox LGBT Jews, they distributed informational materials and debated – and occasionally berated – conference participants. 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 Nefesh president Simcha Feuerman, a marriage and family therapist in private practice in New York and a weekly Jewish Press columnist. “Mental health professionals should be aware of those voices.” Feuerman noted that as an organization that abides by halacha, 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. “The last few years have seen a seismic shift in attitudes toward LGBT people in Orthodox communities,” said Jay Michaelson, the author of God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality. “To an outsider, things may seem barely to have changed. But to those of us who are part of or work with Orthodox communities, the change has been dramatic.” Last year, a gay Shabbaton in Connecticut attracted more than 150 guests. In the summer of 2010, a group of more than 150 Orthodox rabbis and mental health professionals endorsed a statement that called for greater sympathy from rabbis and counselors, urged families not to cast out homosexual children and cast doubt on reparative therapy, which most mental health professionals consider a sham. And just last month, a self-described Orthodox rabbi performed a gay commitment ceremony in Washington. The developments are not without their opponents, however. A statement on homosexuality signed by several leading Orthodox rabbis and Orthodox mental health professionals asserts that homosexuality is a curable condition and calls for resistance against “the infiltration” of homosexual activists in the Orthodox community. The statement, publicized last week on the Huffington Post, forbids a gay individual from being alone with a member of the same sex and cautions Orthodox individuals about “accepting some false notions.” On Saturday evening, Rabbi Dovid Cohen, one of three rabbinic advisers to Nefesh, spoke on making a distinction between sin and organized sin – comments interpreted by many conference-goers as targeting homosexuality in general and JQY in particular. In an interview with JTA, Rabbi Cohen said that anyone who organizes to reject a provision of the Torah should be regarded as a traitor. They should still be treated for their illness, he said, but not with compassion. “It’s as if someone was asked to treat an enemy soldier who is trying to kill him,” Rabbi Cohen said. “We shouldn’t have empathy.” At the conference, JQY members sought to distinguish between homosexuality as an orientation and gay sex as an act, with only the latter prohibited by the Torah. “JQY doesn’t challenge anything in the Torah,” said Mordechai Levovits, the co-executive director of JQY. “We understand that there are some acts that are halachically problematic, but we believe that [gays] can be openly themselves and still be part of the community and their families.” According to Levovitz, JQY does not “support or encourage sexual or intimate behavior…and adheres to the principal of tzniut [modesty], which demands that intimate behavior stays private and discrete.” The group, he says, only seeks “to combat shame, bullying and ostracizing while making families, yeshivas and communities safe and welcoming to their gay members.” Despite the debate, many conference participants appeared supportive of the JQY members and were pleased by their presence. A steady stream approached their station at the end of the hall featuring a well-stocked collection of testimonials about harmful therapeutic practices and statements from Orthodox rabbis on homosexuality. One of two television screens played a video of gay men describing the trauma they experienced as youths in the Orthodox community. “People need to hear that there is a gay population in the Orthodox community that needs to be integrated,” said Malka Engel, a social worker and psychoanalyst who practices in Manhattan and on Long Island. “Why not?” said a therapist who preferred to remain unnamed. “We’d rather find a way to treat than kick them out. How can we learn anything without talking to them?” (JTA)

Bachmann’s Pro-Israel Stance Shaped By Summer Work On Kibbutz

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011


WASHINGTON – Newly declared presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s dedication to Israel dates back to 1974, when she was selected at age 17 to join a group of Minnesota teens to spend a summer in Israel.


Working on Kibbutz Be’eri in the Negev left an impression.


“We were always accompanied by soldiers with machine guns,” she said a year ago in an interview with TCJewFolk, a clearinghouse for young Jewish bloggers in Minnesota. “While we were working, the soldiers were walking around looking for land mines.”


Bachmann’s performance in the first major GOP debate has vaulted her to the forefront of a crowded Republican field.


Her capacity for self-deprecation helped her ace the June 13 forum on CNN. Other candidates stalled or looked embarrassed when the moderator posed quirky “either-or” pop culture questions. Bachmann said she liked both Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, then delivered a full-throated laugh at her own inability to decide.


