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Yeshiva University is left in mourning after a beloved gay alum dies by suicide



(New York Jewish Week) — Before eulogizing their friend on Thursday night, Beth Weiss draped a rainbow flag with a Jewish star over the podium.

It was a potent symbol of the twin identities that Weiss and others who knew Herschel Siegel said he had struggled to reconcile, particularly as a student and 2021 graduate of Yeshiva University. Siegel died by suicide Friday in Atlanta, where he grew up and had been living.

Weiss said during the eulogy they recalled having “a conversation with a gay friend about what it felt like to be queer in the Orthodox world” for the first time with Siegel, a classmate at Y.U., the Modern Orthodox flagship in uptown Manhattan.

“I can’t tell you how invaluable conversations and connections like that are,” Weiss said. “We talked about our dreams for the future, but also the reality of how our future might look because of our queerness.”

Weiss’ comments, delivered at a memorial held on the Y.U. campus and organized by some of Siegel’s friends from college, reflect a narrative solidifying around Siegel’s death. Many believe — based on their conversations with Siegel, his social media posts and their own experiences — that Siegel had considered that there may have been no place for him as a gay man in the Orthodox community where he grew up and attended college. 

Even as some in Siegel’s community have downplayed the focus on his sexuality following his death, friends say his suicide should be a wakeup call at a time when Yeshiva University is deeply divided over whether and how to include LGBTQ students. In recent years, the school has fought not to have to recognize an LGBTQ student group, even petitioning the Supreme Court for relief. A trans woman was also told she could no longer pray in a synagogue affiliated with the school.

Weiss told the New York Jewish Week that there are many “Orthodox queer people who are possibly suffering, who feel like they are alone, and who feel like they don’t have a future,” adding, “I know that Herschel felt that way at points in his life because he told me.”

Experts caution that it is a mistake to attribute suicides to single causes. Still, there is no question that LGBTQ youth are at increased risk, particularly when they are not accepted in their communities. According to a 2023 survey by the Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention in the LGBTQ community, 41% of LGBTQ young people seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.

Siegel made his struggle transparent. In an Instagram post from March that has circulated widely after his death, he wrote about how the word “abomination” in a Torah portion brought up trauma for him as a gay man within the Orthodox community.

“According to that trauma, my very EXISTENCE as a gay, Jewish, Male was an abomination,” Siegal wrote. “And even decades later, that fear-based thought pattern erupted into my consciousness, at the most unexpected of times.”

He then asked, “Do we ever REALLY heal from the deeply traumatic memories within us? Or is it rather a Journey, like many other emotions, and then we come to realize that one day we are at ease while riding ‘the trauma-coaster’?”

Siegel ended the post on a positive note, sharing gratitude for anyone who “has ever experienced a profoundly traumatizing event within your lives. … The fact that we made it this far is something to be proud of in and of itself!” 

He died a month later, on the eve of the Shabbat when the weekly Torah portion includes the Jewish legal prohibition on homosexual intercourse, calling it an “abomination.”

“I think about the bravery, the heroism, the strength of this kid,” said Mordechai Levovitz, a therapist and the clinical director of Jewish Queer Youth, an organization that seeks to support and empower Jewish LGBTQ teens, with a focus on the Orthodox community. “I think any person at all willing to endure a community in a religion that is very cruel to him — and yet sees the value because there is also still value —  is someone that I think we can look up to, and that we can learn from, and that we can be inspired by.”

He added, “But also, we can admit and witness and bear the fact that it is because of the community that we created that this kid could not find a future for himself and thought that it would perhaps be better off if he was not here, or if he did not exist.”

Not everyone who has commented on Siegel’s death is connecting it with his sexuality. Rabbi Ilan D. Feldman of Beth Jacob Atlanta, Siegel’s synagogue, wrote an email to the congregation saying that “our thoughts and tefillos [prayers] go out to the Siegel family, whose agony can never be fully fathomed, and who will be embraced and supported by us, their community.” Siegel is survived by his parents and five siblings.

Feldman presided over a funeral on Sunday that people who were present said was attended by about 200 people, with more than 450 tuning in on Zoom. Levovitz said that at the funeral, the rabbi referred to Siegel as being “mentally ill.” Mental illness is considered the strongest predictor of suicide.

Feldman told the New York Jewish Week over the phone that “even by reducing this story to a one-dimensional story of a guy who was gay, who committed suicide, we’re actually doing a disservice to gay people.” He also said Siegel’s family is distressed by the narrative, which they believe is untrue.

