Jewish community centre faces ultra-Orthodox boycott over gay events

jw3 gayw3

A Jewish community centre is facing a boycott led by ultra-Orthodox rabbis because it runs gay-inclusive sessions.

The JW3, located in Finchley, North London, is the largest community hub for Jewish people in London.

But the centre is facing a backlash over a number of LGBT-inclusive events, igniting fury earlier this year ‘GayW3’, a week dedicated to celebrating the gay community and exploring a Jewish approach to LGBT issues.

The centre has since moved forward with another event with Jewish LGBT group Imahot v’Avot – sparking a boycott of the centre from ultra-Orthodox leaders.

A letter signed by 25 rabbis was distributed at London synagogues, urging people to boycott the centre and shun JW3 entirely.

It accuses the centre of “promoting a way of life which is in total contradiction to Orthodox Judaism and [Jewish law]”.

The letter adds: “Members of our community should distance themselves fully from JW3, its activities and services and refrain from visiting JW3 even for recreational purposes only.”

The letter, which states it is “not intended for circulation outside the strictly Orthodox communities of the UK”, was promptly leaked to the media and published by the Jewish Chronicle.

The GayW3 events were intended to celebrate 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK.

Posters relating to the event were vandalised amid an outcry from Orthodox Jews.

Orthodox rabbis previously accused the centre of crossing the “red line” by discussing LGBT issues.

A previous letter earlier this year referred to the programme as Toievah – the Hebrew word for “abomination” – and cited a verse from the Torah calling for gay men to be put to death.

It added: “We are of the strong opinion that a red line has been crossed in launching campaigns and initiatives that promote lifestyles and behaviours forbidden and condemned by the Torah.”

JW3 has thus far failed to explicitly condemn homophobic comments made about the programme.

Raymond Simonson, the chief executive of JW3, told the Guardian: “JW3 is cross communal – it reaches every aspect of the Jewish community and outside the Jewish community,

“We work hard to build relationships with diverse groups and individuals. We’re trying to hold up a Jewish lens to the 21st century, and in particular a British-Jewish lens. And also we’re holding a 21st-century lens to Jewish life.”

He added that the centre’s work had overwhelming support from the Jewish community, adding the letter’s signatories “represent just a very small, specific bit of the Jewish community”.

He added: “The vast majority of British-Jewish communal leadership want to create tolerant spaces for people of all different backgrounds. It’s a changing world and we want to be open and inclusive – and we believe we’re reflecting mainstream Jewish opinion.

“[Imahot v’Avot members] may be secular, Orthodox, Reform or other Jews.

“Some are avid attendees of synagogues; some don’t care for synagogue life. We’re providing a warm, safe Jewish community space for them.”

Earlier this year, an unknown offender graffitied the word “SHAME” over a banner promoting its programme of LGBT events.

Keshet UK, a Jewish LGBT group, told PinkNews: Through their programming, JW3 has created unique spaces celebrating LGBT+ Jewish lives.

“KeshetUK wants to see more spaces like this, in which help to create a world where no-one has to choose between their Jewish and LGBT+ identities.

“Attacks on individuals or organisations that support LGBT+ inclusion only alienate LGBT+ Jews and allies, many of whom already feel marginalised.

“Chief Rabbi Mirvis has clearly stated there should be no place for homophobia in Jewish communities. There must be no place for cultural boycotts either.”

Danny Rich, the chief executive of Liberal Judaism, said the rabbis’ letter encouraged violence against LGBT Jews.

“You don’t know whether to be ashamed, embarrassed or angry that seven teachers of Torah encourage prejudice and bigotry against the Jewish LGBTQI community and its allies.

“Notwithstanding the particular attack on a vulnerable section of the community, this action fails to understand that contemporary Jewish culture is wider than a certain medieval interpretation of it.

“I know the Leviticus passages and using them in this way seems a clear incitement to intolerance and violence.”

According to the JW3 website: “The aim of JW3 is to transform the Jewish landscape in London by helping to create a vibrant, diverse and proud community, inspired by and engaged in Jewish arts, culture and community.”