Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Eshel Shabbaton? The idea scares me...

I have never been in any environment in which I was with a group of people who knew that I was gay, with whom I was able to talk openly about my struggles and inclinations toward men. I have a therapist and a friend (and now a new friend) that share this knowledge, but no one else. As I have mentioned this is a very lonely existence.

I feel I am ready to take a step in the direction of going to a meeting or a group or even a shabbaton.

The idea of going to a shabbaton which is advertised as "A Weekend of Community, Learning and Ruach for Frum Gay Jews" tugs at my heart strings.The idea of meeting up with people in an open forum that would allow me for once in my life to feel open and connected to others that can relate to me, feels like an amazing opportunity that I should take advantage of.

There are technical issues though. I am married with children. I would have to leave town for the shabbos under a different guise to them. Even though one might argue that my life is a lie so why care so much about another lie; ironically as it sounds, I still don't want to lie about where I would be going for shabbos. My thought was to visit my friend in NY and then possibly go together to the Shabbaton.

The second and more scary thing is the idea that I may very well meet people I know that have no idea that I am gay. Now, if they were in the closet then it wouldn't be the biggest deal because we would both be sharing our secret. The problem is that I know people who are out and go to these events. How can I be so sure that they wont let the word out to others that I was there, that I am gay? I am an incredibly successful and well connected person within my community both professionally and socially. I am just beginning this journey into learning about myself and how I want my life to unfold. I still need discretion. If I want to come out at some point, I think it would be fair for me to come out on my own terms and not through some back door gossip that gets to my kids before me.

I am curious for the thoughts of those who have been there and if the fears I mention above are in fact legitimate ones. By going to a shabbaton such as Eshel are you pretty much announcing to the world that you are gay. If you feel it is a problem, any ideas on work arounds or other gatherings that are more discreet?

Thank you.

PS Please see the links below as in the subsequent year I did go to Eshel and had a profound and incredible experience.

Eshel part 1

Eshel Part 2


  1. Eshel takes confidentiality very seriously. The following is our policy that we distributed at the shabbaton:

    We take confidentiality VERY seriously. The following was the policy that we distributed at the shabbaton:

    We come together this weekend in the spirit of trust and confidentiality. Some of us may know
    each other in multiple roles as friend, colleague, rabbi, or other relationships. Some
    of us may still be in the ‘closet’ in parts of our outside lives. Please do not repeat what you
    hear someone share or who you see, here or after the weekend. Please adhere to this extra-
    strictly in this case. Ask yourself: “What would the Chofetz Chaim say?” If the answer you get
    isn’t “nothing,” you probably need to learn more Shmirat Halashon.

  2. What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.

    I feel your pain. I was married with children and wanted to be "honest" and have "integrity" so I did come out of the closet. My wife was devastated. It destroyed my marriage and impoverished me and my family, and while it was "liberating" at first, it has not made my life any happier in the long run.

    I have missed out on my kids' school years, their triumphs and downfalls, and all of the "little things that make up life". My kids grew up essentially as orphans and have very little interest in my life now. Unlike you I was not particularly successful in the world of business, etc. so that wasn't an issue for me. Therefore, you have even MORE to lose than I did (and I did lose it.)

    My current struggle is trying to remain frum at all. I have defintely slid WAY down that mountain, and am close to the bottom. Daily requirements - tefillin, kashrut, etc. - fall by the wayside more often than not, and forget about shabbat (at least when nobody's watching.) Many frum gays, oddly enough are as extremely judgmental about that as other Jews are about homosexuality - and if I come out of the "frum/not frum" closet, I very well may lose my frum gay "friends" as well. (Quotes are because anybody who can be so easily lost from the friendship list is not a friend at all, really.)

    I am sure that some of those "friends" and friends who read this will know who I am. My story is no secret.

    I have not yet been to an Eshel event. I would like to go, perhaps. I would never question anybody's intentions about maintaining a high level of anonymity. I am sure that everyone is committed to this... but mistakes do happen. I myself once inadvertently outed someone to a person he didn't want to be outed to (although without any disastrous consequences.)

    As for a married father with children. Once I heard a family court judge say that "once you have children, you are no longer an individual; you no longer have your individual rights. Your desires, rights, and responsibilities are based on those of your children."

    It IS a struggle. Don't be like me. Don't throw in the towel. Not everyone's life is necessarily better outside of the closet and it's not only your life that you have to worry about. People without children do not and CAN not understand this. I HAD them and I didn't understand it either until it was too late.

    My advice would be to stay home and have a great shabbat with your family and friends, knowing that you are blessed far beyond what our other gay friends have been blessed with.

    May Hashem guide your steps. Listen to HIM not to anyone else.

