When Hyim Shafner first started working as the campus rabbi for St. Louis Hillel at Washington University in the mid-1990s, he was approached by a male student with an unusual request.
“I’m having trouble meeting guys, rabbi,” Shafner remembers the student saying. “Can you fix me up with a nice Jewish boy?”
Suddenly Shafner’s days at the Orthodox Yeshiva University in New York “felt very far away,” he said.
But moments like that at the university got Shafner, now the rabbi at Bais Abraham Congregation in University City, to begin thinking more seriously about the special problems faced by homosexual Orthodox Jews.
“Jews are not a very big people,” he said. “I think of Judaism as a family, and it’s a shame someone has to leave Orthodoxy — their faith that they value — because they don’t feel like they can find a place in the family.”
As a way to introduce St. Louis’ Orthodox Jewish community to the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender — or LGBT — community, Bais Abraham and the Jewish Community Center of St. Louis will host a weekend of events April 12 to 14 designed to support Orthodox LGBT Jews.
The event was organized by Eshel, an organization that tries to create understanding for LGBT Jews in traditional Jewish communities. Eshel is bringing in three speakers to discuss what it’s like to be LGBT and Orthodox. The organization has held similar events in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, but next weekend’s event will be the first time it has brought a program like this to the Midwest.