Daniel is the coordinator of Hevruta, the religious gay group at the Open House. He is in his late 20s, openly gay for the last two years and enjoys full support from his family. This gives him the strength to support gays who have tremendous difficulty coming out of the closet and living openly according to their sexual identity yet remaining Orthodox. The group invites any religious gay above the age of 18 to join and hear how others deal with the same difficulties.

“Most of those who join the group have been dealing with the issue for a long time before they joined us,” says Daniel. “Some of them arrive at critical points in their life, and they find here a framework that enables them to feel comfortable. Whether they are still observant or have abandoned the observant aspect of religion, they all share the same feelings, have the same sensibilities, the same language, the same needs in fact. Here they feel they can be themselves, and they don’t have to explain anything regarding their religious observance.”

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Most of the activities in this group are focused on the sexual identity of the members, “but everything is done within a religious framework, and that is tremendously important for them, for us all,” he adds.

Hevruta does not deal with issues of homosexual couples but rather with the homosexual identity and its meaning, especially in the context of a religious way of life.

“The issue of the religious interdiction is not our main focus of interest,” says Daniel. “We don’t discuss our sexuality as such; rather, it is a social framework of activities.

You know, the rabbis always run to the sexual issue, and once we are there, there is almost nothing to do – it’s all interdictions, and this is not what we need here. What we want to give the people who join the group is some support and strength, which enables them to speak freely.”

There are no haredim in the group, apart from two men who took part in the meetings for a while. Daniel believes that this is a result of the limited awareness of the possibility among haredi society. “Religious people are aware of our existence, and they would know how to find us,” he says. “A young haredi man who understands that he is homosexual or doesn’t even understand but realizes he is different, wouldn’t even know how to start to look for us, and that is a pity.”

The conversation with Daniel took place a couple of days after the tragic death of two haredi men in Tel Aviv, allegedly as a result of a homosexual relationship. “There is no doubt in my heart that if those two could have attended our group’s meeting, their death could have been prevented. It is a terrible feeling to know that we could help, and yet it happened. We do not give therapy or anything of the sort, but we can give a deep and strong sense that they are not alone out there.”

Hevruta’s meeting are held once a month – once in the Jerusalem Open House and once in Tel Aviv – which some 70 people attend, in addition to two annual trips in Israel.

The mailing list includes more than 300 people. The average age of the members is between 25 and 40, but older participants also attend.

“We have also Purim parties, which don’t look anything like some might imagine gay parties to look like. And we have special meetings on special issues, like the one we had on the fate of homosexuals during the Shoah,” says Daniel.

Two months ago, Hevruta opened a separate group for married religious gays. “This program requires a high degree of discretion. I know the person who coordinates this group, nothing else,” says Daniel.

The next step, he says, is to open a beit midrash – “a place to study texts as in any other beit midrash but, in the background, the understanding that all the participants share something in common.”
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