Phil S. Stein
How I Ended Up at the Jerusalem Same Sex Attraction Discussion Group, p. 4

More phone rings and conversation essentially stops.

Next we talk about “clearing,” an interpersonal communication and issue-airing technique encountered by Yonatan at a ”Journey into Manhood” retreat. In “Clearing,” people sit in a circle and address one another directly about “issues” they have with a particular person, who then responds. It helped Yonatan, he says, to get over some bad feelings and misunderstandings with another man in the group, and they became friends afterwards. (I think: Journey into Manhood?! Girlfriend, let’s get real! Journey into Repression. Journey into the Closet.)

Shlomo goes next, and he clears out some significant items.. He had previously claimed to be fully satisfied with his wife, but this time, finally, after a bit of prodding (ok, make that months of curious questioning and tacit disbelief from the group which finally burst like a ripe pimple), he does finally, almost explicitly admit that ok, maybe, sort of, sometimes, while he’s struggling with his, or maybe someone else’s, yetzer hara, he does sort of slip, you know, bli eyin hara, has v'shalom, oy vey, maybe it was actually someone else having that thought, but he might actually occasionally have a vision or imagining regarding other, well, you know, he didn’t intend it, it was almost like someone else's brain or imagination imposing itself on him, that slip that moment that thing about…… men. It is astounding seeing him finally get there, after all the denial and circumlocution and trying to squirm away like a wriggling tadpole or a caged squirrel, until, under direct, repeated inquisition from virtually everyone in the room, he was rhetorically cornered and did actually, finally, more or less clearly admit it. More or less. He tries to take it back a little bit. But we wouldn’t let him.

Still more phone interruptions offer brief respite -- or distraction. Of course things were just heating up under that merciless bulb, that piercing electric eye in the sky.

Amitai goes next, and wonders about which Jerusalem neighborhoods to live in, and whether to tell his Rosh Yeshiva, whom he’s coming to know and respect, about his… special SSA situation. A conversation about overcoming fear of sex ensues, with a focus on "do you tell your dates or potential fiancée up front about your SSA issues." Some suggest that maybe it would be better to experiment first with sex with women -- after all, maybe they'll like it, and then they won't have to say anything. While various persons point out that halachically this is a big no-no, Yonatan informs us of an SSA acquaintance’s happy and “successful” experiences with a prostitute. Amitai explores his performance anxieties with the group, and ends up considering that his bashert might prefer that he keep himself pure and honest with her, rather than sleep with a prostitute.

Amitai seems the best adjusted of any of us, in a perverse sort of way. He knows he has desires for other men. He’s explored them. He’s enjoyed them at times and enjoyed sex. But it hasn’t fit comfortably with his religious and family aspirations, so he’s made what appears, on the surface, to be a fairly practical decision: to return to Israel and see if he can marry a nice Israeli girl who has been raised in a religious culture where she’ll be demure, supportive, submissive, and where the eligible female to male ratio makes women so desperate they’ll get married by any means necessary. Of course this is "practical" only insofar as a marriage of deceit and semi-fulfilment is "practical" -- but, Baruch HaShem, out of such nightmares dreams are possible, or so the rabbis teach. He, admits that at a minimum he needs to consummate the marriage (i.e., get it up for her at least enough to sire children), and that what he is contemplating might be a minimally happy marriage, upon which could be stapled a happy public face. Baruch HaShem.

Yossele has his laptop splayed inexplicably on his lap throughout the meeting. I feel uneasy. Why is the computer here? I thought these meetings are supposed to be private (these notes notwithstanding), and am annoyed that the ground rules for privacy of these meetings seemed forgotten, unclear, and certainly in breach. I can’t wait to read all about this group on Yossele’s blog! What fun! Will everyone else?

The computer bleeps, and so do phones. I wonder why people don’t even set them to silent vibration, or turn them off.

The biggest hit of the evening is Yossele's "messed up broken youth self-destructive sexaholic fag" show. This is the best "scared straight" show I’ve seen in some time. After luridly describing his lover’s naked BLANKs slapping against his vulnerable BLANK while they were BLANKing like bunnies (diseased, doomed, animalistic little rodents, unkosher bunnies, or perhaps lemmings), whereby the chronic disease was probably transmitted in a tainted splatter, Yossele paints a detailed picture of his now wart-pocked, bleeding, diseased and infected BLANK. And then: the various doctors and other aiders and abettors both failing to diagnose the disease and not bothering to teach anything about safer sex to poor Yossele, who was forced to go on his own journey of self education.

