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WHEN Brian Mandel, 53. and his husband moved from New York to Florida in 2018, they later discovered a home-based synagogue—Kehillas Hollywood Hills—close to their home, and joined the small congregation in 2021.
But their relationship with the shul soon turned sour after some members some members of the congregation began expressing “discomfort” with the couple’s presence, and they were told to bugger off, according to The Forward.
Mandel retaliated by staging a once-a-week protest outside the synagogue—every sabbath since January.
One sign he holds up says:
All Jews should be welcomed and included in shul and and not excluded and ostracized. Let me in!
Maybe you belong outside. You have slandered me. You have embarrassed me. You have taken away my dignity. You have dehumanized me. You have spiritually and religiously killed me.
Image via YouTube
The rabbi who ousted the couple is Binyamin Brodman, above, a high school Judaic studies teacher, whose home doubles as a synagogue. Brodman is currently running a $150,000 fund-raiser to find a better home for the shul.
Siding with Brodman’s decision is Rabbi Avi Shafran of Agudath Israel of North America, a Haredi Orthodox umbrella organisation. He said a synagogue’s decision to restrict LGBTQ+ attendance was:
Not a matter of anti-gay sentiment but rather pro-halacha standards. Two men living as man and spouse implies the violation of a very serious Torah law.
When they were living on New York, Mandel and his husband quit an Orthodox synagogue on Long Island after a confrontation with an anti-gay guest speaker.
After joining Kehillas Hollywood Hills they remained discreet about their relationship. Although they wore their wedding rings to shul, they did not tell the rabbi or fellow synagogue attendees that they were a couple.
Whenever someone asked how the two were related, Mandel said, they would say they were roommates and best friends.
Louis Keene, wring this week for The Forward, said that because the Torah forbids male gay sex, homosexuality has long been a fractious issue in the Orthodox world, and Mandel is hardly alone among queer Jews struggling to find a spiritual home.
While an ongoing survey by Eshel, a group that advocates for LGBTQ+ inclusion, has found hundreds of Orthodox rabbis who aspire to welcome queer members, several recent high-profile cases show there remain large pockets of discomfort.
A transgender woman was ousted from her teaching job at a Brooklyn yeshiva in September and in January said that her family was asked to leave Shenk Shul, a modern Orthodox synagogue in Upper Manhattan affiliated with Yeshiva University.
The university has been embroiled in a legal battle over its refusal to recognise an LGBTQ+ student club.
And in 2019, a rabbinical student was asked to leave an Orthodox seminary the day after his boyfriend proposed to him at a pop concert. (Rabbi Daniel Atwood was later ordained by an Orthodox institution in Jerusalem.)
Brodman, who teaches at a local Orthodox high school and is originally from Detroit, declined to discuss the situation when reached by telephone. So did the assistant rabbi and two board members of the small congregation.
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