“When Michele speaks one on one, there is nothing fake about her,” said Danny Rosen, a Minnesota lawyer who is a  longtime supporter of Bachmann. “You can sense that she is revealing the real Michele. That can be a disarming quality.”


It’s been a problem in the past for the congresswoman from eastern Minnesota. Bachmann acknowledges that her tendency to speak off the cuff can get her into trouble.


“People can make mistakes, and I wish I could be perfect every time I say something, but I can’t,” she told CNN this week.


She also displayed command of the issues, particularly those relating to her fiscal conservatism. Bachmann, trained as a lawyer, at the tip of her fingers had analyses that she used to attack President Obama’s economic policies, citing a study that she said showed an 800,000 job-loss figure as a result of health care reform.

 

 


Michele Bachmann

 

Many of her pro-Israel supporters said they were especially impressed by her command of Middle East issues, pointing in particular to a recent video on Israel posted by her campaign. The video showcases Bachmann’s understanding of how Israelis view their alliance with the United States as nuanced, emotive and consistent with her deep Christian beliefs.


“We even share the same exceptional mission, to be a light to the nations,” she says in the clip. “After all, the image of America as a shining city on the hill was taken from the book of Isaiah.”


The video, which is dedicated to Israel, also blasts Obama for what she says was the president’s call for Israel to “give up its right to defensible borders.”


Caroline Glick, the conservative Jerusalem Post columnist, called the Bachmann video the most cogent explanation of the U.S.-Israel relationship she had ever heard.


“And this speech came out of nowhere,” Glick said. “She’s not pandering for votes. No one asked her to say this. She just decided that she had to make a statement.”


Bachmann held a reception after the most recent American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in May at the same time as receptions hosted by former U.S. House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich, who is also running for the GOP presidential nod, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.


Bachmann easily attracted the biggest crowd, and she cut short her remarks to accommodate a line of photo-seekers snaking outside the hall.


Bachmann, the wife of a psychological counselor who runs a Christian-themed practice, told the crowd that she and her family make sure each year to have at least one Jewish event, attending a Jewish-themed play or movie.


Her formal candidacy announcement also included a reference to Israel.


“We can’t afford four more years of a foreign policy that leads from behind and doesn’t stand up for our friends, like Israel, and too often fails to stand up to our enemies,” she said in Iowa.


Bachmann reached out to Jewish backers in 2005 as soon as she sought the seat in the 6th District when Rep. Mark Kennedy, the Republican incumbent, launched an ultimately unsuccessful Senate bid. She had served in the state Senate since 2001.


Her career, launched out of frustration with her local school board – she is the mother of five and has been a foster parent for 23 children – has flourished as speeches calling for a return to what she said were the founders’ intentions have drawn conservative interest.


While Bachmann’s district includes two small Jewish communities, her interest in Israel and in Jews stems more from her upbringing and her beliefs than anything else, her supporters say. She has made fast friends among conservative Jews, attending their lifecycle events and sharing Friday-night dinners.


Todd Gurstel, a lawyer who backs Bachmann, was with her in 2008 when she toured the tunnel beneath the Western Wall. Gurstel said he enjoyed watching Bachmann fence with his liberal in-laws when she attended his daughter’s bat mitzvah.


“The thing that makes Michele different than any other politician is that she sticks to her conviction despite however outrageous it may seem to others,” he said, noting that he disagrees with the candidate on her opposition to such issues such as gay rights and abortion.


Frank Hornstein, a Democratic state representative, said her postures on gay rights, abortion and slashing social services make her a bad fit for the Jewish community.


“She has been a leading voice in opposition to things that have been a high priority for the Jewish community over many, many years,” he said.


Hornstein noted that in her Israel video, Bachmann never referred to a “two-state solution” even though polling shows that is the peace process outcome most U.S. Jews favor.


“When you have a candidate taking more militant positions on the peace process than the Israeli government, it doesn’t serve Israel well,” he said.


