EXCLUSIVE: Bnei Akiva UK withdraws ‘mazeltov’ to engaged lesbian couple

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EXCLUSIVE: Bnei Akiva UK withdraws ‘mazeltov’ to engaged lesbian couple

Announcement celebrating upcoming wedding of new employee Anoushka Goldman and member Gila Pearlman deleted from organisation's weekly newsletter.

An LGBTQ+ rights row has erupted at one of the UK’s leading Jewish youth organisations after an engaged lesbian couple’s mazeltov announcement was clumsily deleted from its weekly newsletter.

An original version of the newsletter sent to members of Bnei Akiva UK wished incoming staff member Anoushka Goldman and Bnei Akiva member Gila Pearlman “mazeltov” on their upcoming nuptials.

The initial “mazeltov” sent to Anoushka Goldman and Gila Pearlman

A rushed amended newsletter was then sent, less than two hours later, with the mazeltov deleted along with the following clarification: “The incorrect attachment was sent with the previous email. It was a mistake and oversight by a member of the admin staff and was not approved by the mazkirut [leadership team] or Rav Shaliach [Bnei Akiva’s advisory rabbi].”

Jewish News understands discussions took place about whether to publish the mazeltov, with most members of the leadership team supporting its inclusion. It is believed that four out of six members of the team attended Anoushka and Gila’s engagement party.

One source said: “Many mazkirut did not support the decision to omit the engagement announcement and feel distressed by the hurt this has caused.”

The senior team was reportedly overruled by religious authorities within Bnei Akiva UK so the original newsletter containing the mazeltov was sent without approval. The two staff members responsible for the weekly email are understood to be part-time and were not working when the first email was issued.

According to the Bnei Akiva UK code of conduct there is “a zero-tolerance policy towards anti-social, sexist, racist, homophobic or otherwise negative behaviour” and it describes itself on its website as an “inclusive youth movement”  where “everyone is welcome”.

Earlier this year two Bnei Akiva UK emissaries, including Bnei Akiva’s Rabbi, Rav Joel, met with Israel politician and “proud homophobe” Bezalel Smotrich. At the time Bnei Akiva UK distanced itself from the meeting, stating: “This went ahead without our knowledge and the Shlichim [representatives] attended in an individual capacity. As a movement we would like to reaffirm our values of Ahavat Yisrael, encouraging inclusion and acceptance of all, and rejecting all forms of racism, homophobia and hate.”

Joe Hyman, a Jewish LGBTQ+ activist who worked with Bnei Akiva UK to welcome LGBTQ+ people into the movement, told Jewish News: “Bnei Akiva UK has made huge strides in recent years thanks to young LGBTQ+ Jews courageously sharing their experience and staying within the movement.

“It’s now time that those who have given their lives to the movement are treated with the full dignity of their peers. Creating an environment, where young people are partially included up to the point they find someone to love and build a family with, will inevitably lead to deep pain and estrangement from the movement.”

Jewish News has contacted Bnei Akiva for comment.

Anoushka Goldman and Gila Pearlman declined to comment.

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