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‘Where do I stand?’ Queer Modern Orthodox teens navigate a changing world

This article was produced as part of JTA’s Teen Journalism Fellowship, a program that works with Jewish teens around the world to report on issues that affect their lives.

(JTA) — Until recently, Jacob Feldon considered Yeshiva University a serious candidate for his college education. As a senior at a Utah high school who has embraced Modern Orthodoxy and harbors dreams of potentially becoming a rabbi, he said he was drawn to “the idea of going to school in an observant community where I can study Torah and Talmud with some of the smartest people doing such a thing today.”

But Feldon is also bisexual and serves as a Jewish youth ambassador for Beloved Arise, a national interfaith support organization for queer youth. So Feldon took notice when Yeshiva University declined to officially recognize a Pride Alliance group on campus, and then pressed its case to the U.S. Supreme Court when mandated to do so.

“As a queer man I can’t see going into that environment right now with everything happening,” Feldon told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “I’m getting a pretty clear message that I won’t be welcomed, authentically welcome.”

Feldon is not the only high school student who identifies as Modern Orthodox to have complicated feelings about Yeshiva University at the moment. As the main Modern Orthodox university, the school blends secular and religious instruction and values. Its attempt to navigate a balance between being welcoming and inclusive and fighting for the right to control LGBTQ students’ official expression on campus has made national headlines — and caused some Modern Orthodox teens to question whether they would feel comfortable attending.

For LGBTQ teens, the lawsuit and other controversies around gender and sexuality in Modern Orthodoxy have created “a little hopelessness,” said Rachael Fried, executive director of the support nonprofit Jewish Queer Youth.

Fried described the mindset of Modern Orthodox LGBTQ adolescents as, “I’m trying to live an Orthodox life. I’m trying to build my future as a queer Orthodox person, and this is what the main, flagship institution of Modern Orthodoxy thinks about me. Then where is my future and what’s the hope for me and what are my dreams?”

For queer teens, the Y.U. saga is just one high-profile touchpoint in an ongoing grappling with their place within Modern Orthodoxy. Modern Orthodox communities range widely in many ways depending on their history, geography and leadership, meaning that some queer Orthodox teens say they have found acceptance and support while others say they’ve had more challenging experiences.

Rachael Fried is the executive director of the support nonprofit Jewish Queer Youth. (Courtesy JQY)

Often teens say they experience both. Like many of the queer teens interviewed for this article, Rivka Schafer and their parents first thought it best to keep their queer identity private due to the repercussions they feared with being LGBTQ in a Modern Orthodox community. When they did come out in middle school, Schafer said they received mixed reactions in their Jewish day school.

“The kids had a lot of stigma and the administration did too, but they tried to be really accepting and really supportive which was also really, really beautiful,” Schafer told JTA.

“Currently I identify as Modern Orthodox because Judaism is a really important part of my identity and I find Judaism to be really meaningful to me,” said Schafer, who is nonbinary, from their home in Teaneck, New Jersey. “So although I struggled a lot with the acceptance in the Jewish community, and stigma within the Orthodox community, I really ultimately believe it is and should be a strong part of who I am.”

But while Schafer has remained committed to their religious identity, Fried, of Jewish Queer Youth, said the Pride Alliance lawsuit and other LGBTQ-related controversies sometimes “pushes people away from Orthodoxy in a really unfortunate way.”

This is what happened to Mattie Schaffer. “I would describe it as [having] a religious identity crisis,” said Schaffer, a student at Lev Miriam Learning Studio in Passaic, New Jersey who uses he/they pronouns and identifies as queer. Schaffer, 16, said their neighborhood is a more right-wing Modern Orthodox community, colloquially called yeshivish, though his family is not.

“A part of all the alienation and isolation comes from a feeling of not having a place anywhere,” Schaffer said. “And as much as you try to conform, there just isn’t really a place for you to fit unless you want to be sticking out or be bending yourself in half.”

Modern Orthodox queer teens’ feeling “of not having a place” can be quite literal, particularly for those teens that are non-binary or transgender, said Schafer, the teen from Teaneck.

Schafer finds their nonbinary identity sometimes at odds with even the most basic rules of the Hebrew language, which assigns a gender to nearly all words, and of their synagogue. “Where do I stand? On the mechitza?” they asked, referring to the divider separating men and women in Orthodox synagogues.

