The first ever Jewish LGBT event was held in Parliament yesterday, hosted by Mike Freer MP, who noted positive changes within the Jewish community around issues such as equal marriage.
The event, arranged by the Jewish gay community’s lobbying and social activism group Keshet UK, was held to celebrate both the Jewish festival of Chanukah and the passing of same-sex marriage, which will see Liberal and Reform synagogues solemnising gay marriages for the first time next year.
The event was hosted by Finchley and Golders Green MP Mike Freer, who recently won the PinkNews Parliamentary Speech of the Year for his contribution to the same-sex marriage debate. He told the 100 community activists, rabbis, MPs and Peers : “Looking in from the outside as a non-Jew, since the big debates over same-sex marriage in the past year I’ve personally seen a sea change of attitude in the Jewish community. Changing the law will really change the lives of gay Jews”
The Communities minister, Stephen Williams MP, who like Mike Freer, is openly gay said: “Often you feel like you are treading on eggshells when bringing up the top of gender and sexuality in religion; several strands of the Jewish faith are now showing that you can be entirely comfortable with your sexuality and your religion.
“In order to achieve this, some people have to be the outriders within their own faith and I am glad that you are doing this within yours.”
Although Liberal and Reform Judaism will hold same-sex marriages, the United Synagogue, the main orthodox movement headed by the Chief Rabbi is opposed to gay couples marrying even in civil settings.
The Chief Rabbi did not attend the LGBT Jewish reception, although it was supported by the cross communal Board of Deputies of British Jews.
Crossbencher Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger, whose synagogue is planning round-the-clock services on the day the first same-sex marriages can be held said: “In the nine years that I’ve spent in Parliament, I am proud of attending the debates and voting on no two pieces of legislation more than civil partnerships and gay marriage. We all need to push at one button to make our community, like us here to be more gay friendly and more celebratory than it is now.”
Rabbi Lionel Blue, the broadcaster and first openly gay Rabbi in the UK, emotionally said that the event was a “modern miracle, Chanukah is a festival of wonder, tonight is truly a moment of wonder.”
Benjamin Cohen, the publisher of PinkNews, who co-founded Keshet UK said: “This event held in the heart of the British establishment has shown that gay Jews have finally come out of the shadows. The support that Keshet UK has received from across the Jewish community, including from the Orthodox section, shows that being gay is no longer a bar to Jewish communal life.”
Keshet UK chair Alma Smith said: “We are proud of what we have achieved but know there is so much more to do to realise full inclusion of LGBT people within the British Jewish community. After experiencing the welcome that our community has felt here in Parliament this evening we hope that more people will step forward to help realise this necessity and share our message of acceptance and inclusion in synagogues regardless of sexuality and gender identity.”