In many places in the world, members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community are subjected to discrimination, humiliation and even verbal and physical abuse. In Israel, where there is no separation between religion and state, harassment still exists against LGBT individuals and communities even though constitutional persecution and discrimination has officially ended. This is particularly true in the religious societies, where opinions and attitudes are often extreme and where alternative sexual and gender identities are seen as contrary to religious law.
Religious people in these communities who identify themselves as LGBT are faced with many hardships and challenges. Many live in fear of harassment, humiliation and of being ostracized by their communities and families. Those who are out of the closet often fear verbal and physical abuse.
For this reason Havruta was founded to assist Jewish gays. Our organization offers a social and support network for religious LGBT people in Israel. Beyond being a safe haven, our organization also actively work to inform and educate the religious public about LGBT issues in their communities. Through the work of our organization, some religious leaders are now boldly speaking publicly and freely about LGBT issues. Educators and counselors now turn to our organization for guidance and information. Through outreach and education we aim to break down stereotypes, and encourage a religious culture that is tolerant and understanding for all who are different whether by gender, race or religion.
We invite you to read over the following information about our organization, which includes information about our backgrounds, goals, project and achievements.
Havruta was established by graduates of Jewish religious institutions, yeshivas and high schools for men who identify themselves as gay and have a strong connection to Jewish religious observance. Since its establishment in 2007, Havruta has grown from a discreet group into a community of who participate in monthly activities, along with a mailing list that are received by hundreds, and a website that receives thousands of hits.
Havruta provides monthly social meetings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as well as annual hikes and weekend retreats that attract many members. Havruta is a voice for the religious gay community in the media, at government panels, conferences and other venues.
Havruta is in constant discourse with religious leaders and advocates that all are created in the image of G-d and that one’s sexual preference and identity is not contradictory with religious beliefs. This is the message that Havruta imparts to religious communities with the hopes of creating greater tolerance toward religious gays.
Havruta helps facilitate religious gays who are “coming out” and with to live honest and truthful lives. In this way, Havruta serves as a community for religious, formerly religious, single and married, closeted and non-closeted gays and helps bridge the wide gaps that exist between religious and gay life with understanding, tolerance and compassion.
MAKING AN IMPACT
From our websites and mailing lists, we know that there are Thousands of religious LGBTs (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) in Israel, who come from all backgrounds and all parts of the country. Some are deeply closeted, some are married to the other gender, some are yeshiva students and some have left religion altogether. Many seek acceptance and a community they can call home.
One of the biggest challenges facing religious LGBTs is finding their place in the religious world. Many rabbis, religious and community leaders strongly feel that there is no place for LGBTs in religious society. Others feel that LGBTs can be cured or treated through reparative therapies, which have proven to be dangerous. Within religious society there is a lack of information and education about LGBTs, which has left many members of this society to draw extreme, homophobic and often dangerous opinions and attitudes.
Today we see the advancement and the acceptance of LGBTs in Israeli society and this phenomenon has become a growing issue in the religious community in Israel. The issue has been discussed in the media and the representation of LGBTs in the religious world is now seen on prime time television. We are also seeing some religious leaders who are beginning to discuss and grapple with the issue. It is essential to keep this dialogue moving forward.
Today we are more aware of the young-adults and grownups from religious backgrounds who are identifying themselves as LGBTs, who grapple with religious issues and live with the fear of being alone, of being different and being ostracized. We are also seeing more religious LGBTs who are bravely coming out of the closet, who are seeking acceptance both in religious and in the LGBT society and who are moving forward in their lives and are building life partnerships and families. As more religious LGBTs are living openly, they are able to serve as role models and break down stereotypes that exist both in the religious and secular worlds.
As this religious LGBT community grows, so does the need for social support and community services for this unique group that aims to stay rooted in the religious world whilst finding its place in the larger LGBT society.
A vital and dynamic religious LGBT community can not only serve its members, but can also have a positive impact in both the religious society in Israel and the LGBTQ society, where there is the opportunity to set an example of religious Judaism and a tradition that is tolerant and welcoming.
The cornerstone of Havruta has been its monthly meetings and gatherings. For over two years, Havruta has organized a monthly gathering that has been the platform for social interaction, entertainment and education. Meetings vary in topic from guest speakers and panel discussion with prominent public figures from both religious and secular backgrounds, interactive workshops and games, screening of films etc.
The meetings take place in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa in a discreet manner and have attracted anywhere from 30-100 people per meeting. For some, this is their first encounter with the religious gay community. Other members attend regularly.