(JTA)

The Man Behind All The Noise: An Interview with Rabbi Yehuda Levin

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

        All last week, Rabbi Yehuda Levin’s name appeared in the news as the man behind gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino’s widely-reported remarks opposing gay marriage and homosexuality. After a maelstrom of criticism, Paladino apologized to the gay and lesbian community, prompting Rabbi Levin to sever his ties with the Republican candidate.

 

      But who is Rabbi Levin? And did his brief backing of Paladino help or – as many people are saying – hurt the Jewish community?

 

      A longtime activist, Rabbi Levin heads the Mevakshei Hashem synagogue in Flatbush and often represents the Igud Harabbonim and Agudas Harabbonim on social issues.

 

      Backed by his rebbe, the late Rav Avigdor Miller, Rabbi Levin ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1984 on the Republican ticket; for New York City mayor in 1985 on the Right to Life ticket; and for New York City Council in 1991 and 1993 on the Conservative ticket.

 

      The Jewish Press: Some people say your constant, vocal opposition to homosexual marriage over the years verges on obsession. What’s your response?

 

      Rabbi Levin: I speak out on many social issues. I speak against pornography and against merry-go-round divorces. I also speak every year at the March For Life, opposing abortion on demand.

 

      The reason, however, that my major concentration is on homosexuality is because it says in the Torah that Amalek is God’s superlative enemy. What’s the worst thing that Amalek did to us? “Asher karcha baderech.” Rashi says “lashon keri homosexuality.” As Chazal and midrashim tell us, Amalek homosexually raped Bnei Yisrael. So the biggest problem for God is not chillul Shabbos or eating non-kosher. It’s the Amalekites and the way they initially attacked the Jewish people.

 

      Additionally, the Tanchuma says that the deluge in the times of Noach didn’t come until people started writing marriage contracts between men and men and men and animals.

 

      So I’m trying to prevent homosexual marriage from becoming the law of the land because it would, chas v’shalom, bring tremendous tragedies.

 

      In that vein, you recently associated yourself with Carl Paladino and helped him craft anti-homosexual statements. But not everyone is pleased with your efforts, especially considering the ridicule that Paladino was subsequently subjected to in the media. A recent op-ed on VosIzNeias.com argues, “Rabbi Levin’s strategies have given entirely new shades of depth and meaning to the term ‘backfire.’” How do you respond to that?

 

      Tell me the last person in the Jewish community, who’s not a government official, who was in the media for a whole week, non-stop, 24 hours a day. Can you tell me of a more successful effort in informing literally all of America that once and for all there’s something called Orthodox Jews who – unlike the 80 percent of Jews they know about who are liberal – live by, and stand up for, Torah values? You know the kiddush Hashem this accomplished in informing gentiles and liberal Jews alike what the real Torah position is?

 

      But some Orthodox Jews think you’ve made a chillul Hashem, not a kiddush Hashem. They argue that you are a loose cannon who issues exaggerated and wild statements that make Judaism look silly and extreme. You may have gotten a lot of press, but these Jews argue it’s bad press, not good press.

 

  The people who said these remarks are not sensitive to the political climate. There’s a rabbinic phrase, “b’zman shehashanim kitikunan – when things are regular.” But [things today are not regular]. Paladino defeated Rick Lazio by 26 points in the Republican primary, which clearly proves that people want somebody who says it like it is. I say it like it is on Torah values. I’m not being disrespectful or incendiary. I’m being very articulate, and the media is interested and the message has gone out.

 

      But whom do you represent? Some people argue that you represent no one other than yourself?

 

      The intellectual level of the jealous people who say this is very low, so they have to be persuaded with numbers. In 1984 I ran for Congress against Stephen Solarz. I received 35 percent of the vote, doubling the vote figure that anyone had ever gotten against him. What’s more important is that I got 90 percent of the vote in the chassidic election districts and over 65 percent in Boro Park despite all the politicos being lined up against me. They were making the exact same claims then. They were wearing pins that said, “Vote for Solarz and not the meshugana.” To me, it’s water off the duck’s back.