  3. In response to the last comment. I am married with children and I feel your pain. I cannot imagine the suffering that you have endured. When the final chapter is written perhaps your children will be proud that their Father had the courage to stand up and not live a lie. I believe each person has their own story and there are no hard and fast rules. We should all follow our heart and know we have one life to live. Our life is not a dress rehersal. All I can say is your life is not complete and all your hurt and pain was given for a reason. There are no coincidences in life. Be strong.
    Thank you for sharing your story. Fest, be proud that you have opened an outlet for compassion and for others not to feel alone.

  4. Yeah, another "Anonymous" here :)

    But I'm a great believer in anonymity.
    I've been around the traps long enough to have developed a very cynical view of other people's trustworthiness. Yehuda (Eshel guy?) can read the riot act to attendees all he wants. .

    What it all boils down to is people are human and have all kinds of motivations for gossipping. And people have differing perceptions of "privacy" and "confientiality". And even if they want to be really strict and respectful, it's so easy to out someone inadvertently. I myself have over the years lerarned about other people indirectly from comments made about them that disclosed their personal details I just happened to be able to match up to them.

    I agree with every word Anonymous 4:59 said, couldn't have said it better myself.

    Fester, tempting as it may seem, be strong and stay home.

    Best Wishes!

  5. Anonymous 10:24 - Wow. That is alot to take in. I am so sorry for your struggle and the difficulty that coming out has brought to your life. You have been through hell.
    I can't see how you have expectations of yourself to be frum and connected to a community that seems to have shunned you. I find it so amazing how the Jewish guilt festers and how we don't cut ourselves slack for our suffering. I myself have an almost impossible time dealing with the issue of self worth and giving myself credit for living through the struggle while not being the "perfect" Jew. (I'm not saying you shouldn't be frum; I am almost talking to myself when I tell you to cut yourself some slack)

    After all is said and done, due to your email among others that I have read I dont see how it would be possible to attend an event such as this without risking being outed whether maliciously or not. I am open to an idea of a smaller meeting with people more in my age group. Thank you again for writing and best of luck.

  6. FGM: I read your words with the utmost rachmanus for your situation. It is indeed painful beyond words, and no one can judge you with the kind of anguish you go through on a regular basis.

    I've noticed that when it comes to sexuality, frum people can sometimes be insensitive to the degree that it can cause discomfort. Just the other day I was talking to a group about a blog written by a woman struggling to be shomer negiyah (NOT equating that to your situation) and one of the listeners flippantly said, "well, we all have issues with Tavya."

    And just like that, total dismissal of an area of one's life that when is off balance, sends a tidal wave of pain into all other areas.

    Now, about your situation at hand in terms of going to the Shabbaton. I agree with those who cautioned against it out of fear of confidentiality breach. You do have b"H have a lot to lose, and I'm not convinced that people are good at keeping their mouths shut in our community.

    Also, you should be careful about who you spend your time with and the messages they impart. As per your previous post in which you quoted another blogger who is single and was advocating for all gay husbands to come out to their wives--there's a lot of voices out there saying that YOUR happiness is what's most important and that nothing else matter besides your own gratification. Clearly those people don't have as much to lose as you do...

  7. Chazal say you should go off anonymously for devar aveirah, be malbush shechorim in another city.

    This is what some people do. Relationships are sticky. Kids are very perceptive. If they catch you with gay materials they'll know right away. If you don't clean your browser, your secrets are an open book. Your wife wouldn't want you to out yourself. Your kids, certainly not. If you yearn for intimacy, and who doesn't, this is the yetser hara. You aren't the first to be tested this way and won't be the last, but the fact that you fathered children takes away the excuse that you are exclusively homosexual. What tugs at your heart is in your mind. Passion is certainly intensified for those hardwired this way, but if you want to be a tzaddik, you should let the obsessions go.

    Through this blog you might meet one person with whom you can conduct an affair, but that is a chillul Hashem, as is this forum.

    Another frum, married gay/bi guy posing as

  8. Actually Anonymous (on 11/8 8:31am), I would argue that my blog is a Kiddush Hashem as I have struggled for many years with my homosexuality and have had many opportunities to pursue my taava and have never once in my life had any gay physical contact let alone affair. That to me is as great a kiddush Hashem as there is. I am not looking to "conduct an affair" as you state.
    You have an ayin raa which pirkei avos says is k'neged all the bad midos.

  9. Ask any posek if they agree with your judgement that this blog is a kiddush Hashem.

    If they agree with you, I stand corrected, with an ayin tovah.

    Thanks for the mussar. We all need it.

  10. A musmach who is world reknowned recommended I write this blog for therapeutic purposes. Not that it makes a difference but he is in the yeshivish world.

    In Europe it was known that different mussar vaadim were held among the chasidim which was almost like AA. People would talk about the struggles and taavos they encountered tht week, sometimes winning the battle and sometimes losing.

