As a Modern Orthodox Jew and a Jewish educator, I have written, spoken and taught about homosexuality and our need as a community to address this issue within the framework of halacha, or Jewish law, for many years. I had already been an advocate for the LGBTQ community for decades when our daughter Rachie, one of our four children, came out more than four years ago.
Why? Because I feel that as religious Jews, we have a moral imperative to ensure that all members of our community are safe, valued and healthy. We are taught to use the midah of compassion here, as we do for so many other issues.
When Rachie was 22 years old, she called me and my husband, and in the course of our conversation, basically said, “Mom, I am seeing someone I really care about, and this person is a woman. I am gay.” Neither of us were surprised. I asked her if she was happy and if this was a true expression of her core personality. My husband, Ken, just reminded her to stay safe and not do anything dangerous.
As an educated person, I am certain that biology and “how we are wired” is just the way G-d makes us. Furthermore, I am aware that 10 to 15 percent of any community is on the gay spectrum, and there is no exemption from this reality in the religious Jewish community.
My husband and I firmly believe that as shomrei mitzvot, or Torah-observant, Jews, we have an obligation to accept, protect and value all human beings who are created in the image of G-d, betzelem elokim. G-d makes us as G-d chooses and we are not to stand in judgment nor are we to exclude those that G-d creates, for every human being is designed by G-d, and to allow any such exclusion is to directly insult G-d as well as the person excluded. Halacha teaches us this.
Of course, many in our community and extended family do not see it this way. Rachie has not been able to see herself associated with anything “Orthodox,” though she is observant and engaged Jewishly in profound and meaningful ways.
However, this has changed recently, due to her involvement in ESHEL, the Orthodox LGBTQ community that is named for the tent into which Avraham and Sarah invited all who came by. Rachie —and the rest of us — now has a home for her religiously observant, gay self.
I am deeply saddened by any community that judges and pushes our daughter away. Any community that does not fully embrace and value Rachie is the one that loses, for she is a gifted young lady and an observant and knowledgeable Jew. I often lament how our observant communities are sending away some of our exceptional people who could contribute so much and would — if only they were embraced and valued instead of judged and excluded.
Now that Rachie is committed to spending her life with her beloved Liz, our main challenge is how we as a family navigate our Orthodox community. We are making some decisions that are seen as compromises to some but allow us to more successfully achieve our goal.
For example, in planning a Shabbat Kiddush for the couple, we will do this at our home with friends and community members, rather than at our synagogue, to ensure that those present want to be part of the celebration. We will plan their wedding with the same approach, knowing that some relatives and friends will not attend.
As time goes on and we come to terms with the reality of all members of our observant world, our hope is that more of our community will learn to see and accept and value each of our children for who they are and the sexuality they were born with.
Sunnie Epstein and her family are active members of ESHEL, which is planning a Parent Retreat March 7-9 at Capital Camps in Waynesboro, Pa. Contact the author at: shulisrose@ aol.com or Miryam Kabakov at: [email protected] .