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For Gay Sephardic Jews, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a Policy for Life

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The Jewish community recently observed Yom Kippur. It’s a time to atone, reflect, and pray. But for one group of Orthodox Jews, it’s also a time to face a difficult challenge. Gay Sephardic Jews, from Middle Eastern and North African communities, must reconcile being true both to their faith and to themselves. Salim Essaid reports.

Transcript

Salim Essaid: Joseph is forty-three, Lebanese, and a member of the Sephardic Jewish community in New York. He says the answer to whether you can be gay and practice Judaism is in the Torah. That answer is no.

Joseph: “With another man thou shall not lie, it’s an abomination. There’s no getting around it. you can try to twist the words any way you can. No is no.”

Essaid: You might be surprised to know that Joseph is gay. He lives in Brooklyn, home of the largest Sephardic Jewish community in the U-S. That’s why he doesn’t give his real name.  Joseph is straight in the eyes of fellow members at the Shaare Zion synagogue. He says he has to live in two worlds because there is no way he can combine his two identities.

Joseph: “You have to try to make sense out of the fact that you believe one thing or are told to believe one thing and yet inside your head, your body, your soul if you will, you’re feeling a whole different thing. They’re at odds, there’s just no way to square them off.”

Essaid: Rabbi Elie Abadie leads the Edmond J. Safra Congregation, a Lebanese Sephardic synagogue in Manhattan. He explains that Orthodox Judaism views homosexuality as unnatural but just like any other inner demon.

Rabbi Elie Abadie: “We believe philosophically and religiously that every human being is born with a tendency and his existence on this world is really to overcome that tendency. Um and to in a sense perfect oneself and that goes for kleptomaniacs, for people who are much more desirous of aggressive behavior and things like that.”

Essaid: Abadie says everyone is allowed to pray and commune with God at the synagogue. Though gay Sephardic congregates are expected to follow a code similar to the military’s former don’t-ask don’t-tell policy.

Abadie: “As long as that is not a public issue, as long as that is not a public acceptance or public sanctioning of what religion really prohibits then in their private life that’s between them and god.”

Essaid: Some, like Danny, find this difficult to do.  Danny is a Syrian jeweler in his forties. Like Joseph he uses a false name to hide his identity. Danny follows the don’t-ask don’t-tell policy but doesn’t know how long he can continue hiding his boyfriend of three years.

Danny: “I’m afraid that if they find out they will say you’re not allowed to come pray anymore, or you’re not allowed to come participate in these things anymore.  That’s what I’m afraid of. I always think about it.”

Essaid: The recent bill passed in June allowing gay New Yorkers to marry has done nothing to change this way of life.  For now, in silence is the way that gay members of the Sephardic Jewish community practice their religion and live their lives. Salim Essaid, Columbia Radio News.

7 Responses to “For Gay Sephardic Jews, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a Policy for Life”

  1. I figured as much—well, more that being homosexual in HaKehillah Sephardi is “Lo v’lo!” In the Ashkenazi community, it’s either a shanda or it’s cool to be like even my cousin Michael Andrews (Yes; he was the crossdresser Michael Andrews, and the Androlewiczes are a branch of the Litvak Andrulevičus family.). There is some in between, but not much. In the Sephardi community, it’s a contrast to the Ashkenazi community.

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