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Thursday, July 24, 2014

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Toronto group brings gay Jewish men together

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From left, CUT Toronto event participants Aaron Boros, Corbin Seligman, Paul Druzin

The last thing Corbin Seligman wanted to do was to date someone not Jewish. That’s when he came up with the idea to throw events for Jewish gay men.

“I always joke about it, but I’m only half-joking when I say I want a Jewish doctor,” said Seligman, a Toronto real estate agent. “Really, in the end, we [gay men] want that traditional family as much as possible because it’s something you can’t have.”

He threw the idea around with his friends and realized the need was even greater than he first realized. A few weeks later, he started CUT Toronto, posted an event on Facebook and invited a few friends. He expected about 10 people but 150 showed up.

“I felt amazing,” he said about the huge turnout. “I was on a high for a week after the first party.”

Since its founding three years ago, Seligman has hosted about four events a year so Jewish gay men can meet each other, including holiday events such as the Xmas Eve Matzo Balls party last month. “I knew that there were Jewish gay guys in Toronto, but I didn’t know that many because I had just moved back to Toronto from Montreal,” he said.

His hunch was correct. He discovered there were many gay Jewish men in Toronto who had no casual venue to meet each other. He gets anywhere between 150 to 250 people at his parties – the majority of whom are gay Jewish men looking to meet young bachelors or just stay connected to the Jewish community.

“Lots of us only date other Jewish guys, which I think is sort of strange, because in the straight community a lot of people are straying away from that,” he said. “Because we’re already – I hesitate to say on the fringe – sort of different, we try to be as normal, with quotation marks, as possible.”

That’s the reason Andrew Oz decided to attend one of Seligman’s events.

“If there are people who are looking to find community or a relationship with other queer Jews, then CUT seems to be the ideal place for that to happen. It is less formal and politically charged than many other events for the queer Jewish community,” said Oz, a University of Toronto linguistics student. He met his current boyfriend at a CUT event two years ago.

“He and I would have absolutely not met had it not been for Corbin’s party,” said Oz. “It makes the parents happy in at least one regard.”

The goal of the events is to provide a casual, fun atmosphere, sometimes with a Jewish theme, like their party for Rosh Hashanah, so that gay Jewish men can comfortably meet one another. They don’t specifically pair up different singles, but encourage them to mingle and meet new people. “I wanted to keep it informal,” said Seligman. “That’s what people wanted – something more organic.”

He said CUT differs from Kulanu – a Jewish, social, cultural and educational organization that is geared toward to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people in Toronto.

“We focus on the ‘meet and greet and party’ because Kulanu does a lot of stuff involving Pride Week. They do potluck Shabbat dinners and work in the community, so I wanted to shy away from that because I think that’s branded in one way and I’m branded in another,” he said.

While the events have been gaining more popularity with each passing one – “if I wait several months without doing one, then I get people messaging me, saying, ‘When’s the next one?’” Seligman says. He hopes to plan larger events in the future.

“I would love to organize a trip to Israel, to go to the Tel Aviv Pride Parade with a group of gay Jewish guys,” said Seligman. “Just to sort of reconnect with gay men and Jewish roots.”

After all, he pointed out, Jewish gay men have a lot of hurdles to overcome if they want to preserve their roots and create a Jewish family.

“Even though people in the community acknowledge that there must be a struggle between being gay and Jewish, they don’t really get it. To find a surrogate takes a long time. Or to adopt. These processes are hard and expensive, and for us to not be able to easily have a traditional family makes us want it all that more,” said Seligman.

 “I want to be able to balance my Jewish identity with my sexual orientation,” he said, “and I think that these events allow me to do just that while helping others to do the same.”

 

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