Breakthroughs and Resistance: Leading LGBTQ Suicide-Prevention Workshops in the South
The 15-year-old-boy with a kippah on his head approached me timidly—he clearly had a lot on his mind. Just a few hours earlier, he had participated in a workshop I had given at his summer camp, about preventing LGBTQ suicide and how to be an ally to LGBTQ people. It was Tisha B’Av, the ninth of Av, considered to be the saddest day of the Jewish calendar. Nearly everything terrible that’s ever happened to the Jewish people happened on Tisha B’Av: The first and second temples were destroyed; the first crusade began; Jews were expelled from England, France, and Spain; World War I began; and in 1941, the Nazis approved the plan for “the Final Solution,” which set the Holocaust in motion.
The day is typically marked by quiet, reflective study and prayer, including reading from the Bible’s Book of Lamentations. At Jewish summer camps, the day typically takes on a more modern approach, including activities that center on learning about diversity and programs that emphasize a need for acceptance and tolerance for others. In that spirit, I had been invited back to Camp Ramah Darom, where I had served on staff for 10 summers, to plan inclusive and educational workshops for the campers, who range in age from 9 to 17. The long day had finally ended, and we were about to break our 25-hour fast (one of the traditions of Tisha B’Av) as camp returned to normal. After a few seconds of intense silence, the boy found his voice.
“I just wanted to say, I’ve been struggling a lot because I’m attracted to guys, and you being here today made me feel a lot more normal.” Before I could even react, he turned, walked away, and tried to slip back into the crowd of rowdy—and hungry—campers.