Can one be both homosexual and a devout Jew? A student club launched at UC Berkeley this semester suggests it isn’t an either-or question.
“Q-Jew” is a club started in August at the public university that aims to “offer members of the LGBT community a space to explore more religiously or spiritually focused experiences so no one has to prioritize one identity over the other,” Sophie Needelman, one of the club’s co-directors and co-founders, stated in an email to The College Fix.
So far the club has about seven active members and meets at Hillel, the Jewish student center on campus, which now displays a rainbow flag as a show of solidarity with their Jewish-queer peers.
Although religion and homosexuality are subjects that typically are not combined – unless done in an adversarial way – Q-Jew aims to “address the intersection of these identities, not just the casual happening of their sometimes mutual existence,” Needelman says.
The group hosts weekly meetings and joins in larger student activities on campus. Members hope to grow their ranks, but Needelman says it’s not about the numbers.
“It is important for us to be present as a space for people to be a part of in their own time and in their own ways,” she stated. “Not everyone feels the need to actively engage with their queer identity in Jewish spaces; for those that do though, we exist to support them and share in that desire.”
So far, the group has been enthusiastically welcomed by many on campus.
At a student senate meeting Oct. 30, for example, a resolution was passed “recognizing and applauding Q-Jew for making inroads in creating a safe space for students with intersectional identities, and encourage this to serve as a catalyst for other such discussion.”
“UC Berkeley is a queer-progressive campus,” Needelman said. “The American Jewish community is also very progressive and is generally aligned with the human rights perspective of the LGBT community. … Q-Jew aligns not just with Jewish theology, but also Jewish standards of spirituality, community, and leadership.”
Whereas Orthodox Judaism does not condone homosexuality, the Jewish Reform movement has evolved to an accepting viewpoint.
Rabbi Victor Appell of ReformJudaism.com explains this shift in ideology based on the principle that “all human beings are created b’tselem Elohim (in the Divine image), as it says in Genesis 1:27, ‘And God created humans in God’s own image, in the image of God, God created them; male and female God created them.’ ”
The director for The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Rabbi David Saperstein, further supports this viewpoint, stating: “Regardless of context, discrimination against any person arising from apathy, insensitivity, ignorance, fear, or hatred is inconsistent with this fundamental belief. We oppose discrimination against all individuals, including gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, for the stamp of the Divine is present in each and every one of us.”
Q-Jew aligns with these perspectives, hoping “to give voice to students who feel marginalization or exclusion by more institutionalized manifestations of traditional Judaism,” according to Needelman.
What’s more, she claims other student clubs at Berkeley mix religion and the LGBT community.
“These sort of places exist not only just to tolerate queer individuals within religious spaces,” Needelman said, “but to actively engage with and support those individuals by using queer experiences to enrich religious practices and experiences.”
Fix contributor Julianne Stanford is a student at University of Arizona.