Young, Gay and Devoted to the Cause - NUJLS 13th annual conference
April 09, 2009 Gail Shister Jewish Exponent Feature
Jonathan Gilad, 24, works on Capitol Hill, studied at yeshiva in Israel, attends Orthodox services at least twice a week and has never tasted a cheeseburger.
Cornell freshman Annie Bass, 18, prays throughout the day -- including before and after meals -- and is known around campus as "the girl in the kippot."
Matt Feczko, 21, a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, spent a year in Israel, debated the Talmud through high school and doesn’t like to date gentiles.
So what do these young Jewish adults have in common?
They are as passionate about their Judaism as they are about their homosexuality.
They, along with 75 others, gathered over the weekend at Penn Hillel for the 13th annual conference of the National Union of Jewish, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning and Intersex Students, known as NUJLS.
The group’s leviathan name is a mouthful of marbles, acknowledges Vanessa "Vinny" Prell, executive director since 2007. "People often ask me if I was hired because I can say it in one breath." Pause. Giggle.
Equally breathtaking is this statistic: At least 15 percent of NUJLS’ 200 informal members are Orthodox, according to Prell. For many mainstream Jews, "gay" and "Orthodox" in the same sentence is a novel, if not oxymoronic, experience.
For others, however, there is no contradiction between the two.
"I embrace both," says Gilad, a Queens College graduate from New Rochelle, N.Y., who plans to attend law school. He says that he’s been out "to himself" for eight years, but told his parents less than a year ago.
"Orthodoxy is an evolving, complex movement," says Gilad. "It has a lot of traditions, and it vigorously protects those traditions. There is a natural resistance to homosexuality, but I think it will eventually change."
Annie Bass Photo by Penny Jeannechild