  11. Bottom line is that sharing your struggle b'loshon n'kiya so that others going through the same can see they aren't alone is the furthest thing from an avla.
    It's being nosei b'ol Chaveirim. It gives people hope that they can struggle and maintain a higher standard too. For the record, I don't judge people that have had affairs. I am not one to judge. As you see a rash response is mostly a hurtful one. By the way, why are you reading this altogether?

  12. i'm with fg&m on this one. Every marriage has skeletons in the closet. Not all are bared. This may be less than completely honest, but it's reality.

    Many men think of women other than their wives. Should they tell them? Are they obligated to? Get real.

  13. Years ago I told a world-renowned Hassidic rebbe about a support group for gay frum men that I was going to regularly at that time, when I was still very married and very religious. He said it was a marvelous idea as long as it was for Chizuk in torah and shmira FROM aveirah, and not for comparing notes on where to find sex partners (he actually said that). He said that people carrying this burden need to have a place where they can speak freely about it, since frum heterosexual people would not be accepting or understanding of gay men's struggles.

  14. First of all, I agree with the writer who says that there can't really be any true confidentiality. Perhaps I'm cynical, but I believe that. Would you give any of the shabaton's participants your PINs to any accounts and so on, relying on their trust for discretion?! Absolutely not! People have differing views about being gay and frum and things may have a way of getting out, whether in a malicious or benign manner.
    Furthermore, this isn't only about you anymore! You are married, with children. Your decision to attend, with possible negative consequences, may affect them in a very harmful way. They have not asked for any of this, so please don't dump this on them. Your life now is about them, not you.
    My situation is like yours. Married with kids, member of what I am about to say is not stam azoy. I believe that this concept of an Eshel Shabbaton is a joke! Put a whole bunch of men who are naturally physically attracted to each other together over a 25-hour+ period and expect them to focus exclusively on ruchnios??! You must be kidding and seriously fooling yourself! I know that some will criticize me for what I've said, but I also know that everyone has some kind of an agenda which they want others to follow. Can the organizers of Eshel tell me with certainty that no shidduchim resulted from their shabatons? I bet you not.
    Sorry for being so jaded, but I think that if you really want to deal with your gay issues, continue anonymously with this blog. It's great! Alternatively, find a woman and/or a group of women and/or a lesbian group with whom to talk about this matter.

  15. I totally understand the pull to want to go. I share that pull as well but I do understand how lieing about shabbos is something u don't want to do. I think that your utmost concern is your family and I'm not sure confidentiality can be assured. I also think it may complicate the a situation. Lets say you meet someone who you are very attracted to? Having that in front of you and telling urself that u cannot have it may be more frustrating than not meeting anyone in person..

  16. Life is full of risks. After reading your post and all the comments, I cannot imagine you being comfortable at the Shabbaton. Maybe it would be better for you to meet a few orthodox gay men individually (or in a group if you are worried about yichud) or by phone, and talk freely and openly about the anguish and guilt you might be feeling. There are so many wonderful frum gay men and organizations that are out there ready to assist you.

  17. This seems to be the most read post that I have written. To reiterate, I have decided that at this point I will not be going to the Shabbaton. I don't see how it makes sense on a number of levels.
    It still is something that in another time and another place would have been a nice event to attend.
    Thanks for everyone's comments.

  18. Hi,

    I went to a gay Jewish retreat recently, first time I was in an environment like that. Some were orthodox, most not. I am not strictly orthodox but had an extensive yeshiva education and feel most comfortable with traditional environments.

    The retreat wasn't good or bad - mostly it made me think more than ever before in my life. There were high points and low.
    I hope I made a good friend or two but I don't know yet. Some of the more professionally trained people there disappointed me.

    I've never been to Eshel. Going will be tough and leaving will probably be even tougher. After you go, it will take a long time to figure out whether it was worth it or not. I've spoken to people who have gone and it affected their lives positively. Everyone is different ( I'm not an original thinker! ).

    I'm not married and have no children but do have to deal with Orthodox situations and face the question of honesty with myself and others. Your situation is much more difficult than mine. I can't tell you what to do or not to do but I share your feelings on a certain level and ABOVE ALL, I KNOW YOU ARE NOT ALONE AND YOU SHOULD KNOW IT TOO.

    Things are changing very fast. The President supporting gay marriage and Anderson Cooper and so many others "coming out" is going to make a lot of people think in ways they've never thought before - including Orthodox Jews.

    I feel for you and wish you the very best.

    My advice about going to Ashel or other retreats? I think that people will respect your privacy. Just meeting other people in the same situation is therapeutic...don't expect too much. A lot of people who lead and advise groups like these are dealing with painful issues themselves. They want to help but it's hard. Just being with them and sharing thoughts can be helpful.

    Kol tuv,