Havruta, an association of religious homosexuals in Israel, held a communal Shabbat event in Jerusalem for the first time this weekend.

The group organized a Friday night prayer service at the residence of one of the members, followed by a number of separate Shabbat meals hosted by at various locations.

Although the turnout was relatively small, with just 15 men attending, the organizers expressed satisfaction with the initiative, stating it was another step in helping gay religious people feel there are others similar to them and that they are not alone.

The organization now intends to hold a similar event once a month in the capital.

Havruta chairman Daniel Jonas said that it was natural for different communities to coalesce around a synagogue and organized community, which often act as a social hub as well, and that this was one of the goals behind the new program.

He also emphasized that the goal was not to distance themselves from the general religious community, but to provide a regular forum for a Shabbat atmosphere that is more comfortable for members of the gay religious community.

“It’s only once a month, so we’re not cutting ourselves off and we’ll continue to go to our regular synagogues and services as well,” Jonas told The Jerusalem Post.

“We don’t think it is desirable to separate ourselves, but on the other hand Shabbat services can also be sometimes uncomfortable when people come up to you and ask you why you’re not married, or if they can introduce you to a girl, and things like that.”

Jonas noted that about a third of the attendees had not been to a Havruta event before, and some of them had not yet acknowledged to friends and family that they were gay.

“It does require courage to come to an event like this, but because it’s a smaller type of function it makes it easier in some respects, and it is also why we held it at a private residence, because it provides a more anonymous setting and a sense of security too,” he explained.

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