Skip to main content

Huffington Post — Chaim Levin Is Giving Hope to LGBT Orthodox Jews

This article by Wayne Bessen of Truth wins out was published in the Huffington Post tonight:

When people think of anti-gay places, the gay mecca of New York City does not often come to mind. However, Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish community is a hotbed of homophobia, where LGBT people are shunned, abused, rejected, and told they must change their sexual orientation to be accepted.
Chaim Levin, 22, grew up feeling the sting of discrimination and disgust from his Orthodox family and neighbors in Crown Heights. In his teenage years he was sent away to a strict religious boarding school in France. After Levin was outed, he was bullied and humiliated on a daily basis.
"I remember walking into the grand study hall while everyone was sitting at their respective tables, and suddenly all the attention in the room shifted towards me as I walked past the glaring eyes of about 400 people," recalls Levin. "Over the next six months I was subject to harassment by many of my schoolmates, both in private and in public. I was called 'faggot,' 'diseased,' 'heretic' in Hebrew, French, and in English. As I write this today, I can't remember how I survived those dreadful, seemingly endless months away from home, in a strict religious school surrounded by people who hated me for who I was, in a foreign country with no money, all at the age of 16."
When he could take no more abuse, Levin tried to kill himself by swallowing a handful of pills.
"I felt like I didn't want to live anymore."
Terrified that he would lose his family, his religion, and his identity, he entered the Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH), an "ex-gay program" that was co-founded by convicted felonArthur Abba Goldberg.
"The one experience that has stood out and has raised eyebrows across the world was my last session with a JONAH 'life coach,' who manipulated me into removing my clothing and touching myself in a locked room as he looked on," said Levin, who first revealed the incident in a video for Truth Wins Out.
JONAH told Levin that if he was serious about going straight, he had to attend an "ex-gay" retreat, Journey into Manhood, which took place deep in the woods. Levin was appalled by the experience, because the group that ran the weekend, People Can Change, had amateurs doing sensitive psychological experiments on fragile people.
"They had a 10-hour exercise that they called 'guts work,'" Levin recounted. "We were split up into groups of 10 and made to recreate some of the most traumatic incidents of our life. I witnessed people go back to some of the most painful memories, such as being sexually abused, being beaten by a parent or classmates, and I watched in fear and horror as every single man 'lost it' and started yelling at the top of their lungs and then were encouraged to hit something that represented that anger. Though I try to erase these images and memories, they are forever seared in my mind."
Last week, Levin joined me in Atlanta to protest an "ex-gay" conference. It was part of his heroic advocacy to help LGBT youth and educate people in Brooklyn's Jewish neighborhoods.
Levin has ruffled feathers and gained notoriety since he published a historic pro-LGBT essay in the Jewish Press, the first of its kind in this traditionally conservative publication. In reaction to his piece, some anti-gay activists urged a boycott of the Jewish Press, and extremist Rabbi Yehuda Levin wrote a letter to the editor calling for the chemical castration of gay men. Levin has also had to endure the criticism of some LGBT Orthodox Jews who prefer a quieter, more closeted approach to advocacy.
Against all odds, Levin has brushed off his critics and pushed forward to break barriers and begin to create lasting change in a hostile environment. This month he started a new blog named after gay icon Harvey Milk's famous saying, "You gotta give 'em hope."
"What I'm doing is really not about getting a congregation or group to accept me," Levin said on the television show Faith Complex with Jacques Berlinerblau. "It's really about letting these rabbis know, these people know, the mothers and fathers and Orthodox community know that you need to be aware of the fact your child may be gay. If you don't deal with it the right way, if you try sending him to these [ex-gay] groups, you are really risking a relationship with your child... You are risking your child's life."
Chaim Levin is on a remarkable journey, and he is accomplishing more than simply giving hope. He is having a tangible impact in his community, opening closed minds, and keeping teens from enduring the pain that he once suffered in silence.


Popular posts from this blog


I am publishing this letter today to notify the public of an individual named Tuvia Perlman and the immediate threat he poses to the safety of any and all children in his vicinity. I first met Mr. Perlman when I was 18 while attending an organization called JONAH (a Jewish conversion therapy organization that was shut down in 2015 after losing a lawsuit). When I met Mr. Perlman, we were on a retreat together called Journey Into Manhood, this retreat was facilitated by an organization called People Can Change. After this retreat, Mr. Perlman, who lived in Baltimore used to call me often, to the point where even at that time I felt extremely uncomfortable by his calls and long voicemails. Mr. Perlman as far as I knew at that time, had recently stopped being a teacher at a cheder (Hebrew word for elementary school). In a group setting that was facilitated on by JONAH on their premises in 2007, Mr. Perlman admitted to the entire group that he molested at least 2 of his 12/13-year-old stu…

Chasing the Devil - Sholom Eichler in Shackles

Sholom Eichler was arrested on March 21st near Kfar Chabad for sexually abusing me as a child. I had already filed a civil lawsuit against him in New York and he ignored the lawsuit and fled to Israel with his family. The result of that lawsuit is still pending, I was awarded a default judgment against him and will hopefully know the amount of that judgment by this coming Monday, March 25th.
As I’ve written previously on my Facebook page and have told many people as well, the last place that Sholom Eichler molested me was when our families were visiting Israel together on a family trip while we were staying at the [then Hilton] David Citadel hotel. The details of that incident, along with many of the other incidents remain clear as day in my mind; I even remember the room number that he abused me in while we were in Jerusalem.
After ignoring the civil lawsuit against him in New York Sholom Eichler and his family fled to Israel because of the default judgment that I was gr…

Sharing Stories With Deborah Feldman

Discussing plans for our futures, finding the humor in our similar and traumatic pasts and enjoying uncommon empathy, Deborah Feldman and I had coffee on the Upper East Side on a bright Friday morning. My time with her was a refreshing pleasure and an honor. She is the author of the New York Times bestselling Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots. Deborah helped me with something that I’ve been trying to navigate lately. Deborah reminded that I’m not an ex gay survivor, an ex Chabad, a gay man, a Jew, an activist, etc.; she told me that who I am is just Chaim Levin — who just also happens to have an interesting story to share and an opportunity to inspire change. She insisted that we all have our own lives and personalities that we must care for, cultivate and celebrate.

Deborah had entered mainstream media a few months ago with her fascinating memoir. I haven’t had a chance to finish reading her book yet; in fact, I just started the other day. But with every page, I…