 

      Additionally, for many years I have been the spokesman for the Rabbinical Alliance of America [Igud Harabbonim], which has a membership of over 850 rabbis. I have been representing them on and off, as well as the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada [Agudas Harabbonim], for more than a quarter of a century.

 

      You argue that the Orthodox community should support pro-morality candidates. Many, however, say it’s smarter to support candidates who will bring more money into the Jewish community, whatever their positions on issues like gay marriage may be.

 

      Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky was once asked: What if a candidate is good on government programs and good for Israel but bad on moral issues, while his opponent is totally insensitive to Israel and won’t give one penny in extra programs to the Jewish community but is good on moral issues? He answered: You’re not giving a severe enough case. Even if the candidate is downright anti-Semitic – we’re not talking about if he’s going to kill Jews – you have to vote for the person who is pro-morality. He said this to Rabbi Dovid Eidensohn of Monsey.

 

      Is that why you helped Patrick Buchanan’s campaign in 1996?

 

      Yes, exactly. He was championing moral values and eventually inserted these values into the Republican platform. I went to Rabbi Avigdor Miller and told him that people say Buchanan is an anti-Semite and will make problems for Jews if he gets in. He said, “Nonsense, full steam ahead.”

 

      Some media reported that you want to start an Orthodox Tea Party. Is this something you realistically plan on doing?

 

      What I meant was that just as the Tea Party has been tremendously successful by displaying a steadfastness on mostly economic issues, we Orthodox Jews [can similarly be successful if] we prioritize the morality issue. Imagine if we all stood united and said we’re going to demand prioritizing morality. Imagine the kiddush Hashem that would resonate throughout the world.

 

      In light of what you’re saying, and in light of the fact that Jews are supposed to be a light unto the nations, why haven’t Orthodox Jews been more vocal in America’s culture wars?

 

      At some point early on – maybe in the 1950s or ’60s – there was some sort of meeting at which rabbis were informed that they could be eligible for government funding for their yeshivas and institutions. But what started off as a pleasurable experience soon turned into an addiction. The politicians became the drug dealers and we became addicted to their finances. The price we paid is that we turned away from our Torah morality values, and today we continue to smile at the very politicians who are poisoning the cultural wellsprings our kids drink from.

Closet Claustrophobia

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

If you knew how much trouble I had getting gay men to be interviewed by me, you would doubt that the term “gay” applies to them. Their elusive hesitance, their resistance to revealing any identifying information including their phone numbers and the need for my repeated reassurances that I would respect their privacy and exercise discretion further evidences that they are not happy with their former identities and associations and have chosen a different path because “gay” and homosexual are not necessarily synonymous. In fact Dan (not his real name) was quick to confirm my assumptions. He felt it was very much an oxymoron to be gay and happy in his life.

“In my experience the whole symptom of being gay was an outcome of being unhappy and trying to be happy and repair whatever is wrong inside. It’s really sad. I’ve seen an enormous number of people really hurting out there.”

Although very personable, positive and charming, Dan, in his early thirties, now a student at a Chareidi yeshivah in Israel comes from anything but a simple past. Both his parents were very emotionally unstable, a good cause for their divorce when he was almost three, leaving him without a father and with a very unstable mother prone to anger attacks. This and the lack of any other family or peer support made for a very lonely world without much support in difficult times. He also suffered two incidents of sexual abuse. Although sexual abuse doesn’t necessarily result in homosexuality and there are many people with SSA (same sex attraction) who haven’t been victims of it, it was another incidence of trauma to overcome. One of the therapists that Dan consulted is of the opinion that homosexuality is very much related to post traumatic stress disorder.

Dan first noticed his attraction to men at aged 13 although he didn’t start to have relationships with men until his early twenties. He went through a period of turmoil and confusion and had a terrible relationship with his peers. At 20, he moved to the big city to enable his gay lifestyle. He identified with it and lived a gay lifestyle although he wasn’t terribly promiscuous because of his picky nature. He was fairly open about his preferences. “On a scale of 1 till 10 on the gay scale, I was a 10.”

