“Being passively tolerant of LGBTQ+ Jews and actively including LGBTQ+ Jews are two different things. It’s time for Kedma, this university’s Orthodox Jewish student group, to foster active inclusion of LGBTQ+ members through accountability and awareness.”
By Tal Bresler
This week, during the reading of Parshat Achrei Mot-Kedoshim, Jews all over the world, the country, and in our own community will hear Vayikra 18:22. “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence.”
But in this week’s parsha is also “וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ אֲנִ֖י הֹ” “Love your fellow as yourself: I am ה” (Vayikra 18:19).
In this week’s parsha is also “לֹֽא־תִשְׂנָ֥א אֶת־אָחִ֖יךָ בִּלְבָבֶ֑ךָ” “You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart” (Vayikra 19:17).
In this week’s parsha is also “ קְדֹשִׁ֣ים תִּהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י ה אֱלֹה-יכֶֽם” “You shall be holy, for I, your God ה, am Holy” (Vayikra 19:2).
The context of Vayikra 18:22 challenges us to engage with Hashem, Torah, and our community intentionally. This parsha challenges us to create an inclusive community, founded on respect and active acceptance. While Kedma is already a place where many people feel accepted and welcome, Kedma needs to do more to make LGBTQ+ Jews foster active acceptance rather than settling for tolerance.
In many ways, our community is already a place where queer Orthodox Jews can and are involved and accepted. For Avital Fink, a junior at this university, this is very clear. “While being queer in Orthodox spaces always comes with some difficulties and Kedma is no exception, it is also where I made my first queer friends and where I learned to fully accept myself. I don’t necessarily talk about my queerness with every person in Kedma, but I am able to show up to Hillel and Kedma as my full self, and that is something I’m really grateful for. I have never experienced outright homophobia in Kedma directed towards myself or any other specific person, but I have heard questionable language regarding queer people thrown around in casual conversation, and that definitely can hurt. It’s not perfect, but I am so happy to have found a really loving and accepting community of people within Kedma and Hillel,” she said.
For students including Avital and myself, Kedma is the first Orthodox space where we are able to be out, where we can find queer community, and where we are able to just exist fully as ourselves. But being passively tolerant of LGBTQ+ Jews and actively including LGBTQ+ Jews are two different things. It’s time for Kedma to foster active inclusion of LGBTQ+ members through accountability and awareness.
“I think that although my experience with the majority of Kedma has been largely positive I have had a few really unpleasant experiences that have caused me to question my place in the community completely. People should feel like they are responsible not only for themselves but for the actions of other members of the community as well” (Anonymous).
As this person describes, a few homophobic experiences can completely alter the atmosphere of a community. When your friend makes a casual homophobic or transphobic joke, it can cause someone to question whether they’re wanted or accepted in Kedma or Judaism as a whole. To be actively accepting of LGBTQ+ Jews, we as a community need to call out offensive jokes and be conscious of the way we talk about other people. LGBTQ+ Jews in the closet are trying to figure out how safe it is in any Jewish community, and it’s all of our responsibility as members of Kedma to foster an environment where people in the closet can know they’ll be socially and emotionally safe when they come out.
Ultimately, LGBTQ+ Jews in Kedma are looking for the same thing as everyone in Kedma, community. “I am going to have a life that is unconventional for our community, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be a part of the community” (Anonymous). But without active acceptance, we make LGBTQ+ Jews in our community hesitant and scared to be in our community and less willing to engage with Kedma.
Kedma is an example of a strong, diverse campus Jewish community in so many ways. From NHBT to NHTB, our community pulls together resources and people to create events whose impacts affect a broad network of campus communities. But with regard to LGTBQ+ inclusion, it’s time for Kedma to go from tolerating LGTBQ+ Jews and tolerating homophobia and transphobia to active acceptance of LGBTQ+ Jews and making it clear that our community is based in Kavod HaBriot and respect towards everyone.
I believe in Kedma’s capacity for enthusiastic acceptance. I believe in Kedma as an example of a college community and that our actions can set a standard and aspiration for campus communities all over the U.S. Out of that belief in our community, I ask each of you to be vocal in your support of LGBTQ+ Jews. I ask each of you to call out your friend on the homophobic or transphobic joke, to ask for and respect people’s pronouns, and to check your assumptions about others’ gender and sexuality. Kedma, I know we can do better as a community. It’s time to move beyond tolerance.