PinkNews.co.uk Exclusive Feature
Benjamin Cohen went to meet BaGeLs, the Jewish LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) students group meeting for the first time in Soho bar, the Friendly Society.
“What would you like on your bagel? We’ve got humus, cream cheese, salmon pate or smoked salmon with cream cheese.” I was asked as I arrived with my non Jewish boyfriend Adam to the inaugural meeting of BaGeLs (standing I think for Bisexual and Gay even Lesbian students).
It was a welcome insight into the aims of the group who are trying to mix Jewish traditions in an openly gay environment. It was certainly very different to when I began my first year at university just five years ago.
Back then, there was an uneasiness at being gay and being Jewish, the two seemed mutually exclusive. In a way I was living proof of that, somehow managing to be both president of King’s College London’s Jewish Society whilst at the same time being my student union’s LGBT officer. It was rather, never the twain shall meet, you couldn’t be both openly gay and Jewish on campus and if you were, you kept it hidden.
It was refreshing to see 25 boys and girls all of around the age of 20 happily socialising in a gay and Jewish environment without the ever watchful eye of the orthodox Jewish rabbis who seemed to be a permanent fixture of UJS (Union of Jewish Students) events back in the days when I was a student.
The group stems from a motion passed at the UJS national conference that mandated their executive body to provide more support and events for their LGBT members.
The event was hosted by a UJS field worker Flora Hoori who told me “we shouldn’t have to sacrifice either our LGBT or our Jewish identity. Its cool to be Jewish and gay and have fun eating bagels.”
Group organiser, Daniel Lichman told the gathering that they are “proof, despite what others say that there is a Jewish LGBT youth community.”
Oliver Manson (student), Adam Smith (PinkNews) and Sam Feller (student)
The group who aim to meet on a regular basis around London and eventually on a national basis have forged links with other groups supporting openly gay Jews. Among those represented at the launch were Liberal Judaism, who as PinkNews.co.uk has previously reported, launched a gay marriage liturgy to accompany the introduction of civil partnerships. Another group in attendance was JGLG, the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group who aim to encourage BaGeLS members to join following their graduation from full time study. This was in addition to a representative from NUS (National Union of Students) LGBT campaign.
Homosexuality remains a taboo within the orthodox Jewish community, with many rabbis advising young gay people that if they feel unable to engage in a straight relationship that they should opt for celibacy and devote their free time to religion and studying the Torah. This is not an option for another of the organisers, David Shaw, a student at the London College of Fashion. “What am I supposed to do, stay at home by myself and be lonely?” He asked. “I don’t see celibacy advocated in the ten commandments.”
Despite their name not including transgendered students, BaGeLS say that they welcome transgendered members although they have yet to be put in touch with anyone willing to join the group. Perhaps, as they try to reconcile homosexuality with Judaism, transgenderism may be a taboo too far, at least just yet.
The group can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org