Psychologist Jeremy Novich had the honor to staff the recent fourth annual Eshel Parent Retreat.
Eshel is a community and support organization for LGBT Jews and their families in the Orthodox community. I spent Shabbat with more than 50 Orthodox Jewish parents of LGBT children, all of whom attended the retreat with tremendous courage and out of incredible love for their children.
There was a wide range of comfort levels; one set of parents were happy parents-in-law of their daughter’s wife, and also proud grandparents. Another mother, whose child recently came out as gay, sat in pain wondering how she might have contributed to her child’s sexual orientation.
One of the well-attended sessions of the retreat was a group discussion of parents whose children “chose a different derech [religious path]” and were no longer observant in the ways their parents hoped they would be. Admittedly, I attended this session anticipating parents angry with their children for ditching their observance. But I found them sad, not angry, and that impacted me both emotionally and intellectually. I wondered, how did we end up here? As a psychologist, I was struck by the sadness and was bothered by the impact it surely has on the mental health of the group members and their children. As an Orthodox Jew, I questioned the inevitability of the torment I observed. I was sure there must be another way.
Rabbi Chaim Rapoport, a self-identified charedi rabbi, who served on the cabinet of former British Chief Rabbi Sacks’ cabinet, attended the retreat as a scholar-in-residence. A bearded man with a long, black coat and black hat, he addressed the parents several times over the weekend, each time supporting the inclusion