Slavery and sexuality – A Jewish gay group embraces homosexuality this Passover

Alternative Image Exclusive Feature’s Nikki Sinclair and Sarah Pinn report on a Jewish gay group using the festival of Passover to celebrate freedom from both oppression and homophobia.

“I bet when you were a child sitting at the Seder table with your family you never thought one day you would end up here!”

This was Rabbi Mark Solomon’s opening gambit at the communal Seder night for the Jewish Gay Lesbian Group (JGLG.) It was a profound observation. Around the room 50 or so people in attendance reflected on their sometimes difficult personal journey which had brought them here tonight.

Tellingly, few of us as a child would have chosen this path for ourselves. Although the Jewish liberal and progressive movement fully embraces our sexuality; the mainstream orthodoxy still opposes homosexuality making it very difficult to come out.

My girlfriend and I are fortunate. We had spent the first night Seder (Jews in the Diaspora celebrate two nights) at home surrounded by our loving family. Others in the room we know are not so fortunate. For many this was the only opportunity to celebrate one of the most important Jewish festivals. Shunned by their family and friends who, though they profess to being good Jews and good people, cannot accept their homosexuality, they have sought and found a family in JGLG.

Sonia, the president of JGLG said that the main thrust of the group is that it is inclusive, it is a group for Jewish lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and transsexual people (LGBT), also welcoming members’ non-Jewish partners. The group provides an opportunity for Jewish LGBT people from all religious backgrounds, atheist to agnostic, liberal to orthodox to enjoy social and religious activities in a safe and welcoming environment.

The Passover Seder night is one of the highlights of the JGLG religious calendar. My girlfriend and I have been going for the past five years but due to various family commitments did not think we would be able to make it this year. Thankfully we were able to rearrange things so we could attend. And how pleased we were that we had made the effort. It was a fantastic event, the best yet.

The service was inspirational, Rabbi Solomon led the service and he had prepared extra material with a specific LGBT focus. Some of the songs had been rewritten with a gay theme. This was not in any way blasphemous rather an innovative insight into how the religion that has marginalised so many people could be inclusive.

Passover is all about the freeing of the Jews from slavery thousands of years ago. Rabbi Solomon spoke movingly about the fact that around the world there are still many enslaved people physically and emotionally. This resonated around the room with many people some of who still battle daily to be free, allowed to be themselves. Rabbi Solomon said that for him leading this Seder was all about liberation and all the more poignant as it is a double issue, gay and Jewish.

It is traditional at the Passover meal to invite a stranger to join you at the table and tonight was no different. Several new people had appeared at the beginning of the evening looking somewhat nervous but they were welcomed and soon put at their ease. Throughout the evening, they relaxed and it was clear that they felt at home and part of the family.

The highlight of the evening for me was the communal singing after the meal. It had been a long evening but everyone sung with much joy, vigour and on the whole in tune!

Jewish orthodoxy as with similar affiliations of major religions does not accept homosexuality. It is therefore difficult for gay Jews who want to observe their religion to do so safely and openly.

It is thanks to groups like JGLG, The Lesbian Gay and Christian Movement, and Al-Fatiha, that gay people are able in some way to practise their beliefs with like-minded people.

The Passover service ends with the saying `next year in Jerusalem,’ in other words that if we are lucky enough we will celebrate next Passover in Jerusalem, the holy city.

Well this year in Jerusalem, World Pride will be taking place. We hope this will be an event where gay people of all races and religions can march proudly side by side and show the world and the religious leaders that we are queer, we are here and we have no fear.

The Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group can be contacted on 020 89520137