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This gay Orthodox Jew was banned from his synagogue. Now he’s fighting back.

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Kehillas Hollywood Hills seemed like a godsend to Brian Mandel when it opened in 2021. It was only a few blocks from his home, so the walk on Shabbat did not aggravate the neuropathy in his feet. He loves to chant Torah and became part of the little shul’s regular rotation. 

 

But in January, the rabbi told Mandel that he and his husband were no longer welcome in the Orthodox congregation. So every Shabbat, instead of davening inside, Mandel perches 20 feet from the entrance with handwritten protest placards. 

 

My colleague Louis Keene spent time with Mandel in Florida last month and has a special report on his story and what it says about Orthodoxy and homosexuality.

 

Don’t ask, don’t tell: Mandel, 53, and his husband of 10 years wore their rings to shul but told anyone who asked that they were roommates and best friends. He said the rabbi seemed to understand the situation, at one point telling them, “you’ll always be welcome here.” But on Jan. 9, Mandel said, the rabbi told him that some members had expressed discomfort with the couple’s presence, and that after consulting with his own rabbi, he had decided to bar them from services.

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Mandel said he and his husband live ‘a standard modern Orthodox life.’ (Alie Skowronski)

Broader context: Though some Orthodox shuls now welcome queer members, Mandel is hardly alone in facing such rejection. A transgender woman was ousted from her teaching job at a yeshiva in September. A rabbinical student was ousted the day after his boyfriend proposed to him in public. Yeshiva University has been embroiled in a legal battle over its refusal to recognize an LGBTQ+ student club. 

 

Double standard: Orthodox leaders point to the Torah’s prohibition on gay male sex. But those who advocate for inclusion note that synagogues do not generally police their members’ observance of other aspects of Jewish law. Some Jews drive to services, for example. And rabbis do not routinely quiz congregants about how they keep kosher. “They don’t know anything that takes place in our home,” Mandel told Louis. 

 

Dire straits: Mandel, who is diabetic, said that after the shul shunned him, he thought about overdosing on insulin. “When did Judaism become this way?” he asked. “I’m thinking, the Nazis prevented my grandparents from davening. And now Orthodox Jews are preventing me from davening.”

ALSO FROM THE FORWARD

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Annina Walt and Max Hubacher in ‘Labyrinth of Peace.’ (Sava Hlavacek)

In new WWII series, Switzerland isn’t so neutral: Labyrinth of Peace follows the stories of a Swiss family grappling with the moral dilemmas of their postwar home as they encounter Jews and their Nazi persecutors. In a rave review, Simi Horwitz writes that “the acting is superior, the pacing swift, and within their narrative parameters the creators expose an unforgiving brutality and turn the myth of Swiss neutrality on its head.” Read the story ➤

 

Remembering the Hasidic Elvis: Michoel Schnitzler, who died of a heart attack on Saturday at age 62, breathed new life into Hasidic music and became its first modern-day celebrity. “He reached a level of popularity, especially among young people, never before seen in the ultra-orthodox world for anyone who isn’t a rabbi,” writes Meyer Labin, a Yiddish journalist. Read his appreciation ➤

 

Short reads…

  • One in four Americans have never heard of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a new survey found.
  • Jews and other minority groups may face more hate crimes as the next presidential election approaches, a new report predicts.
  • Our Yiddish editor, Rukhl Schaechter, compiled a list of ways to commemorate today’s 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
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Jewish leaders need tools and training to respond to the troubling rise in antisemitism. A new Spertus Institute program fills this critical need. 

 

This program gives front-line leaders the opportunity to work with a team of experts to equip them to respond to antisemitic incidents with knowledge, strength, and skill. 

 

Preferred admission deadline is June 1 for Fall Cohort.  

WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

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Evan Gershkovich, a Jewish journalist arrested on espionage charges, in a Moscow court Tuesday. (Getty)

🇷🇺  Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, the son of Jewish Soviet emigres, appeared in a Moscow court on Tuesday, the first time he had been seen in public for weeks. Gershkovich, who has denied the espionage charges against him, faces up to 20 years in prison. Meanwhile, Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian Jewish dissident, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for treason. (CNN, WSJ, JTA)

 

🎤  House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is slated to address the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 1. It will be the second time in history a U.S. House Speaker has done so; Newt Gingrich spoke there in 1998. (Twitter)

 

🔥  Multiple people who carried torches and shouted “Jews will not replace us” at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, were recently indicted as part of an ongoing criminal investigation. In 2021, a jury awarded $25.3 million in damages to people who were injured in the rally and had filed a civil lawsuit. (AP)  

 

🤝  The United Kingdom’s Liberal and Reform movements are merging after more than 120 years as separate entities. The new group will be called Progressive Judaism. (JTA)  

 

🇮🇱  Israeli officials organizing the country’s 75th Independence Day ceremony next week are preparing to cut to segments recorded in rehearsals if protests erupt over the government’s proposed plan to overhaul the judiciary. (Haaretz)

 

🐮  A cow wandered into a hardware store in central Israel on Tuesday, and caused thousands of shekels in damage as its hooves slipped on the smooth floor. (Times of Israel)

 

Random factoid: “The Supreme Court is now less trusted than organized religion,” according to data compiled by The New York Times.

 

Shiva call: Gloria Dea (née Metzner), who began performing magic at age 5 and later became the first person to perform a magic act at a Las Vegas casino, died at 100.

What else we’re reading: Gov. Ron DeSantis takes steps to attract center-right Jewish voters to his unannounced presidential bid … Religious pop star singing of ‘God and faith’ wins over secular Israel … Transgender rights has replaced same-sex marriage as a rallying cry for the religious right.

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ON THE CALENDAR

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On this day in history (1872): Alice Saloman, who pioneered the field of modern social work, was born to an assimilated Jewish family in Berlin. Writing her doctoral dissertation at the turn of the 20th century on the wage gap between women and men, Saloman was ahead of her time. Though she attended a Protestant school as a young girl, “Salomon was always inspired by her Yiddishkeit,” Forward contributor Benjamin Irvy wrote in a 2017 article. And when the Nazis demanded that Salomon ban Jews from the social work school she founded, she closed the school instead.

In honor of National Banana Day, check out this recipe for, I kid you not, banana charoset.

PHOTO OF THE DAY

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(Matthew Litman)

It was a surreal scene in Times Square on Tuesday when the tourist spot’s famous Naked Cowboy stood in front of a recreation of a cattle car that was used to transport Jews to the concentration camps, placed there in commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day. “This is the crossroads of the world,” said one of the organizers of the exhibit. “So if your goal is to increase awareness, this is the place you want to be.” See more photos from the event ➤

 

Thanks to PJ Grisar, Matthew Litman, Sarah Nachimson, Jodi Rudoren and Talya Zax for contributing to today’s newsletter. You can reach the “Forwarding” team at editorial@forward.com.

 

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The post This gay Orthodox Jew was banned from his synagogue. Now he’s fighting back. appeared first on The Forward.