A Manhattan ‘Sanctuary’ for Orthodox LGBT Jews

JQY staff and volunteers (Photo via The Jewish Week)

JQY staff and volunteers (Photo via The Jewish Week)

Located at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in Chelsea, the JQY Drop-In Center serves as a safe haven for Orthodox LGBT youth by providing resources such as support groups, counseling and a suicide intervention program. JQY executive director Mordechai Levovitz tells Hannah Dreyfus of The Jewish Week that the center is modeled after similar ones around the city that help at-risk teenagers. In the case of JQY, staff and volunteers want to reach “those most at risk,” he says.

The new center, which opened for weekend and evening hours at the end of April, provides counseling, kosher food, and even arranges housing accommodations for teenagers and young adults between the ages of 13 and 23 who don’t feel they can safely return home. Drop-ins come from a broad range of religious backgrounds, said Levovitz — “We’ve seen chasidic teens from Williamsburg still wearing bekishes (long coats traditionally worn by chasidic Jews), Sephardim, and Modern Orthodox kids from New Jersey who have been in day school their whole life.” Some drop-ins are already married; some already have children, he said. For many of those who stop in, it is the first space where they openly identify as LGBT. “Many of those who have come are still completely closeted in their families and communities,” said Levovitz.

The mass shooting in Orlando has, naturally, left a mark on the center where “the importance of creating a ‘sanctuary’ for LGBT youth is only heightened,” according to drop-in center coordinator Rachael Fried. JQY held a vigil in honor of the victims on June 16.

“Those who cannot come out in their communities are feeling afraid, vulnerable and alone,” she said. “There needs to be a place where they can find support and mourn a tragedy of this magnitude.”

A Facebook post by member Shonna Levin described what JQY means to her.

…JQY is my sanctuary, where I first went to see what it would feel like to be safe one day. I couldn’t be myself in the light of the sun, speak my own name without fear. Being gay in the Orthodox community, we don’t feel like we belong. We pretend to be different than who we are to protect ourselves.”

Go to The Jewish Week to hear from other members of JQY, as well as from a social worker at the center who said, “I anticipated people who were at risk would come, but I did not anticipate this level of need.”

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