Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has published groundbreaking guidance to Orthodox Jewish schools on how to care for LGBTI students. Mirvis is part of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth.
Rabbi Mirvis believes Orthodox schools must adopt strict policies against bullying and be equipped to offer support.
His 36-page booklet, titled The Wellbeing of LGBT+ Pupils, was produced with input from LGBTI Jews and with the support of KeshetUK. KeshetUK is an organization promoting LGBTI equality in the Jewish community.
Rabbi Mirvis emphasises that Orthodox Jewish schools ‘can and must be a safe haven for all children and teens, a place where every pupil can feel nurtured and protected.’
On the publication of his booklet, Mirvis believes the document was ‘an extremely significant milestone and will have a real and lasting impact on reducing harm to LGBT+ Jews across the Orthodox Jewish community.’
‘Our children need to know that at school, at home and in the community, they will be loved and protected regardless of their sexuality or gender identity,’ he told The JC.
The guide uses Torah values to underline the importance of the ways we speak to each other.
‘The struggle to understand one’s sexual identity is particularly challenging at secondary school. Pupils who are LGBT+ have particular struggles, and more so within faith schools,’ the guide reads.
‘Gender roles are assumed, heterosexual relationships are talked about and those whose sexual orientation is different can begin to question their place within the school community and their faith community.’
Experiences of LGBTI Jews
The guide also includes the first-hand experiences of LGBTI Jews.
One such experience is from a person named Shulli, who came out only after leaving school.
Shulli recalls thinking ‘by fitting in and acting straight, then I would eventually become straight.’
Another former Jewish day school student recalls a teacher ‘not knowing I am gay, made a throwaway remark that stayed with me and hurt a lot. He said, “I’d sit shivah for my son if he came out.”’
Shivah is the mourning practice done by Jews after someone passes away.
However, the booklet also includes more positive experiences.
One parent with children attending an Orthodox school said, ‘Even though people there know I’m lesbian, I’ve never experienced anything but respect from all the staff at the school.’
Another former pupil said it meant a lot when a rabbi said he was just there to listen.
‘It felt like he showed a lot of humility, was being honest and cared about me. There are a lot of knotty areas. Sometimes just acknowledging that and showing that you are aware of the impact makes a huge difference.’
KeshetUK executive director, Dalia Fleming, says the organization is proud to participate in the booklet. The organization is looking forward to ‘working with schools, rabbis and educators across Jewish communities. Supporting them to implement this guide so they can ensure their LGBT+ students reach their potential, free from homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, discrimination and fear.’
Rabbi Mirvis’s booklet is just one of the ways the Orthodox Jewish community are fighting to include LGBTI people.
Back in June, an Orthodox rabbi joined an LGBTI synagogue in New York.
Abby Stein, a trans woman, was shunned by her Hasidic community. Still, she went on to become a rabbi to let LGBTI Jews know they’re not alone.