An Orthodox synagogue on Long Island, New York is openly welcoming LGBTI Jews. Considering Orthodox Judaism doesn’t condone homosexuality, many are seeing this inclusion as groundbreaking.
The synagogue, Kehilat Ahavat Yisrael, opened in December 2017. It holds services once a month that have drawn more than 100 Jews — both LGBTI and straight. In fact, the synagogue’s president and co-founder, Shlomit Metz-Poolat, is a lesbian.
Because of Orthodox Judaism’s stance on homosexual relationships, many LGBTI Jews in the Orthodox community stay silent about their sexuality. They often fear being vocal will lead them to lose their synagogue memberships.
‘You’re welcome, just be quiet about it,’ Metz-Poolat said of such policy.
Metz-Poolat knows this from experience. After her marriage to another woman went public, she lost her membership to a synagogue she had been attending for over two decades.
It was this incident that set Metz-Poolat to work on creating Kehilat Ahavat Yisrael. While the new synagogue doesn’t have a permanent location yet, they still hold services at a Glatt Kosher Chinese restaurant called Wing Wan.
‘LGBT Jews who are Orthodox want a place in Orthodox Judaism,’ Metz-Poolat told The Jerusalem Post. ‘Because this is the only Judaism we know, and it is beautiful to us.’
What people are saying
‘It is very unusual for an Orthodox synagogue to have [LGBTI] outreach,’ said Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, Long Island’s chief Chabad representative.
‘Chabad, which is known for its outreach and has really been a pioneer in the outreach world and the Jewish world, would never do such a thing.’
Kehilat Ahavat Yisrael is one of only about 120 Orthodox synagogues nationwide that, in varying degrees, welcome LGBTI Jews.
Myriam Kabakov of the Manhattan-based Welcoming Shuls Project, which tracks inclusive synagogues, called Kehilat Ahavat Yisrael ‘one of the most welcoming environments right now.’
‘So many synagogues and rabbis are afraid if they stand up and speak out for inclusion of LGBT that the rabbi will lose their job or the synagogue will lose members,’ she said. ‘But this synagogue is being built on the foundations of inclusion of LGBT people, so they have nothing to fear. They are just boldly coming out and saying, “This is what we are all about.”’
The Orthodox sect of Judaism has been slower to welcome LGBTI Jews than the Reform or Conservative sects. Still, some progress is being made. For instance, earlier this year, an Orthodox rabbi took a job at an LGBTI synagogue in New York City. In the United Kingdom, the Chief Rabbi published progressive guidance for Orthodox schools on how to handle LGBTI students.