Robbie Medwed, Education Director of SOJOURN, criticizes Rabbi Herzfeld for showing solidarity with the LGBT community by visiting a gay bar: “If you want to stand with the LGBTQ community now, and I sincerely hope you do, go to vigils and speak out against bigotry and hatred, especially in your own congregations.”
In the early morning hours of Sunday, June 12, a gunman opened fire at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. He would go on to murder 49 people and hurt at least 53 more.
At the same time, Jews around the world were immersed in Tikkun Leil Shavuot, an all-night program devoted to Torah study to re-enact the ancient Israelites’ preparation for receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai.
On Monday night, after the holiday ended, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld took the members of his Orthodox congregation, Ohev Sholom, to Fireplace, a predominantly African-American gay bar near his synagogue in Washington, D.C.
Rabbi Herzfeld was so moved by his own actions that he wrote an article about the night in The Washington Post, saying, “I learned that when a rabbi and members of an Orthodox synagogue walk into a gay African American bar, it is not the opening line of a joke but an opportunity to connect; it is an opportunity to break down barriers and come together as one; it is an opportunity to learn that if we are going to survive, we all need each other.”
I know that many people are looking for ways to show their allyship and love after Orlando, but this isn’t it.
Newspapers and magazines have been flooded with articles that describe how gay bars are sanctuaries and sacred spaces for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) people. For so many, gay bars are one of the only places in the world we can remove our masks and be ourselves without fear of retribution or bodily harm.