I recently attended a talk by Keshet Australia aimed at getting its message out to the Jewish community. The local Keshet, based on its USA counterpart, advertises itself as “a Jewish GLBTIGQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Transgender, Intersex and Gender Queer) movement to better educate Australian Schools on how to educate a Jewish child on GLBTIGQ.”
At this talk a flyer was distributed, the opening paragraphs of which described a crisis of Queer departure from the Jewish community and how Keshet is placed to address it. As a seasoned activist this crisis was news to me, with my priorities centring on reduction of isolation, self-harm and suicide.
Another almost ignored real crisis is the rate of self-harm and suicide in the Melbourne Jewish community. Rough figures were published in 2011 claiming approximately two people a month attempt suicide or self-harm. Taken together with the alarming rate of suicide amongst same-sex attracted people and this issue should be given elevated priority.
My experience of coming out as gay in the Jewish community was one of compassion at best and indifference at worst. I was not strongly religiously observant, but I continued to attend an Orthodox synagogue for some years and my friends and family accepted me and continued to include me and connect with me as they had always done. In fact, for a number of years after coming out my Jewish “identity” actually strengthened.
Individual experiences will no doubt differ to mine, depending on the attitudes of the person’s family, friends and religious community.
I have made a number of observations about what happens when people self-identify as other than heterosexual. If their religious context is accepting, they will open up to their peers and live a full life merging their sexuality and their cultural context. If their religious context is intolerant they will more than likely find a context to express their sexuality at a safe distance from their cultural community, keeping both alive but separate. I have not yet experienced many who give up their entire religious community simply to allow unhindered sexual self-expression.
And so I challenge this perceived “crisis”. I feel it is a phenomenon that is alarmist, unfounded and exaggerated.
If a person departs their Jewish identity due to peer intolerance when they “come out”, it may potentially induce a situational crisis for their friends and family due to a sense of confusion, bewilderment, loss and even grief. But keeping a sense of perspective, these situations are not ubiquitous or universal.
There may be legitimate grounds for concern over people leaving the Jewish community but the reasons for this are potentially varied and complex. One mid-20’s community-minded gay woman recently told me that her university and career choices took her away from much of the Jewish surrounds that she was immersed in during her secondary school years.
Disengagement from the Jewish community may occur for ideological reasons, lack of need for a connection, or prioritising a connection with a different community. All reasons are legitimate.
People leaving the Jewish community is not a crisis or even a problem if they make these choices voluntarily, free from duress.
If a situation arises that drives many away from a community, the crisis should be identified as the underlying reason why people are leaving rather than the fact that people are leaving. We invariably seek the path of least conflict.
As to Keshet’s claim on their flyer “We need to keep Jews, Jewish”, I disagree. We need to keep people in the Jewish community happy and alive.
 GLBTIQ / same-sex attracted / gender diverse, etc