The question of LGBTQ individuals in gender-separated prayer spaces recently reared up at Y.U., when one of its leading rabbis decreed that a transgender woman could not pray in either the women’s or men’s section of her university-affiliated synagogue.

But while recent months have been abundant in controversy, the last decade has shown tremendous progress for LGBTQ Modern Orthodox teens, according to multiple people in and around the community.

Rabbi Steve Greenberg, who was ordained by Yeshiva University before coming out as gay in 1999, heads the Orthodox queer advocacy group Eshel. His organization surveyed approximately 240 Orthodox synagogues and rabbis and found that 74% of interviewees were “high welcoming,” meaning that “inclusion is explicit, principled and broadly acknowledged” and queer families’ life cycle events other than marriage are celebrated. Another 22% offered “moderate welcome,” while 4% were “low welcoming/inattentive.”

Nadiv Schorer, right, married Ariel Meiri in 2020 with Orthodox rabbi Avram Mlotek officiating. (David Perlman Photography)

Approximately 10 rabbis said they were willing to perform same-sex marriages, according to Eshel’s research.

“They do their best to make it possible for LGBTQ folks to belong to Orthodox environments,” said Greenberg. “And it’s grown.”

The head of school at North Shore Hebrew Academy on Long Island, Rabbi Jeffery Kobrin, said he believed that growing conversations about LGBTQ issues in Orthodox communities has had benefits.

“I think it’s easier to be a queer teen now than it was in 2012, just because it’s more out there,” Kobrin said. “People talk about it more, people try to be more accepting of it, and people, community-wise, seem to less feel this contradiction between Orthodoxy and alternative lifestyles.”

Some teens say they have witnessed change in just the last couple of years. Benjamin Small, a gay teen who graduated from SAR High School last year and now attends Yeshivat Ma’ale Gilboa in Israel, said his rabbi, Chaim Poupko, of Congregation Avahath Torah in Englewood, New Jersey, has advocated for queer members of the Orthodox community in his synagogue.

“That would be unheard of two or three years ago,” Small said.

Few Modern Orthodox schools in the New York area have an LGBTQ support club. But Fried, JQY’s executive director, said students are learning how to organize and build community independently, in the absence of recognition from their schools and synagogues.

“That comes with people choosing themselves, feeling empowered to build their own communities and to step-up and create the groups that others are not creating for them,” she said.

Before the Y.U. court case, “the messaging that I heard from the Modern Orthodox community was ‘your identity is not wrong, and we want to support our queer members of the community,’” said Fried, whose organization gave grants to student groups affected by the Y.U. case.

But now, she said, the message that queer Modern Orthodox teens are hearing has shifted.

“Actually, your queer identity is what is problematic. It’s not just the sentence in the Torah that is about behavior, but actually your identity,” she characterized Modern Orthodox institutions as saying. “You want to gather and build community that is based around identity and that, in and of itself, is problematic, and it’s inherently a threat.”

For its part, Yeshiva University has tried to thread a narrow needle.

A person walks by the Wilf Campus of Yeshiva University in New York City, Aug. 30, 2022. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

“We love all of our students including those who identify as LGBTQ,” Y.U. said in a FAQ after it launched a school-sanctioned LGBTQ club. “Through our deep personal relationships and conversations with them, we have felt their struggles to fit into an orthodox world that could appear to them as not having a place for them.” (The YU Pride Alliance called the new club “a feeble attempt” at compromise and said they were not involved in its formation.)

There was no consensus among teens who spoke to JTA about how much the Y.U. saga would affect inclusion in other spaces. It’s also unclear the degree to which queer Modern Orthodox teens and their allies are incorporating the situation in their decision-making about college.

Y.U. declined to share student enrollment and admissions data, saying that the university does not generally release that information. But according to a recent Y.U. advertisement, last fall the school had “the largest incoming undergraduate class in over 20 years.”

Still, the school’s lawsuit and rhetoric has been a turnoff for 19-year-old Penny Laser, a queer student at a secular college who had envisioned possibly pursuing graduate studies in Talmud at Y.U. and grew up in a non-Orthodox household. (Laser asked to be identified using a pseudonym because she is seeking a giyur lechumra, a conversion for Jewish individuals to remove any doubt of their Orthodox Jewish legal status, and feared the Rabbinical Council of America would not grant her one if she was quoted in this article.)

