Change is in the Air: How our Community is Already Transforming the Orthodox World

Two weeks later, I am still on a high from our Celebration of Eshel. It was an incredible, star-studded night. I’m so grateful that Modi, Leo Veiga, Talia Reese, and Rabbi Gavriel Bellino were able to be on stage with me, our amazing volunteers and staff, and our honorees to help celebrate Eshel’s incredible journey over the past 13 years. What started out as a tiny dream to bring frum LGBTQ+ Jews together once a year has blossomed into something larger than any of us could have imagined.

When I looked out from the stage at Eshel’s b*mitzvah celebration, I saw an overflowing, festive room, packed with over 300 people who had turned out to celebrate. I could not have imagined 13 years ago how our community would grow, and how joyful we would all be. Through the years, we have had thousands of LGBTQ+ Orthodox individuals and Orthodox parents use our services. Some, like our honoree Shlomo Ashkinazy, have been coming to our retreats from the start to connect with other religious LGBTQ+ people. Others have benefitted from our support groups or the warmline. Our honorees Lenny and Suzi Fuld, who helped us start our first parent group, were among many parents of LGBTQ+ people who have also been part of our support groups, retreats, and allied with us in trying to make Orthodox communities more open. We knew these communities would be represented, as there is a tight-knit feeling amongst the Eshel mishpocha, the Eshel family.

But as I scanned the room, I saw that about a third of the attendees were people I’d never met. These people, I learned, came to the event not to support a specific LGBTQ friend or relative, but to support an Orthodoxy that makes space for difference. When I saw we had reached this ring of people, I knew the answer to the question I have been asked countless times through the years: will the Orthodox community ever change? Can the Orthodox community ever change? The answer is yes, because it already has. The Eshel b*mitzvah celebration was filled with people who want their Orthodox communities to do better, to be better, by allowing people to show up as their full selves.

It was this fact that tells us change has happened. The presence of people who showed up without a direct connection to our cause, shows us that we are on the right path, that Orthodoxy is changing – that it has changed. Those who care just because it’s the right thing to do, and because a more diverse and inclusive Orthodoxy is better for everyone. These people want what we at Eshel have been working for, and they came to celebrate and continue the work. We hope you’ll join us in continuing this work next week, as we launch our We All Belong campaign.

The time to celebrate is now. We are not done yet, but we have reached a milestone, and milestones, like bnei mitzvah, deserve to be celebrated.

Miryam Kabakov Miryam Kabakov