A few years ago I wrote about a student I met on a Birthright program who had told me about his feeling of disconnect from the Jewish community. He talked of his isolation and at times feeling like he didn’t belong anymore. This was all due to him describing himself as being a gay person.
It was heartwarming at the time to see the many messages of encouragement and support for this young man. I know it meant a lot to him when he read the numerous comments.
Fast forward a few years and the other night he joined me and my family for a Shabbat dinner at our home. He had earlier attended Friday night services at our Shule and then joined us for the meal. He had recently returned from a trip overseas to Argentina run by JDC Entwine and told me how he and others on a tour group he was with were warmly welcomed to the Shule as well.
It was really encouraging to hear from him about some very positive experiences he had gone through over the past few years and his continued desire to fully embrace his Jewish identity. I was very glad to hear that this was becoming more achievable for him personally. He is much more involved in community life today, attending Shiurim, Shule services and events on a regular basis.
There was, unfortunately, still a lot of stigma surrounding this subject and he said he was aware of some people still uncomfortable with reconciling both worlds so too speak. He knew others who unfortunately repress their Jewish involvement and practice because of the challenges they experience from being judged and made to feel unwelcome.
He believes it is important to encourage those who do feel this way to look for Shules and organisations where they can feel supported and welcomed to continue practicing and enjoying their Judaism. He wants everyone to feel they have a place in Jewish community life.
I think this is a good reminder for all of us to think about those in the community who might feel like they don’t have a place or like they don’t belong and to ensure we do everything we can to change that perception. We need get the message out that they will be welcomed and supported and most importantly that Judaism belongs to them as much as it does to every other Jew. This goal should be a goal for us all.
I look forward to continue seeing this young man’s wonderful growth in his life and Judaism and hope that his story will become one that is not an exception to the rule.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a beautiful weekend ahead!