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'God vs. Gay?' author Jay Michaelson to speak Tuesday, Wednesday at South Florida synagogues

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Author Jay Michaelson observes the Sabbath and keeps kosher. Raised a Conservative Jew, he now identifies as "nondenominational" and belongs to a Renewal synagogue in New York City.

"It’s not a gay synagogue, but there are a lot of LGBT people there," said Michaelson, who came out "after a decade of self-deceit and self-hatred," according to his official bio.

Michaelson, promoting his newest book, God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality (Beacon Press, $26), will speak 6 p.m. Tuesday at Temple Israel of Greater Miami (a mainstream Reform synagogue) and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Congregation Etz Chaim, an LGBT synagogue in Wilton Manors.

"The gay synagogue as an institution is evolving," Michaelson said. "It’s also devolving. In Atlanta, the gay synagogue is majority straight, because it was the most progressive and inclusive place in town. They were ahead of the curve for multi-faith families and that attracted a lot of straight people."

Despite the mainstreaming, there is still a solid place in society for LGBT congregations, he said.

"There are still people who want to be with their tribe, so in New York and San Francisco, the gay synagogue is doing well," Michaelson said.

Some people move freely between gay and mainstream synagogues.

"That’s another model, where you mainstream, you’re out and you’re proud, but its still nice to be with your community," he said.

Michaelson is a founder of Nehirim, which provides community programming for LGBT Jews and their allies. "Nehirim means light," he said.

God vs. Gay? is aimed at both gay and nongay audiences, Michaelson said.

"The primary audience is anyone Jewish or Christian who is wrestling with what the traditions say about sexuality," he said. "For those who've made up their minds on the anti-gay side, they’ve made up their minds. For those on the side of equality, this will be a shot in the arm.

"The biggest audience is everyone else. And that is lots of people. People who are not bigots and not homophobes, but who are questioning what their religions say about this."

Michaelson, 40, describes is own coming out:

"I was Orthodox for 10 years," he said. "I was in and out, I was struggling. This comes from my own struggle in my own life. For the last 10 years, I’ve been working with people with the same struggle. Even in 2011 there is a lot of pain out there and it's unnecessary. Very few of us are born into gay families. Even with progressive parents, it can be very difficult. Even if you are healthy, happy and proud as a gay person, the idea that you have to be alienated from your religious community is wrong."

Many LGBT Jews still have trouble reconciling their homosexuality and faith, said Beco Lichtman, Temple Israel's programming vice president and chairman of Ru'ach, the synagogue's gay fellowship.

"I know that many LGBT Jews have had to choose between their religion and orientation. That's a horrible decision to have to make," Lichtman said.

"I’ve known [gay] people who had to leave their temples when they adopted children or married their partners," he said. "Jay offers a unique perspective because he was raised in a conservative family and eventually became an Orthodox Jew. He gives a voice and a face to LGBT Jews. He decided not to make a choice: 'I”m going to be observant and gay.'"

IF YOU GO

Jay Michaelson will speak 6 p.m. Tuesday at Temple Israel of Greater Miami, 137 NE 19th St., Miami. Free. 305-573-5900. The event is co-sponsored by Books & Books.

He also will speak 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Congregation Etz Chaim, 1881 NE 26th St., Wilton Manors. Free. (A reception with Michaelson will be 6:30 p.m. $50. Call 954-564-9232 to RSVP.)

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