It wasn’t until Dan became more religious, ventured into yeshiva and was confronted with the Torah prohibition in Leviticus that he started to reconsider his life and realized he couldn’t integrate his accepted lifestyle with Torah.

“I felt that if I got involved in gay relations I’m going to really get it. Not the healthiest of mindsets,” he quips. “I had the realization that if Torahis true and my gay identity is not true then I have a problem.”

Dan set out to solving this problem with a great deal of resolve to be consistent with his new life as an orthodox Jew. He’s spent most of the last decade in yeshiva. Like therapist Adam Jessel mentioned in the first article of this series, that can go a long way in helping men who have not had healthy, stable relationships with other men.

“I realize that people actually like me and see me as a normal man. I don’t feel it but I feel it’s true. The main problem of people with SSA is self-image. If everyone around me perceives me as a normal person, I see that my own previous inadequate self-image is false.”

The only person who knows of his struggle is the other person at the yeshiva who is also dealing with it. They were roommates at one point and they discovered their common situation because Dan was speaking with Adam Jessel and his roommate overheard.

Struggling with SSA, says Dan is always a work in progress, like a recovering alcoholic.

A year after going to yeshiva, he started working with his therapist and also joined a group led by Adam Jessel. “The work is getting to the core of what the issues are.”

“The problem isn’t sexual, it’s emotional,” says Dan. Now when he is attracted to a woman, it’s a personality attraction. “The first time I was excited by a woman, I was really surprised. I couldn’t wait to tell my friend.”

He dated a while ago and found he was not yet ready. “I hope that pretty soon I’ll be able to start dating. I’m becoming more accessible. It’s a long-term project. This is not for the weak-hearted. But the rewards are priceless – like being able to look at yourself as a normal human being, making friends and not being scared of other people.

“I was not leading a happy life but I would never have made a connection between being miserable in life and being gay. It was only when I started therapy that I realized these are related. Gay behavior is the tip of the iceberg. It’s a reaction that comes out of the loneliness and pain deep inside. I’m far happier now. Going through the process to me is worth all the money in the world.”

Doing What Comes Naturally?

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Many years ago, I was meeting relatives at the airport when I ran into someone I knew whom I hadn’t seen in a few years. Someone who was a very active homosexual. I asked him what he was doing at the airport and he told me he was there to pick up his wife and kids. “Oh,” I said and, as if on cue, his wife appeared with two little kids in tow.

As the saying goes, some of my best friends have been gay so when I heard of a therapist who has worked miracles in helping formerly gay men and women successfully transition into heterosexuality, I was intrigued.

Adam Jessel, 45 and originally from Toronto, lives with his wife and four of his five children on Moshav Matityahu in Israel. He is a researcher, author and therapist with a private practice in Jerusalem. He specializes in marriage and relationship therapy as well as pornography, internet addiction and same sex attraction. He runs support and therapy groups for men who are struggling with homosexuality who want to (and many do) lead normal lives as married men according to Jewish values and law. He also consults for a support group of the wives of these men and is a member of NARTH (the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality.) Homosexual behaviour is clearly and strictly forbidden according to the Torah, which creates much conflict for many men who struggle with homosexual attractions and wish to remain religious Jews. “I emerge from our weekly group meetings feeling inspired. I’m so impressed by these individuals who want to live a life that’s consistent with their values. It’s something I’m very passionate about.” Jessel has a great deal of respect for the struggle of these men. There are a large number of people struggling with same sex attractions. Part of the therapy is learning how to reduce the same sex attraction and increase opposite sex attraction. However the therapy becomes more than that, it’s about greater self-acceptance.

“The journey out of homosexuality is about understanding oneself, recognizing who one really is and embracing it.” According to Jessel, the therapy is only successful when the client first faces and accepts his unwanted feelings. The task is not to look away from the feelings, but to understand and learn from them.

Contrary to popular belief, homosexual tendencies affect only about 1-2% of the population. The 10% statistic that is generally quoted is misleading. Dr. Alfred Kinsey, who’s responsible for that statistic, conducted a study in the 1940s but his sample was drawn largely from a prison population, which is not representative of the general populace. “Nobody takes that figure seriously,” says Jessel.

