When I was 16 years old in the year of 05/06 I was sent away to boarding school in a small suburb near Paris called Brunoy. For anyone that grew up in my community as an orthodox Jew, if you went to the yeshiva in Brunoy, you were truly a righteous hero and were truly a “god fearing” (yiras shmayaim) student. The school’s legacy is based on the fact that the physical conditions of the school make prison look like hotels. The idea is that as servants of god we’re not supposed to care about the physical world and our appearance or our living conditions, and so, for my year spent in Paris, I wasn’t on vacation touring the most famous sites in the world, I wasn’t eating fabulous French cheese, and I definitely wasn’t touring the great museums like the Lourve and Musse D’orsay. I lived in a fairly small room with four other people and had to shower in a room with 13 showerheads and about close to three hundred other people, and at 715, the water was turned off by an automatic timer, and if you still had soap on your hair or body you needed to go into the mikvah, and the mikvah’s waters were changed once every two months and the amount of people that used it during that time is unknown, all I can say was that the water usually looked black.Chaim Levin will be joining me to speak in Atlanta on Thursday to oppose Exodus’ Love Won Out conference. If you are in the area, we hope you will join us.
It was around December 15th of 2006, a chabad holiday was being celebrated, and in chabad circles especially on such “auspicious” occasions, many gatherings “fargrengens” were happening where so much alcohol was being consumed by both the students and the staff of the school. I don’t remember how it happened exactly but while all these gatherings were happening around the school premises I was confronted by the Rabbi who was in charge of me, my “mashgiach”, and he said that there are rumors spreading around the school that I had done something sexually with someone with another boy in the school and I felt my world crashing down as he said those words to me; I knew that I was up shit’s creak and there was a 95 percent chance that I’d be shipped home the next day. Right after this rabbi confronted me, I was approached by four different people (students my age) who were in ‘shock and horror’ about these stories, and couldn’t understand how I was able to do “such a disgusting, low and immoral thing”.
The next morning I was told that the whole school knew, and that so many people wanted to hurt me because they were so disgusted by me. I remember walking into the grand study hall while everyone was sitting at their respective tables and suddenly all the attention in the room shifted towards me as I walked past the glaring eyes of about 400 people. Over the next six months I was subject to harassment by many of my schoolmates, both in private and in public. I was called faggot, disease, heretic, in Hebrew, French and in English. As I write this today I can’t remember how I survived those dreadful seemingly endless months away from home, in a strict religious school surrounded by people who hated me for who I was, in a foreign country with no money all at the age of 16.
I chose to write about this today because I know that many others have undergone similar treatment by their schools and peers inside orthodox communities because they are gay.