The Gush Etzion Regional and the nearby Efrat Local Council in the West Bank are sponsoring a new support group for parents of LGBT youth, joining just a handful of other religious municipalities that have taken part in such efforts, and becoming the first to do so beyond the Green Line.
On Friday, Efrat mayor Oded Revivi published a flier for the initiative on Facebook, writing, “We will not lose our children.”
The support group will be run by Tehila, which, according to its website, “provides support by parents, for parents who have children in the gay community.”
Tehila activists Nava Abramovitz and Israel Leibovitch told The Times of Israel that the new group in Gush Etzion, just southeast of Jerusalem, would join over 20 others across the country. However, only several of those are specifically for religious parents.
They said the new forum would hold meetings beginning next month in “sterile” locations so as to protect the privacy of those who choose to join. They expected 10 to 12 parents would attend the monthly sessions.
Abramovitz and Leibovitch said a similar group already exists in Jerusalem where they’re both from, but that one serves a mix of religious and secular families. They explained that their new forum would specifically address the needs of religious parents who often have questions regarding how to cope with the halachic (religious law) challenges that arise from having an LGBT child.
“There’s nothing like this in the settlements,” said Leibovitch.
The Tehila activists credited Revivi for “providing the very warm assistance” necessary to get the initiative off the ground.
Asked why she thought Efrat had been able to play a leading role on the issue, Abramovitz said it was because the municipality had a mayor “who understands the need and is willing to do anything to save lives.”
As of Sunday evening, four pairs of parents had already reached out to Tehila, expressing interest in joining the support group.
Revivi told The Times of Israel that he offered assistance in publicizing and hosting the meetings after Tehila reached out to his office. The mayor’s Facebook post received 486 likes and over 75 comments of support. One user attacked the idea, but later apologized for his comments and deleted them.
“The sages teach us, ‘Whoever saves a life saves the world,'” said Revivi, quoting a talmudic passage. “From this comes the understanding that we are obligated to help our friends in the LGBT community as well as their parents in dealing with the challenge.
“I recommend that everyone try to see how they can help their neighbor, [which includes] not necessarily believing that it is in our power to turn our fellow into a copy of ourselves. This does not happen in politics, it does not happen in religion, and it does not happen with one’s sexual identity,” the mayor concluded.
Over the past several years, the Gush Etzion Regional Council, and even more so the Efrat Local Council, have led a growing movement in the settlements and the generally conservative national religious camp that has called for greater awareness and acceptance of LGBT members of their communities.
In June 2018, the Efrat municipality held an inaugural event beyond the Green Line, in which over 100 residents were addressed by Revivi, along with the head of the Gush Etzion Religious Council, a leading religious psychiatrist, and members of the LGBT religious community. The event centered around a theme highlighted in Revivi’s Sunday remarks — accepting LGBT youth for who they are, as anything less would risk such children’s mental health.
Several more intimate events were held throughout the Gush Etzion Regional Council this past summer for local settlers, who have gingery been making strides toward LGBT acceptance.
But those efforts have also hit snags. One event that was scheduled to take place in Neve Daniel was moved from the settlement, after the town’s rabbi barred it from being held there.
In May, Netta Hadid, a 23-year-old transgender woman who grew up in another Gush Etzion settlement, Alon Shvut, died by suicide — not the first such death involving an LGBT native of the area.
However, after the June 2018 Efrat event, a support group was formed to serve LGBT youth in “the Gush,” as the bloc of suburban-like settlements south of Jerusalem is known.
The forum has steadily grown to 20 individuals between the ages of 18 and 23 that meet twice a month. Minors are still required to travel to Jerusalem to receive assistance, as the Gush group is only certified to serve legal adults.
Even before the launch of the new group for parents, a growing number of residents in the area had been voicing opposition to those less tolerant of their community’s LGBT members.
When a prominent national religious rabbi, Yigal Levinstein — who sparked an outcry in 2016 when he called gays “deviants” — was invited to speak at a synagogue in Efrat earlier this year, a group of locals organized a protest outside the building and Revivi issued a statement distancing the municipality from the event.
With the new support group, Revivi said he hoped his municipality would allow parents with an LGBT son or daughter “to breathe a sigh of relief because someone is finally paying attention to them.”