Sometimes, parents know their child is gay even before their child does.
That was not at all the experience of Mindy Sager Dickler, whose family is modern Orthodox. Her son, Elie, coming out five-and-a-half years ago took her completely by surprise.
Though Dickler and the rest of the family were supportive, it was new terrain to navigate, and she didn’t have anyone to turn to.
“I just felt very much alone,” she said. Having LGBTQ, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, children can be a taboo topic within the Orthodox community, she added.
Finding Eshel was a turning point. The group started as a support network and space for LGBTQ Orthodox Jews before expanding to help the parents of those LGBTQ people.
“When a child comes out of the closet, parents go in,” Dickler said. And that’s where Eshel can help, giving parents of our children a place to talk about their
reactions and learn from other parents who have gone through the same experience.
Since finding Eshel, Dickler has been a committed member, serving on the planning committee for the upcoming fifth annual Eshel Orthodox Parent Retreat, which will take place May 5-7 in Copake, N.Y.
“This retreat is the community they didn’t have,” said Miryam Kabokov, executive director of Eshel, which is based out of New York. “It gives parents a support system to help their children.”
Recently, Eshel conducted a parent survey and found that most Orthodox parents don’t feel like they can consult their rabbi about this topic. That is why Eshel is so important, said both Kabokov and Dickler.
“In the Orthodox community, when you have an issue you go speak to your rabbi,” said Dickler. “But here is an issue where you can’t really do that, and it can be very frustrating and isolating.”
The retreat will feature a number of speakers, including rabbis, educators, health professionals and those from the community who are LGBTQ. Topics will include navigating the parent-child relationship, addressing when two parents might not be on the same page about an LGBTQ child, sharing stories and knowing what mental health red flags to look out for, among others.
Kabokov emphasized that the organization and retreat prioritize discretion. Many parents who come don’t even use their real names when interacting with others to protect their privacy. Everyone has to go through their own journey, said Dickler, and Eshel attempts to provide that space.
“It’s helpful on both ends,” she added. “I know, for me, it’s very gratifying to take my experience and pay it forward.”
The cost of the retreat is $250, although JQ Baltimore, a local Jewish LGBTQ group, has scholarships available if someone wants to attend but cannot afford to do so. The deadline has technically passed, but Kabokov said the group would try to accommodate any who wanted to go.
Those interested in learning more about the retreat and JQ Baltimore scholarships can go to eshelonline.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.