Gay and Jewish in Philly
By Adina Matusow
Neil is one of the cutest Jewish guys I know. He’s smart, funny, successful, and he deeply cares about Judaism. He grew up in a Conservative synagogue, attending services and USY events regularly. Neil seeks the perfect match in hopes of starting a Jewish family.
Sam is another adorable Jewish guy. He’s down to earth, dresses well, and has the most adorable smile. He comes from a very loving family with strong ties to Judaism. Sam also wants to start a Jewish family.
Rosy is a beautiful, extremely driven woman who’s creative and friendly. She grew up in a loving household and attended a Reform synagogue. Rosy seeks someone who makes her laugh and gives her what she needs.
Any parent seeing such descriptions would most likely say, "What a great group of catches!"
But when it comes to these words and their resulting personal ads, sometimes the goals are not what you might think. In these particular cases, Neil and Sam are looking to date men. Rosy’s looking for a woman.
Surprise, Surprise! Does it surprise you that these individuals are looking for the same qualities that the average straight person also desires? Does it really matter if your son or daughter is seeking someone of the same sex, as long as they find happiness?
Many of us don’t realize that dating in the heterosexual arena is similar to dating in the homosexual one. Gay singles look for the same qualities straight people seek in a significant other. They look for life-long partners with the desire to raise children.
The biggest difference between a homosexual and heterosexual single person is that the dating pool becomes substantially smaller if you’re gay and want to be with someone Jewish. According to a spring 2005 Contact article by New York Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, about 2 percent to 10 percent of the population are gay or lesbian. She applies that figure to the world’s Jewish sector, estimating that anywhere from 240,000 to 1.2 million people are gay or lesbian.
Basically, what I’ve discovered is that it’s hard enough trying to find a straight Jewish partner in Philadelphia. Add in the gay factor, and you have an extremely tiny dating pool.
Unimpressed With ’The Scene’ Neil has been working in the Greater Philadelphia Jewish community for the past 10 years. He spent most of his early 20s at bars and clubs in what is known as the "gayborhood," which stretches from 10th Street to Broad and Chestnut to Spruce.
"The Philly gay club scene is extremely vibrant and fun, but there is no mind-blowing Jewish, gay community in Philly," he reported. "Being gay and Jewish in Philadelphia, I’m pretty much unimpressed. You could join the shul in New Hope or at Roxborough, but unless you really put yourself in that setting or you join JDate, there is no gay, Jewish dating."
Neil said as he gets older, he visits the club world less because he knows that if he’s going to meet someone worth dating, it’ll most likely be through a friend.
Neil mentioned settling down and having a Jewish family.
"I’ve had a hard-core Jewish background, and yes, I’m gay, but I still love Shabbos and celebrating Jewish holidays."
However, he’s disappointed with the progression of gay, Jewish dating options in Philadelphia.
"I have only been invited to one Jewish, gay event, and that was a gay Federation trip to Israel," he said, referring to the Philly Pride Mission that took place last summer. "The best I can hope for is going to Woody’s on 13th and Locust, and hope to run into a Jewish person. One time, I ran into someone I knew from Hebrew school there. It was just such an amazing experience to see someone at the bar who is just like me."
Rosy said that she experiences similar issues.
She explained that she does not like to define her sexuality, but eventually wants to settle down. She said that just as it is hard for a straight person to find someone Jewish at the bar, it’s even harder to find someone gay and Jewish.
"My ex-girlfriend was Jewish, and that was an underlying draw for the two of us," she said. "When you meet people in general from both sides of the track -- straight or gay -- there is a connection that Jewish people have to other Jewish people.
"It is because of the way we grew up and the cultural experiences we all had. We all know that when we meet someone’s parents that you are dating, they are going to like you just a little bit more because you’re Jewish."
A common refrain in the gay world is the need for inclusivity. Because families differ so much these days -- and because there is no guarantee in the outcomes of heterosexual couples to stay together -- gay men and women are trying to make inroads, especially in the Jewish world.
For example, in December, after years of debate, the Jewish Theological Seminary -- the ruling body of the Conservative movement -- voted to permit the ordination of gay rabbis. The decision was not unanimous, thus the governing body decided that individual congregations may choose whether or not to accept gay rabbis on their pulpits.
It’s a start, many say, though in the same breath they note that a long road lies ahead of them.