ADDED ON: 05/28/2022

Jewish Queer Youth is growing. For closeted Orthodox and Sephardic teens, that ‘means the world.’

5/27/22 | The Jewish News of Northern California

Students come to Jewish Queer Youth secretively — through a Google search, a meme on social media, a pamphlet in their local pizzeria, a chat between two friends who suspect they might be the same in some way. “I told my parents I was hanging out with a friend after school,” said N., a Bronx area native who asked to remain anonymous because some of their family members don’t know that they’re trans. N.’s alibi was technically true. The friend was the person who’d told N. about JQY in their freshman year at a private Jewish high school, now six years ago. Together, the two attended one of JQY’s weekly events in Manhattan. There, they had access to social workers, kosher food, games and the sympathetic ears of mentors and peers who understood the weight of their secrets. The drop-in center that N. and their friend visited is the hallmark of JQY’s programming. When the organization first formed unofficially in 2002, it was simply as a place in Manhattan for queer Jewish young adults to just be, without having to explain themselves to anyone. Since then, the organization has evolved to offer not only a sense of community, but also mental health services and a fresh link to Jewish identity for queer Jews aged 13 to 23 who come from Orthodox, Sephardic or Mizrahi communities, which can sometimes be unwelcoming to LGBTQ people. “Most of our teens are not yet out of the closet,” said JQY’s clinical director, Mordechai Levovitz. The only drop-in center currently open is the one in Manhattan, near Times Square. It’s a bright and colorful room equipped with board games, kosher snacks and bean bag chairs sporting inspirational messages. There’s also a library, a kitchen, and multiple private consultation rooms. When there are no events being held there, teens and parents can schedule visits, and the staff uses the space for team meetings and training. There is also a drop-in center in Five Towns, Long Island, but it closed during the pandemic and has not yet reopened. JQY hopes to reopen it for the 2022-2023 school year. But having just received a $1 million donation — the organization’s largest ever — from Toronto-based real estate developer Paul Austin and his partner, Dalip Girdhar, JQY plans to expand, and open physical drop-in centers in Teaneck, New Jersey; Monsey, New York; Chicago; Baltimore; and South Florida. They already know something of the communities they’ll work with in each place. Young adults from each area, primarily from Orthodox communities, joined their virtual drop-in events during the pandemic. They also plan to expand their “hopeline” for people experiencing crises. “It’s a big idea, and thank God we matched this big idea to this big donation,” Levovitz said.

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