You Should Know…Chaim Levin

Chaim Levin is a white man with short, dark hair and cropped beard and glasses wearing a pink dress shirt and jacket.
Chaim Levin | Photo by Sarah Goldstein

With a name like Chaim Levin, it’s nearly impossible not to be associated with a Jewish identity.

For the Levin in question, a 33-year-old living in Point Breeze, the Jewishness that accompanied his name wasn’t always welcomed.

Levin was raised in an Orthodox community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to a family that instilled in him the value of survival: His maternal grandmother survived the Holocaust, with most of her family killed by Nazis; his father’s parents fled communist Russia.

“We’re a people of survival,” Levin said. “That has kind of passed on to me. It might look different, but I had to survive some pretty difficult things to be alive, to be where I am today.”

Levin came out as gay to an Orthodox community that didn’t talk about homosexuality and, when it did, it was with Yiddish slurs such as faygele. He spent time in conversion therapy in his late teenage years.

But having lived in Philadelphia for the past 15 months and becoming OneTable’s field manager in Philadelphia at the beginning of February, helping to provide funding to young Jews looking to foster community through Shabbat dinners, Levin is ready to take a rest from survival. He’s ready to embrace Shabbat.

“Who can argue with Shabbat?” Levin said.

Levin’s Friday nights are often quiet, spent having dinner with friends or his partner, or sometimes traveling back to New York for dinner with his family. For the 25 hours his day of rest spans, Levin revels in the freedom and agency the day affords him: He can do whatever he wants.

Like many of the ex-Orthodox Jews Levin has encountered, Shabbat is fraught. Growing up, Shabbat felt claustrophobic. Levin spent the day at yeshiva, where the minutes of his schedule were predetermined.

Many young queer people seek refuge from homophobic families or environments in internet friendships, which Levin was cut off from on Saturdays. Instead of a day of rest, Shabbat was a reminder of feeling out of place, isolated, even ostracized.

As Levin healed his relationship with Judaism, he recognized that a choose-your-own-adventure Shabbat, which OneTable offers, is a chance to heal one’s relationship with the holiday.

“I hope that one of the things I can do at OneTable is reintroduce Shabbat to people who are ex-Orthodox in a way that is on their terms, if that’s what they want,” Levin said.

Levin’s journey to healing began when he was 20. 

By 18, he knew he was gay and had signed up for a week at Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, an opportunity to rid himself of his same-sex attraction which was disgraced in his community.

JONAH instead was a week of humiliation and dehumanization. 

In 2012, Levin and six others, represented by the Southern Law Poverty Center, filed a lawsuit against JONAH for consumer fraud. In 2015, the plaintiffs won the suit, and JONAH was forced to close. But conversion therapy in some Orthodox spaces remains a problem, Levin said.

“It felt great to win,” he said. “But I’m still deeply concerned about what I know from people inside the community, the things I’m seeing and hearing from people on the ground.”

Levin has since stepped away from advocacy work for the time being and has focused on finding joy and community with other queer Jews. Shortly after he left conversion therapy, he attended his first Purim party at Jewish Queer Youth in New York. Last month, he went back again.

“That Purim party changed my life because suddenly I was standing in a room full of people who were gay, lesbian, trans,” Levin said. “They grew up just like I did, and they understood it, and that was the beginning of my roaring out of the closet.”

Today, Levin is finding that feeling of belonging in Philadelphia, where he’s able to help other Jews connect with Judaism in their own ways.

“I just want to be able to be part of bringing that joy to anyone who seeks it out,” Levin said.

Levin finds joy in the little moments of his job. Sometimes healing can be as simple as helping someone complete their Instacart order before Shabbat, making sure they get their cholent on the stove well before the Friday sun sets.


  1. I have to say that you are one very strong person and I really admire you. Life can be crazy at times, but life is about learning! I have had my battles as well in life being Jewish and gay, so I can relate. Keep it up!

  2. Sorry you had to endure such hardship growing up. Understandably, Orthodox Judaism adheres to the literal interpretation of the Torah maintaining fundamentalist beliefs. However, with what you and others of the LGBT Community were subjected to, it is disheartening that the main ideal of social justice which Torah instills wasn’t made first and foremost.


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