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Littman and He’bro have occasionally come under fire for taking Judaism too lightly, for marking religious holidays with raucous parties.
“My hope is that He’bro can be a gateway drug,” said Jay Michaelson, founder of the LGBT Jewish group Nehirim (and a Forward contributing editor). “Hopefully, some percentage of the Jews and bagel chasers [non-Jewish men who are interested in Jews] who come to He’bro will take a further step on their journeys, maybe checking out some Jewish learning, or getting involved politically, or visiting Nehirim or one of the other LGBT Jewish organizations that offer more substantive forms of engagement.”
Littman, for his part, doesn’t see his parties as a substitute for an active practice, but more as an opportunity to acknowledge Jewish identity in the world of gay socializing.
Before Littman became the “king of New York’s gay Jewish nightlife” as a 2012 Times of Israel story called him, he was a young yeshiva student trying to find his own path. He grew up in a Washington Heights congregation called K’hal Adath Jeshurun, made up of Orthodox German Ashkenazi Jews.
In his early 20s, Littman realized he was having feelings for other men. Desperate to hold on to the community he had grown up with and to raise a family, at 21 he voluntarily entered the JONAH (originally Jews Offering New Alternatives for Homosexuality, now called Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing) reparative therapy program in Jersey City, N.J. He hoped it would rid him of his attractions. In a 2011 Huffington Post article, Littman wrote, “…it wasn’t a choice between coming out and conversion therapy; rather, it was a choice between conversion therapy and not wanting to live anymore.”
After five years of therapy, he moved into the Westmont apartment complex on the Upper West Side, known for its straight Orthodox singles scene. He wanted to date women, find a wife, have a family. But deep down inside, Littman knew the therapy didn’t work. Unbeknown to his roommates at the Westmont, he began exploring the gay community, get- ting involved with gay Jewish groups like Jewish Queer Youth, an LGBT group for Orthodox Jews.
In June 2007, Littman went on a gay cruise on the Queen Mary 2 to Southampton, England, from New York. It was an environment that was, he said, “100% gay all the time.” He kept kosher on the cruise, and put on tefillin in his room. For the first time, he was comfortable as an openly gay religious Jew; it was a turning point.