For the last fifteen years, I have worked in fundraising in primarily Orthodox spaces, where I asked for gifts for day schools, Yeshivas, social justice organizations, and special needs support. Throughout that time I saw myself as an outsider, strengthening Orthodoxy, but not feeling connected to it myself – since the Orthodoxy I was strengthening seemed to be intent on ignoring and hiding from LGBTQ issues. But recently, I was asked to help Eshel with our recent B*Mitzvah dinner celebration and our We All Belong campaign. Working on these two projects, I realized that the Orthodoxy I had known was changing – thanks to Eshel. I no longer needed to be an outsider. 

On June 4, over 300 people came in person to support the Eshel celebration in New York,including a remarkable presence of allies, friends, and family of LGBTQ+ Orthodox people, not simply our own community. Similarly, what we saw during our We All Belong campaign was an outpouring of support – from across the country and around the world – not just from our usual community of friends and supporters, but networks of relatives, classmates, and Orthodox friends demonstrating their belief that we are an integral part of their community. Strengthening the Orthodox LGBTQ+ community no longer has to be our burden alone, and I am proud to now lead that work as the Director of Advancement for Eshel. 

Celebrating Pride last weekend in New York City, I was struck with a similar feeling of acceptance and  belonging. For the past few months, the Jewish LGBTQ+ community has felt immense pressure and fear surrounding our relationship with our home, Israel. Security around pride events was tightened, de-escalation trainings were scheduled, and many regulars said they were staying home. But in spite of the heightened tension, this year I felt the Jewish LGBTQ+ community’s presence louder and prouder than ever before. I heard of at least a half-dozen events for LGBTQ+ Jews, including Shabbos dinners hosted by Yeshiva alumni, Orthodox couples, and friends; Pride divrei Torah and kiddushes at shuls throughout the city, and a Pride oneg. Instead of being focused on the challenges of this year, I was encouraged by the outpouring of support from allies and community members, projecting the message that we all belong. 

That feeling continued this past Sunday, when I gathered for the Jew York Pride Brunch with JQY, A Wider Bridge, Keshet, and more. I bumped into friends from high school, Yeshiva, and Yeshiva University. All around the room were posters declaring our pride in our Judaism and our queerness. As I walked out of brunch with my yarmulka on proudly, I forgot there was anything “scary” about doing so. I walked around the city for hours covered in Jewish stars and rainbow stickers,only to be greeted with bright eyes calling “happy pride!” Everywhere I went, I was able to represent my full identity during Pride. Everywhere I went, I felt celebrated and seen – entirely. 

This year, Pride was a homecoming for me. I have spent the last few years outside of New York City on Pride weekend, and many years before that uncomfortable with my own Orthodoxy and sexuality. But while I was struggling, Eshel’s was working behind the scenes and publicly to make this homecoming possible. Eshel’s work has allowed the Orthodox LGBTQ community not just to survive, but thrive. Eshel brings us together to create queer community, and helps us be seen as an integral part of our home communities. It’s a beautiful, complicated life as an LGBTQ+ Jew, and for the first time in my life, I feel completely seen. I am so grateful to Eshel for ensuring there was a home for me to come back to.

Ely Winkler
Director of Advancement