Orthodox parents of LGBT children seek communities that care

A mother and grandmother and member of Eshel’s parents’ group tells the story of accepting her gay daughter while suffering isolation in the Orthodox Jewish community

When my husband and I married, neither of us fully appreciated the role community would play in our family’s life. It proved to be a most crucial component in creating and forging a Jewish household and in passing on our traditions. A life lived according to halachah (Jewish law), needs a community. In Orthodox families, kids grow up seeing themselves as part of a much larger whole.

As our children grew up, we were comfortably ensconced in our shul. Then, about 18 years ago, our younger daughter told me she was gay. She was in her last year of college and in a relationship with a young woman who was also from an observant home. Trembling in my arms, she begged me not to tell her father, and tearfully asked if I wanted her out of our home. She had packed her bags and was prepared to leave.

I calmed her as best I could, and tried to push away the questions, fears and thoughts swirling through my own head. Initially I kept her news from my husband, as she had requested, and cast about for someone I could turn to for advice. In 1998, I knew that Orthodox parents of gay children were marginalized. I didn’t want that to happen to my daughter and our family. Who could I talk to?

When I finally shared the news with my husband, we both agreed the answer was obvious: nobody! My friends? How would they react? How would I tell them, and what would they say? Would they still be our friends? I could imagine each one thanking God that it wasn’t her child. The rabbi? A crazy idea!

Several years earlier our older son became seriously ill. It was then we saw the strength of community. There were days we arrived at his bedside in the ICU to find community members saying tehillim (psalms) for him and his recovery.  We were constantly surrounded by friends and family. Somehow we made it through the terror of it all. We received absolute love and support from the entire community.

That wasn’t the case when our daughter came out.

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