Senior Kayla Eber, a Design Media Arts major, founded UCLA’s first Jewish lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) social group for Jewish students in October of fall quarter. The group’s mission is to provide a communal environment for LGBT Jewish students and bring them together to discuss what it means to be both queer and Jewish.
LGBTJew is a small but ambitious Hillel student group that plans to host five events this semester: Rainbow Challah Baking, Pride ShabAW, Hamentashen Baking (also rainbow), a presentation from guest speaker Rabbi Amy Bernstein, and a Week 10 screening of Israeli documentary “Oriented,” which tells the story of three gay Palestinian men living in Tel Aviv.
Rabbi Amy Bernstein, a member of the LGBT community, is from the Reconstructionist synagogue Kehillat Israel in the Pacific Palisades. She will be coming to UCLA’s campus in April.
Eber said that the realization that homosexuality did not fit in with traditional Judaism struck her when she took a Tanya course with Chabad. The Tanya is the central text of Chabad Chassidic philosophy.
“There was a section where they talked about how you can’t really think with your heart, you have to think with your head,” Eber said. “So I had a question: is homosexuality something [that requires you to work] with your heart or your head? And you know, my rabbi told me it’s with your heart, and you shouldn’t be listening to that.”
There are only a handful of members in the group at the moment. Eber said she would like to see a diversity of people and that it would be interesting to see if there are other people like herself — who come from Orthodox backgrounds and continue to uphold their faith.
“I started having a lot of questions — there must be other people who feel the same way I do, and I want to meet them, and I want to talk to them, and I want to see how other people feel about being gay and Jewish,” she said.
Before the establishment LGBTJew, there was Mishpacha, a Hillel group founded by four students in 2004, according to a Hillel International News Blog article. The group has long since died out. Hillel International developed “The Hillel LGBTQ Resource Guide” in 2007. One of the writers, Rabbi Mychal Copeland, worked at UCLA Hillel and helped the old LGBT group start up. The guide can be found here, and it includes essays and guidelines for queer Jewish ritual, creating a safe space on campus and being a straight ally, among other topics.