“I’m not sure how I can trust or engage with Y.U. in the future,” said Laser. “A. I don’t know if it’s going to be a safe place for me, and B. I don’t want to align myself with an institution that has values like this.”

Schafer, from Teaneck, and Schaffer, from Passaic, are both not considering Y.U.

And the consequences of the Y.U. litigation goes beyond influencing the decisions of individual students, according to Fried.

“What the Y.U. situation is doing right now is forcing this conversation into the spotlight,” she said. “So different institutions and leaders are forced into having this conversation, or even thinking about where they stand. People are asking them to communicate where they stand.”

Feldon, from Utah, has hope. He thinks that the Modern Orthodox world needs queer rabbis to lead the conversation on inclusion from a halachic perspective — and he thinks that can still happen, despite the push by Modern Orthodoxy’s flagship university to block the Pride Alliance.

“I choose to believe,” said Feldon, “that we’ll get there. My dream life is where I can bring my boyfriend to minyan [prayer services] three times a day. And I choose to believe that we are on that path.”


The post ‘Where do I stand?’ Queer Modern Orthodox teens navigate a changing world appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Canada’s economic growth projected to be about 1% in the first half of 2024

Canada is a country with a thriving Jewish community and has traditionally offered the security of a strong economy for residents. The national economic outlook is naturally something that everyone in Canada’s Jewish community keeps track of – especially those involved in business in the various provinces.

With this in mind, the July 2023 Monetary Policy Report from the Bank of Canada made for interesting reading, projecting a moderate economic growth figure of around 1% for the first half of 2024. This is in line with growth figures that had been forecast for the second half of 2023, and sees the country’s economy remain on a stable footing.

Steady projected growth for first half of 2024

Although projected economic growth of around 1% in early 2024 is not as impressive as figures of around 3.4% in 2022 and 1.8% in 2023, it is certainly no cause for alarm. But what might be behind it?

Higher interest rates are one major factor to consider and have had a negative impact on household spending nationally. This has effectively seen people with less spending power and businesses in Canada generating less revenue as a result.

Interest rate rises have also hit business investments nationally, and less money is being channelled into this area to fuel Canada’s economic growth. When you also factor in how the weak foreign demand for Canadian goods and services has hit export growth lately, the projected GDP growth figure for early 2024 is understandable.

Growth in second half of 2024 expected

Although the above may make for interesting reading for early 2024, the Bank of Canada’s report does show that economic growth is expected to pick up in the second half of the year. This is projected to be due to the decreasing effect of high interest rates on the Canadian economy and a stronger foreign demand for the country’s exports.

Moving forward from this period, it is predicted that inflation will remain at around 3% as we head into 2025, and hit the Bank of Canada’s inflation target of 2% come the middle of 2025. All of this should help the country’s financial status remain stable and prove encouraging for business leaders in the Jewish community.

Canada’s economic growth mirrors iGaming’s rise

When you take a look at the previous growth figures Canada has seen and also consider the growth predicted for 2024 (especially in the second half of the year), it is clear that the country has a vibrant, thriving economy.

This economic growth is something that can be compared with iGaming’s recent rise as an industry around the country. In the same way as Canada has steadily built a strong economy over time, iGaming has transformed itself into a powerful, flourishing sector.

This becomes even clearer when you consider that Canadian iGaming has been a major contributor to the sustained growth seen in the country’s arts, entertainment and recreation industry, which rose by around 1.9% in Q2 of 2023. The healthy state of online casino play in Canada is also evidenced by how many customers the most popular casino platforms attract and how the user experience these operators offer has enabled iGaming in the country to take off.

This, of course, is also something that translates to the world stage, where global iGaming revenues in 2023 hit an estimated $95 billion. iGaming’s global market volume is also pegged to rise to around $130 billion by 2027. These kinds of figures represent a sharp jump for iGaming worldwide and show how the sector is on the ascent.

Future economic outlook for Canada in line with global expectations

When considering the Canadian economic outlook for 2024, it is often useful to look at how this compares with global financial predictions. In addition to the rude health of iGaming in Canada being reflected in global online casino gaming, the positive economic outlook for the country is also broadly in line with expectations for many global economies.

Global growth is also predicted to rise steadily in the second half of 2024 before becoming stronger in 2025. This should be driven by the weakening effects of high interest rates on worldwide economic prosperity. With rate cuts in Canada already expected after Feb 2024’s inflation report, this could happen in the near future.