Each meeting begins with general announcements of upcoming events and ends with refreshments and an opportunity for people to mingle
Previous meetings have included:
- An evening with Israeli music artist Ivri Leader
- An evening with journalist and politician Uri Urbach
- An evening with celebrity chef and language expert Gil Hovav
- A chocolate workshop
- Outdoor screening of films under the stars
- A discussion on gay parenting and fatherhood
- A panel discussion on surrogacy with leading experts
- A psychodrama workshop
As a religious organization in Israel, Havruta aims to provide programs that both celebrate Jewish tradition and the land of Israel. Twice a year, during the intermediate days of Pesach and Sukkot, Havruta organizes a day long hike for its members. The hikes are an opportunity for members to meet and see old faces as well as make new friends, social interaction and most important, group and community building. It’s also an opportunity to experience the some of the best natural and historical sites in Israel.
The hikes have attracted many participants and last an entire day. The sites and routes are planned in advance by members of Havruta with guiding and leadership experience to ensure that the hikes will be interesting and safe. Volunteers help organize the transportation so those with cars can give lifts to those without. These events attract participants from all over the country and Havruta makes sure to make sure everyone has a way to get to and from the hike.
Each hike has been at a different location, and we’ve travelled all over the country, including hikes in the south, the Judean Hills and water hikes in the north. Each hike ends with a traditional barbeque, further adding to the social experience.
In order to keep the hikes safe, it is essential that a medic and an armed escort accompany the participants throughout the hikes.
WEEKEND RETREATS (SHABBATONIM)
One of the most successful ways to build the Havruta community is to offer weekend retreats and give participants the opportunity to interact and experience the Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) together. The weekend retreats are open to and attract Havruta members from all parts of the country, all age groups and all levels of religious observance. As a religious organization, Havruta ensures that the retreats are conducted at an Orthodox level of observance and the participants are expected to adhere to and respect the religious nature of the event.
A Havruta Shabbat usually begins mid-day Friday and continues through until Saturday night. The weekend allows for a combination of activities and discussions that allow members to focus specifically on the issues that they face individually and that the religious gay community faces as a whole. It provides an opportunity for participants to offer their insights and opinions and take on an active role in the building of their community.
The Shabbat itself is a time for real communal experience, where participants pray together and actively lead services, share thoughts of the weekly portion and eat festive meals together. This environment provides a strong religious framework, in which all participants can find acceptance.
The Shabbat retreats take place in hotels or hostels outside of main urban areas. Friday programs can include visits to nearby sites. The retreats are aimed to offer the participants and safe and discreet environment where everyone can feel comfortable.
Havruta aims to have two such weekends per year, and aims to make the events affordable to students and anyone else who may require financial assistance
B’RESH GALEI PUBLICATION
The B’Resh Galei publication is an original project of Havruta that aims to share thoughts, ideas and insights from a particular religious and gay vantage point. The publication includes articles, insights and poetry submitted by members of Havruta, members of the larger religious and LGBT community, and leading rabbis and Torah scholars.
Issues of the publications center on important dates in the Jewish calendar (for example, Yom Kippur) and the target audience is twofold:
First, Breish Galei is distributed to members of the larger LGBT community in Israel such as at the Pride Minyan, the Merkaz Hage’eh in Tel Aviv and the Jerusalem Open House. Second, the publication is distributed to religious communities, yeshivas and synagogues across Israel. In this way, Havruta offers the larger LGBT community a chance to explore religious ideas that are also gay, and the larger religious community to explore ideas that are gay and also religious.
In this way, Havruta helps bridge these two worlds and encourage understanding, education and dialogue.
At present, there have been two published issues of B’resh Galei: Yom Kippur 5771 and for Yom Kippur 5772. Havruta plans to publish some more publications this Hebrew calendar year. To date, the publication has reached Thousands of readers across Israel and has featured the writings of Rabbi Shmuel Reiner of the Yeshiva Kibbutz HaDati and Rabbi Avia HaCohen of the Tekoa Yeshiva. Other leading rabbis have already committed to contributing to future issues.
THE HAVURTA WEBSITE
The Havruta website was launched to the internet over three years ago and quickly became a virtual home for the religious gay community. The site contains varying sections and much of the content comes from visitors: letters, poetry, discussions and blogs of community members.
Many of the religious gay visitors to the site are still in the closet and cannot attend Havruta meetings. Reviews of all Havruta meetings are quickly posted on the site, so that even those who can’t participate can still feel a part of the meetings and of the Havruta community.
Through the website, we aim to:
- raise awareness of the issue of religious gays to the religious public
- give a presence to the religious gay public
- promote Torah, rabbinical and public discourse on the subject
- contribute to the integration of religious gays in religious society
The site has promoted the subject of religious gays in the religious public and to some of its influential areas. Articles and personal interviews on the subject have been specially written and posted on the site. Influential Personalities in the Religious Public have also posted articles. These include Knesset member Uri Orbach, journalist Bambi Sheleg and others.
In order to expand our community nature of the site we need to include:
- personal blogs
- responses to responses (response tree)
- private messaging features for users of the site
- e-mail/virtual newsletter
- profiles for permanent users
- some English content and translation of site content
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