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Bridging the Gap

In its latest issue, The Jerusalem Report has published an in-depth article about how groups like Hebro, JQY and “Nice Jewish Boys” are helping gay men to keep in touch with the Jewish community.

One nearly nude dancer is Israeli, the other is Egyptian. Both are decorated with Jewish symbols in dark blue body paint and sporting yarmulkes and tiny briefs. By 11 p.m. on this particular Saturday in early April, the swanky downtown venue, Slate, is packed with young Jewish guys, almost all sporting dark brown hair and five o’clock shadows. The vibe is one of a typical gay club, but we’re not in Tel Aviv – this is New York and the party is the annual Passover party – this year called HoMoses – thrown by the gay party production company Hebro.

Hebro is relatively new to the roster of gay and Jewish organizations in New York. Started in 2007, founder and native Brooklynite Jayson Littman, 36, says Hebro came about by complete accident. “I had just come out [as gay],” Littman tells The Jerusalem Report. “Before I came out I had always gone to the Matza Ball [the annual party on Christmas Eve for Jewish straight singles], and once I came out I didn’t want to go there anymore. And, you know, young people don’t want to eat Chinese food and go to the movies on Christmas – that’s what our parents do.”

Littman called a local gay bartender with whom he was friendly and arranged to reserve a venue for that Christmas Eve, expecting an intimate turnout. But this was 2007. “That was when Facebook first exploded,” Littman said. “So I sent the invitation to 20 friends, who sent it to 20 other friends… We had over 200 people come out that night.”
And, thus, Hebro was launched – growing from a once-in-a-while event into a linchpin of New York’s gay Jewish world in its seven-year existence. Littman ended up quitting his job in finance to manage Hebro fulltime.

“The response to that first event made me realize there’s something here,” Littman says. The next year, at what became the annual Christmas Jewbilee party, there were more than 500 attendees and now each party – five or six a year – routinely attracts thousands. It’s grown so popular that Littman has arranged the first ever Hebro trip to Israel, from June 6 to 15, and organized specifically around the Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade on June 13. Twenty- six participants are expected to be along for the ride.

Jonathan Gilad, 29, runs a group in Washington, DC, called “Nice Jewish Boys,” a social group for young, gay Jewish professionals.

He says Hebro events are a big deal and he frequently travels to New York specifically to in DC, but Hebro parties are on our calendar,” says Gilad, a native of Westchester who was raised modern Orthodox. “It’s become a conduit for the DC gay Jewish community, as well. Hebro has made our job [of connecting young gay Jews] a lot easier.”

Hebro is not your typical Jewish group. Unlike Jewish Queer Youth (JQY), Keshet or Nehirim (just some of the other big names out there in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community), Hebro isn’t dedicated to helping Jewish youth reconcile with their gay identity. There’s no social justice mission, no attempts to convert anyone, no fundraising or activism for LGBT rights. Hebro is simply a place where gay people can party and be Jewish. “There is a lot of gay Jewish stuff in New York,” Littman relates. “A lot of those other groups do gay work in the Jewish community, but Hebro provides Jewish events in the gay community.” Hebro is not the place for a Woody Allen-style neuroticism of “I don’t know how to reconcile these two identities,”

Littman says.Hebro is not your typical Jewish group. Unlike Jewish Queer Youth (JQY), Keshet or Nehirim (just some of the other big names out there in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community), Hebro isn’t dedicated to helping Jewish youth reconcile with their gay identity. There’s no social justice mission, no attempts to convert anyone, no fundraising or activism for LGBT rights. Hebro is simply a place where gay people can party and be Jewish.

“There is a lot of gay Jewish stuff in New York,” Littman relates. “A lot of those other groups do gay work in the Jewish community, but Hebro provides Jewish events in the gay community.” Hebro is not the place for a Woody Allen-style neuroticism of “I don’t know how to reconcile these two identities,” Littman says.

Continue reading in the print edition

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