The performance of the US economy is always of interest in Canada, as this is the country’s biggest trading partner. Positive US Q2 performances in 2023, powered by a strong labor market, good consumer spending levels and robust business investments, were therefore a cause for optimism. As a US economy that continues to grow is something that Canadian businesses welcome, this can only be a healthy sign.

Canada set for further growth in 2024

Local news around Canada can cover many topics but the economy is arguably one of the most popular. A projected GDP growth figure of around 1% for Canada’s economy shows that the financial state of the country is heading in the right direction. An improved financial outlook heading into the latter half of 2024/2025 would make for even better reading, and the national economy should become even stronger.

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The Legal Landscape of Online Gambling in Canada

Online gambling has grown in popularity around the globe in recent years. While many jurisdictions have legalized land-based gambling, it hasn’t applied to online platforms. Nonetheless, Canada is one nation that has legalized online gambling with their provinces’ licensing and regulating sites.

Nonetheless, Canadians of legal age can enjoy playing their favourite online games where available. So many games like slots, blackjack, and roulette still maintain their popularity even in the digital sense.  Want to learn about what’s legal in Canada for online gambling? Let’s take a look.

What is legal for online gambling in Canada?

What is the best online casino in Canada? The list we provide you here should be a good start. It’s also important to note that most Canadian provinces do not have laws that prohibit offshore online casinos.

Many provinces provide licensing to online casinos. They even regulate them as well. For example, Alberta and British Columbia have sites regulated by their respective governing bodies. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) allows legal online gambling and oversees the services it offers to Maritime provinces such as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, there are some caveats to address. In Newfoundland and Labrador, online gambling that is not offered by the ALC is considered illegal. Therefore, it is the only Canadian province as of 2024 that prohibits offshore options.

In terms of the legal age, there are three provinces where the legal age is 18: Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec. The remaining provinces establish 19 as the legal age for gambling including online.

Who are the regulatory bodies for gambling in Canada?

At the Federal level, the Canadian Gaming Association is the regulatory body for gambling in Canada. Thus, they cover both land-based and online gambling in the country. There are also provincial and regional regulatory bodies such as the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) – which covers the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador.  

The Western Canada Lottery Corporation covers Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon Territory. A handful of provinces also have their regulatory bodies covering lottery and gaming.

Canada requires online casinos that wish to accept players from the country to adhere to regulations and licensing. These licenses are provided by provincial regulatory bodies. When licensed, online casinos must follow the regulations and security standards.

However, there is the belief that many of the laws about gambling in Canada may be outdated. This could be because these laws were created long before the advent of the Internet. Therefore, such laws may need to be modernized. Nonetheless, online gambling for the most part is legal, just dependent on the province.

Are there any legal grey areas to discuss?

The grey area that is considered a concern pertains to the use of offshore sites. As mentioned earlier, Newfoundland and Labrador is believed to be the only province that prohibits it. Even online casinos with no licensing by Canadian or provincial authorities accept residents of the country.

On the players’ end, many Canadians are allowed to play at online casinos. However, they may be restricted from certain platforms. This is to ensure that the players themselves are protected from unknowingly playing on platforms that may be illegal. 

What are the other laws and regulations about online gambling in Canada?

Online casinos have implemented measures for responsible gambling. This includes providing support and resources to problem gamblers on their site. They are also restricted regarding the marketing and advertising aspects of promoting their platform. 

One restriction of note is that marketing that is targeted at minors is prohibited. Another prohibits professional athletes from appearing in online casino ads in Ontario.

Even offshore casinos must adhere to these laws and regulations. Especially if they have obtained a license from the provincial bodies that allow them to operate.

Canada’s online gambling is legal – but will things change

As it stands right now, the legality of online gambling in Canada seems to fall under the purview of provincial laws and regulations. Canadian citizens must perform their due diligence further to see which online casinos are allowed by their respective provinces. Just because it may be legal in one province, it may not be the same in others.

Nonetheless, the question is: will any laws relax certain restrictions? Will Newfoundland and Labrador change their tune regarding offshore casinos? It’s unclear what the future holds – but watch this space for any changes about online gambling in Canada.  

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Obituaries

Dr. NATHAN WISEMAN

Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

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