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May 16, 2006

A Jewish man's story

Its rare to hear of someone in the Jewish faith opening up about their experiences overcoming same sex attraction. That's why I was mesmerized by the letter I received from my friend Elaine Berk of JONAH. I hope you enjoy and learn something.

This letter is written to any bochur or yungerman (unmarried or married young man) who experiences Same Sex Attraction (SSA) as well as the parents, Roshei Yeshiva (Yeshiva Dean), Rebbeim (Yeshiva teachers), or friends of such persons. I hope and pray to the Ribbono Shel Olam (Master of the Universe) that Jews and others who experience SSA will be spared the suffering that I have endured and will realize that the feelings and cravings for persons of the same gender can be a source of personal growth in Torah and Ahavat haShem (Love of G-d). The feelings can also serve as a guide to discovering the incredible neshama (soul) that one possesses. This letter will promote only behavior that is in line with the teachings of Chazal (our Sages of blessed memory).

By way of background, I am writing this well into adult life and as a father of several children. As a child, I went to a Hebrew day school, the majority of whose students came from observant families. I continued on to a yeshiva that is headed by talmidim (students) of Rabbi Aharon Kotler, zt'l (of blessed memory) and, eventually switched to a major yeshiva in Brooklyn. I remained in that yeshiva until I was in my early twenties. When I left the yeshiva I had been married for a year and my wife and I were already parents.

Curiously, I am writing about my yeshiva experience before I write about my home life, possibly because my yeshiva experience was a source of great happiness for me. My home life was not. My mother was overbearing and over engaged in my life. I was one of several children, and became my mother's right hand man (or should I say maid?). In many ways, I was a crutch to her, needing to protect her and care for her. I specifically remember times that my mother said that she would die and leave me to care for my younger brother. Eventually, her prediction was fulfilled symbolically, as she became an invalid shortly after my father's death at an early age.

My father was physically present, but we did not have a close relationship for most of my growing up years. In my late teens, we actually began to build a close relationship, but he died shortly after that. I did not cease mourning for him until April 2006, for reasons that will be clear in this writing.

As a child, I was (and continue to be) a sensitive person, often taking in the feelings of others as my own. In school, I was not athletic, which caused me to be excluded by my peer group and even ridiculed by them. The element of an over engaged mother, an emotionally absent father, a sensitive personality, and peer rejection, are ingredients that are the seeds of homosexual behavior in some boys and men.

In the three years before I married, I heard lectures from rabbanim (Rabbis) that downplayed the role of romance in marriage. Since I was not attracted to women anyway, these ideas sat well with me. I was certain that after I married, the attraction that I did have for men (and quite strongly by that time in my life) would go away. As is the case with many (perhaps all) SSA men, the attraction not only did not diminish, it grew stronger. There was no one in the therapy world at that time who could explain that the attraction to men was a signal from my brain and body that I needed legitimate male companionship and friendship. After four years of marriage, I gave up the fight with my yetzer horah (desires) and started seeking men. At first, it was just going to gay discos and watching men dance, a great source of calm to me. But gradually, as the years went on, I sought out men for sexual activity.

While, Baruch haShem (thank G-d), I never crossed the line into mishkav zachar (the type of homosexual intercourse forbidden by the Torah), the personal loss of kedushas haguf (personal sanctity) because of my many aveiros (sins) is beyond retelling. Suffice it to say that my behavior was a constant source of shame. Even so, I couldn't put a stop to it. Over the years, I saw several therapists, one of whom encouraged me to simply accept who "I was" and even find a lover.

By 2005, I despaired of ever overcoming both the attraction and the behaviors associated with it. Then I heard about a film, Trembling Before God. While the film promotes, to some degree, the idea of being Jewish and gay, its real impact on me was that there was a Jewish voice to what I was experiencing and that I was not alone. The film led me to several web-sites, all sponsored by organizations whose messages and focus I do not support. In the course of my web-related research I came across and, finally to JONAH whose activities and guidance have given me back my life.

At first, I was resistant to the types of therapy that JONAH promotes which are variously called reparative or reorientation or change therapy. But as I read more of the books that are suggested by JONAH, I realized that my homosexual desires were not ends in themselves, but symptoms of a man who had lost his manhood, his masculinity, and, in my case, longed for his father. The more I recognized and acknowledged what the symptoms were telling me, the more the behavior decreased.

The really pivotal powerful moments came at a Journey into Manhood (JIM) weekend that I attended in early April 2006. The event is sponsored by an organization called People Can Change (PCC), While PCC is a non-religious organization, there was over a minyan (quorum) of Jews at the event, most of whom are shomer Torah u' Mitzvot (Sabbath observant). I am not permitted to go into the specifics of the activities, but what I gained from the weekend can only be described as life transforming.

I finally came face to face with the fears that drove my homosexual behavior and was able to use those fears to transform from a frightened boy into a courageous man. I began to recognize the incredibly powerful masculinity that lay within me, the gold I possess within that makes me a unique man with a mission. My manhood was affirmed by other men who were in attendance in a way that finally swept away the sense of low self esteem that had permitted the undesired behaviors in the first place. Lifetime, healthy friendships were formed with men who are also seeking a path of complete manhood. I was finally able to come to grips with the loss of the father I knew and realize that, despite his absence, he loved me very much and was proud of the young man I had become before his death.

I came home from the weekend as a better husband and a better father.

Above all, I learned that to touch another man can be done in a way that is healthy, holy and noble. The Torah speaks openly of such touching, as with Dovid and Yehonasan (David and Jonathan) as related in the Book of Samuel. In fact, their friendship is described in Ethics of the Fathers as a pure love, because it is not tainted with a desire for reward, sexual or otherwise. I learned how that touch can happen. As a result, I came away from the activities with a restored sense of Kedushas haguf (personal sanctity) and a belief that G-d was giving me strength through SSA.

The so called "gay-lobby" and "gay rights" people would have us believe that homosexuality is normal in some people and that there is actually such an entity as a homosexual. One of my rebbeim (Yeshiva teachers) taught that the source for all language is in the Torah, where no such word exists. The Torah condemns the behavior, but never calls a person who performs the act by a specific noun. Even in the English language, the word did not exist until the mid-nineteenth century. The fact is that there is no such entity or identity as a “gay” person. The behaviors are a matter of choice, though sometimes driven by intense desire.

Even some in the frum (religious) world believe that there is a genetic basis to the condition. The fact is that there is no evidence to that effect. Even when the American Psychological Association (APA) removed homosexuality from the list of conditions considered worthy of treatment, they did so because of political pressure, not based on research. There are millions of people who have an attraction to members of their own sex, but there is no valid research that shows that they are a biological group in the same way Caucasians, Blacks, or Orientals can be biologically grouped. The Torah's ways are pleasant. There is no way that G-d would give a person a biology that is diametrically opposed to the mitzvot (commandments) G-d bids us to fulfill.

A bochur or yungerman (unmarried or married young man) who is faced with this condition should investigate reparative therapy. He cannot assume that he must live with homosexual longings for a lifetime. Marriage is not the cure. The repair comes from within, knowing what the cravings are messaging. Please, l'ma'an haShem (for G-d's sake) do not accept what the gay community wants you to believe. Their interest is in pandering to desires that fit in with a basically selfish world view and are certainly not in line with the Torah's teaching. Possessing a Jewish n'shama (soul) requires you to guard the sanctity of your life. There is a way to do so that will liberate one from SSA and actually enable one to have insight into one's innermost needs.

The writer can be contacted through Arthur Goldberg or Elaine Silodor Berk, Co-Directors of JONAH, Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality. They can be reached at or through the JONAH web site at .