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Orthodox Union plans to fight gay group’s effort to join WJC

NEW YORK, Dec. 5 (JTA) — The Orthodox Union is fighting to block the World Congress of Gay and Lesbian Jewish Organizations from joining the World Jewish Congress. The gay and lesbian Jewish organization, which includes 65 synagogues, social clubs, social service organizations and student groups around the world, has been seeking membership in the WJC for nearly two years as part of its larger quest to become integrated into mainstream Jewish communal life. The group recently was granted permission to participate in WJC meetings until the body’s board of governors can formally review its application in the spring. The O.U. adopted a resolution at its convention late last month condemning efforts “to portray homosexuality as the moral equivalent of heterosexual monogamous relationships and as constituting a valid `alternative lifestyle.’ ” The resolution mandated the O.U. “to continue to forcefully resist all attempts” of such groups “to legitimize that which our Torah, our history and our traditions have deemed illegitimate.” Julius Berman, a New York attorney and honorary president of the O.U., said the effort to join the WJC “is part of a basic campaign by the gays to become part of normative Judaism.” The O.U., which has a membership of about 750 Orthodox synagogues and an additional 25,000 individuals, will work within the WJC’s board of governors to try to block the group’s entrance, he said. “If they become members of umbrella organizations it means they’re accepted by the general Jewish community and we will not participate in legitimizing that type of lifestyle,” Berman said. Lee Walzer, vice president of the gay and lesbian Jewish group, said the O.U.’s position “is pure unvarnished prejudice which will only serve to weaken Jewish family life and alienate Jews from their spiritual home.” The organization represents gay and lesbian Jews “throughout the community, including Orthodox and haredi [fervently Orthodox] individuals,” he said. Walzer said an increasing number of his organization’s member groups are joining local Jewish communal umbrella groups, and work with Orthodox community representatives “usually without incident.” Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, said the WJC uses “objective” criteria to consider who should be admitted to the umbrella organization, such as “how many chapters you have, what is your constitution and what are your principal objectives?” “Beyond those measurable objectives, I don’t think it’s appropriate for any individual to impose on any other constituent what they feel is a valid measure of [criteria] for acceptance into the WJC.”