“The storyline of this particular case is an openly gay person who had wonderful relationships with the entire Orthodox community, including haredi Orthodox leaders,” Feldman said. “And now we’re going take this guy after his death, during his shiva while his family is grieving, and start talking about [how] gays are marginalized and whether this drove him to suicide, when this is the one case where an Orthodox community embraced a gay person with love and with no exceptions.”

But he acknowledged that there is “a big difference between pressures from the Jewish community and pressures from Jewish tradition,” which under Orthodox interpretations does not permit homosexuality. 

“If he ever felt pressure, it was relieved by the love that he received in the community, but the pressure may have been there because Jewish tradition is inconsistent with gay activity,” Feldman said.

A source in the Atlanta community who said he had known Siegel since Siegel was a child said Siegel’s death comes on the heels of another suicide in the Atlanta Orthodox community, also of a young person who identified as a member of the LGBTQ community. 

“There is a cloud of sadness. People just feel confused and lost. This is the second time in six months,” the source said. “It’s just resonating very hard for people. Young people taking their lives, it’s not supposed to be something that is normal and is regularly happening.” 

Hundreds of people attended the funeral for Herschel Siegel last weekend in Atlanta. (Courtesy)

Chaim Nissel, a dean at Yeshiva University who was an associate provost during Siegel’s tenure as a student, spoke at the Thursday night gathering and said he had known Siegel well, and even had the student visit his home. (Nissel was originally named in the lawsuit by the YU Pride Alliance against the university but was dropped after Y.U. argued that he did not have authority over whether the LGBTQ student club was approved.)

“He struggled to reconcile his identity and love of Torah,” Nissel said. “He died from mental illness.” 

Yeshiva University had previously released a statement about Siegel’s death.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Herschel Siegel, a member of the Yeshiva University family,” the statement said. “We express our deepest condolences to his family. May his memory be a blessing.”

Siegel’s family did not respond to a request for comment. People close to the family said they were too distraught to speak to the press. The source from Atlanta who knew Siegel since he was a child said the family was “angry for the way that this is being spun,” suggesting that Siegel’s sexuality should not be the only focus.

“I do resent anyone that is trying to make this about him being gay,” the source said. “It’s the chicken or the egg situation. Did being gay in the Orthodox community make his depression more triggering, or was it that he was depressed, and felt alone, which made being gay so much harder?”

Even his closest friends say it’s impossible to untangle those forces.

“Herschel struggled with mental illness and struggled with accepting himself as a gay Orthodox man,” said Emily Ornelas, a friend who was close to Siegel when he was at Y.U. 

“That’s a reality,” Orneles said. “Gay people in any organized religion struggle with that. But I do wholeheartedly believe that by the end of his life, he had come to terms with and accepted himself and was able to love himself for who he was in whatever capacity he could. I feel that is true.”

Ornelas says she is choosing to remember the many bright spots in her friend’s life, rather than focus solely on trying to identify reasons for his death. She recalled the way he connected with children when the two staffed a Passover retreat, as well as his energy in his many theater performances at Y.U., the way his smile lit up a room.

“I remember that his hugs were absolutely crushing,” Ornelas said. “I think he could have cracked my ribs easily. I remember that when he smiled, he smiled literally with every single one of his teeth. You could probably count them. I can hear his voice. He has a very particular affect to the way he spoke, and I think it was like a tiny bit of a Southern drawl. He was just like a really big part of my life — and all of our lives — for a very long time.”

At the memorial service, Weiss exhorted others who might feel tormented about being gay in an Orthodox community to hold on, despite their pain.

“You are not alone,” they said, holding back tears. “You have a future, and you have people who love and see you fully. You have people who celebrate all the wonderful, beautiful parts of you. And if it feels like you don’t have those people yet, we are here waiting for you with open hearts.” 

They then shifted to a “a message to everyone else here with us tonight” — those who identify as allies, and those who are just deeply sad about their friend’s tragic death.

“Be like Herschel,” Weiss said. “Be like Herschel and embrace and love each of us with enthusiasm and with joy.  Be like Herschel and see us as the full, valid and nuanced human beings that we are. Be like Herschel, and support us unconditionally. Be like Herschel so that we can continue to be here even though Herschel can’t. And be like Herschel, so that this never ever happens again.”

If you are in New York City and struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call 1-888-NYC-WELL for free and confidential crisis counseling. You can also dial the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention hotline at 988 or go to

The post Yeshiva University is left in mourning after a beloved gay alum dies by suicide appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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