A panel of young gay and lesbian Jews called on the community to show greater acceptance of LGBT members in a moving discussion on conversion therapy – or “pray the gay away” practices.
About 100 Limmud Festival-goers heard Shulli Clinton-Davis, Joe Hyman and Mathew Shurka recall their experiences of the controversial practice in the afternoon session of the conference’s opening day.
Conversion therapy, sometimes known as reparative therapy, is an umbrella term for dialogue- or activity-based therapy which attempts to change sexual orientation or reduce attraction to others of the same sex.
It has been condemned by all major UK therapy professional bodies as “unethical and damaging”, although it has not been banned outright, nor has it been made illegal in Israel or the United States, apart from the state of New York.
Ms Clinton-Davis urged the community at large to address both the societal and religious issues around homosexuality, while Mr Hyman said older members should “communicate and get on board”.
Mr Hyman said: “My generation is on board with it – they would never have permitted (conversion therapy). But my parents generation, and perhaps the generation between them and me, need to be educated.
“We need to be telling people as much as possible. And the (Jewish) leadership need to start listening too.”
Mr Shurka, a New York native born to an Iranian Jewish father and Ashkenazi mother, revealed that he was forced to shun his mother and two sisters for three years as part of his therapy, based on the erroneous belief that he had been “over-feminised”.
He told the audience that he directed verbal abuse at his mother when she pleaded with him to talk to her, and that his home life became an “unsafe space”.
Mr Hyman and Ms Clinton-Davis both said that their desire to undergo therapy was borne from an initial inability to reconcile modern Orthodox Judaism with homosexuality.
Ms Clinton-Davis said: “I couldn’t understand how I could be Jewish and gay. If I believed in God, how could I also be gay?
“One rabbi told me he had the solution; I spent a year in a seminary in Israel. I went ultra-religious – Charedi.
“I decided to serve God, and do everything by the book. It was traumatic, in hindsight.”
All three panellists told the audience they are “happily gay”, and spoke of support they have received from their respective families and communities.
But Elliot Jebreel, chairing the session, said the practice still exists, and urged audience members to report any form of conversion therapy offered on the NHS.