At this point, everyone is horrified, embarrassed, enthralled and titillated -- and not sure they should hear more, although wondering how and whether to ask. Yonatan carefully directs us from these dangerous thoughts back to the task at hand: appropriate hate of the sin, not the sinner; fear and loathing of the disease, not the diseased, for whom we should have pity and compassion. “Amen” the group dutifully intones, safe to be back at a predictable port amidst a perfect storm of conflicting emotions and desires.

This group is WAY better than the movies. Speaking of movies, it wasn't until after the meeting -- when we went straight for the hot fleish at the mall -- that we got to see what was on Yossele's laptop. But… after-schmoozes have not been agreed to be included within these reports, so I’ve censored that part.

After Yossele, it's my turn.

My report, unlike the others, is a withering critique of the group itself, a broadside which reveals my own emotions, and bracingly distinct perspectives, and challenges the reigning hashkafa of repression and regret. There is a surreal and awkward silence in the room as I give my report. It's as if the group is experiencing a revelation, or at least a cold wet slap in the face, like someone telling the unwanted, unvarnished and unexpected truth at a cocktail party. They all sit shell shocked, looks ranging from astonishment, disbelief, barely suppressed manic glee, to the steely game face under marginal control.

The rest of the session is focused on issues raised in my report, and a very wide ranging, heated and fertile discussion it is. The report, the group said, had been inspiringly detailed and articulate, although it also brought in a whole host of new, problematic ideas and perspectives. Clearly I was somewhere quite different from the rest of the group in my sexual identity and willingness to embrace it, rather than circumcise it. And I had a mouth. A big and dangerous one. And, while the verbal sprezzatura, observations, psychological insights and techniques I brought to the group were clearly useful, and certainly enlivened the group, how I used them seemed to present a challenge.

In fact, that was my last SSA meeting. I realized that I didn’t want to play these games anymore. It was also, I found out later, Yossele’s last session, and he was the only thing I was finding particularly interesting and inspiring in the group. I’d gotten the big picture: being gay in the haredi world sucks. Unless you’re one of the rare few who manages to construct a Rube Goldberg-esque happiness out of a heterosexual marriage -- either by totally repressing and sublimating the gay side of your sexuality, or acting it out secretly in internet trysts or mikva-made sex shidduchin -- you’re bound for a life of misery and struggle. And, there were no eligible guys here!

Clearly the orthodox yeshivish world was neither going to accept me and my sexuality, and continuing my life of impoverished yeshiva-bucherhood, of tantalizing closeness to all my beloved bucher neshamas and their beautiful physical presences, was going to lead to further frustration. In the weeks after my last meeting, service interruptions in the gas, phone, and internet service due to late payment served as a convenient siman that HaShem, in the local parlance, wanted me to focus more on my parnassa -- that is, on actually paying the rent. And lo and behold: simply focusing on work and cutting off the big chassidishe beard, and some serious job opportunities in Tel Aviv appeared. Baruch hashem!

And so… the next phase of my yiddishe adventure beckons, a trip among the population of Israelis outside the haredi ghetto's walls, from the National Religious crowd to all those progressive, reconstructionist, New Agey Jews -- even to the secular Sodom! Perhaps there will I find my bashert.

[1]       [2]       [3]       4
Image: Orly Maiberg

"Phil S. Stein" is a pseudonym for the writer, who lives in Jerusalem.

Orly Maiberg's work is revealed as a ritualistic work, aspiring to the universal and the atemporal. Maiberg uses photography as source-material. She takes color photos and then uses black and white photocopier, selects and isolates a frame, a composition and boundaries.

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Resources on the "ex-gay" movement:

Wayne Besen, Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth (Note, clicking the link will allow you to purchase the book on

Mark Benjamin, Turning Off Gays,, July, 2005. Excellent four-part investigative story on the ex-gay movement. Part four is here, and contains links to the other three parts.

John Cloud, The Battle Over Gay Teens, Time Magazine, Oct. 10, 2005, site about the book, with useful facts, figures, and case histories.

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Hasidism and Homoeroticism Jay Michaelson
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A Song of Ascents Sarah Lefton
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The Queer Guy at the Strip Club Jay Michaelson
or, The Opposite of Sex
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Top Ten Lessons for New Homosexuals Jay Michaelson
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November 2005

The Jerusalem Same-Sex Attraction Group
Phil S. Stein

The Second Coming of Yeshayahu Leibowitz
Avi Steinberg

An Account of the Saltscape
Joshua Cohen

Fresh Baked Bread
Jay Michaelson

Out of the Depths
Lorna Knowles Blake

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