Jessel says that homosexuality reflects problems with emotional intimacy more than sexual intimacy. He is passionate about championing the cause of these people who want to lead a normal life and giving a voice to men and women struggling with homosexuality.

“They are not to blame for having these attractions. And halachically, there is no prohibition on having a homosexual orientation.” It’s the action, not the attraction that is prohibited.

Jews struggling to overcome homosexuality often don’t get support from the gay world or the Orthodox world. In the religious world it’s a taboo subject, in the gay world they’re seen as “in denial” and an obstacle to gaining gay legitimacy. Even the medical world, bowing to political pressure to accept homosexuality as a lifestyle choice and not a deviant behaviour, has ceased labelling homosexuality as a disorder. As a result there has been a withdrawal of funding for therapy and research and many gay people who are seeking help have found themselves between a rock and a hard place. In the notoriously liberal world of psychology, the very notion of providing therapy for people who want to transition from homosexuality to heterosexuality is unacceptable, because it suggests that there is something “wrong” or “less” about being gay, transgendered, or transexual.

Jessel illustrates the way society views homosexuality:

“If Reuven has an infatuation with Shimon’s wife, I’m allowed to help him. Certainly if he’s attracted to Shimon’s 12 year old son. But if he’s attracted to Shimon himself, suddenly, society tells you, you shouldn’t be treating these people.”

Jessel studied at York, McGill and Queens Universities in Canada. He has a BSc and an MA in Clinical-Developmental psychology. He has also done internships and research in a number of hospitals in Israel and abroad. “And we never discussed homosexuality,” he says.

He read a book by the noted psychiatrist Jeffrey Satinover, Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth where he looked at the science and politics involved in promoting a gay activist agenda interpretation of research in the media. “I’ve always been sensitive to misuse or misinterpretation of data and research especially with social and political bias,” says Jessel. “I get annoyed at how research and statistics can be abused for political agendas. About 12 years ago I attended a presentation given by Shmuel Rosenberg, a family therapist in Elizabeth NJ, on homosexuality. He had witnessed first-hand the benefits that can come from therapy, and encouraged me to get involved.”

For religious people especially, it’s not acceptable to live a gay life. They need to know there is something they can do. There is help and support in their struggle – behaviour and feelings can be changed. Jessel lets his clients set the therapy agenda and isn’t out to convert anybody.

“A major part of my work is about identity. It’s separating oneself from the issue of whom a person’s attracted to. The Torah doesn’t define people by whom they’re attracted to. There’s no word in the Torah for homosexual. It only talks about sexual behaviour. It never defines people by their sexual preferences. It’s about looking at the person. It’s how you deal with it that defines you.”

Jessel works on behaviours and goals. A person is a person separate from the problem. “We don’t deny the problem. Acceptance of the tendencies is an important part of accepting oneself with all one’s different pitfalls and behaviours. It’s not a reason to feel any less or different.”

A large portion of these men feel different from other men, a feeling of not belonging. “The work that we do is learning to accept and validate oneself as a man despite whatever particular attractions one might be experiencing.”

Homosexuality has many root causes and there are many different variations. An intellectual, non-athletic boy with an innate sense of aesthetics may have felt different from the other guys who may have teased and bullied him. He may have had a poor body image. His connection to his father may not have been strong or his father may not have been a role model he would have been comfortable emulating. His mother may not have been connecting too well with the father and turned to the son for emotional support.

“None of these factors guarantees that someone will become gay. A wide constellation of factors have to come into play to produce homosexuality. If any of these are missing the person may grow up with other challenges but homosexual attraction won’t be one of them. This is only one possibility.

Because they may have felt different from a very early age, some people feel very strongly that they were born with homosexuality. Since one can modify their thoughts and behaviour, it’s irrelevant whether they were born with the tendency or developed it early on. There’s no evidence that homosexuality is predominantly biological. It’s a result of a confluence of biological, psychological and social factors. Also men demonstrating very sensitive, artistic or introspective behaviour may come to see themselves, or be seen, as gay, because that is part of the societal stereotype even though it is a stereotype.”

Jessel works as a facilitator to help people make the transition. He works with both genders and is currently working with a woman who has been living as a lesbian for 25 years and now wants to get out of that lifestyle and get married. She believes she was born that way but that doesn’t preclude her wanting to change.

“There’s no gay gene. Human sexuality is a complex phenomenon that can’t be pinned down to any one cause. You can have identical twins where one turns out homosexual and one doesn’t.”

Jessel acknowledges the possibility that a person could be born gay, but after working with hundreds of people with SSA, he doubts he ever met one.

“Its like some people’s genes make it more likely they’ll become obese. Yet we all know genes alone don’t make someone obese. It depends on their upbringing, culture, actions and a host of psychological factors. And nobody would say it’s impossible to modify one’s eating, exercise habits and even appetite.

“The paradox is that for many men the path out of homosexuality requires a greater connection with men. The primary work is not working on their attraction to women but working on their connection with men. What they have is a great need to connect to men but they don’t know how to do it without the intensity and escapism of sexual fantasies or encounters which don’t really fulfill the need, which is why there is so much promiscuity in much of the gay culture. There’s a compulsive aspect to it.

“With women there isn’t the same emphasis on sex. It’s more diverse. Growing up they often learned it wasn’t safe to have a trusting relationship with the opposite gender.”

So, ironically both men and women can develop homosexual attractions because of something missing or unhealthy in their relationships with men.

“Men are able to have physical intimacy without emotional intimacy. A woman can’t easily do that. She needs trust. A woman’s sexuality is more fluid and can change spontaneously throughout her life. Studies show that most women who have lesbian relationships as adolescents become exclusively heterosexual when they’re older.”

Programs exist to help men achieve more bonded relationships with other men. Many men benefit from attending programs such as: Journey into Manhood, Call of the Shofar, New Warriors and special workshops run by JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality).

Some men attend these programs and for a few weeks afterwards feel they’re past their homosexual tendencies. This is because the connection they make with men is so powerful that they get a feeling of what it’s like to have their real need for male connection met. Some of these programs are partially staffed by people who used to identify themselves as homosexuals.

“If a young man goes to a warm yeshiva and for the first time in his life experiences positive male role models, who are sincere about working with him and genuinely care and he experiences a camaraderie and acceptance from the other guys, this can strengthen him though alone it will not be enough.”

Jessel is careful not to paint too rosy a picture. “Homosexuality is a very difficult struggle, one you can’t fully appreciate unless you’ve been there yourself.”

Because they feel that the mental health profession has largely turned their back on them, the trend among strugglers is increasingly to rely on support from those who have faced similar challenges. There are grassroots movements of strugglers. Many of them are therapists who have made the journey out of homosexuality themselves or have a close family member who has had this struggle and feel they want to help others. Information isn’t out there and people suffer needlessly. Due to the dearth of therapists, Jessel also counsels people over the phone, even from different countries.

“The Jews who have successfully dealt with this don’t exactly advertise it. It’s like being a convert. It’s something to be proud of but people don’t announce it because there’s a stigma.”

Many men who’ve gone through counseling with Jessel have gone on to have good marriages. “I wouldn’t advise anyone to enter into marriage without guidance from therapists and rabbis experienced in these matters. A good marriage is possible but it has to be approached very cautiously.” I would say that’s true of any marriage. “Often people think that the only issue is sexual performance but the fact is that most homosexual men are capable of being physically intimate but because they’re emotionally not able to be present in the relationship [not only a problem with gay men], this creates a whole other set of problems that can sabotage the relationship.”

And that’s where the emphasis lies. Jessel is helping people tap their potential for healthy, fulfilling and quality relationships as people and as religious Jews.

(The first in a series of articles on this topic.)

To contact Adam Jessel: call 972(0)546720336 or e-mail him at szjessel@gmail.com

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/marriage-relationships/doing-what-comes-naturally/2010/04/14/

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