From the time Chaim Levin was 6, a cousin six years his senior sexually abused him. The violent assaults continued weekly until he was 10 — in his father’s shul, their houses and their Catskill bungalows. At 14 he told his rabbi, who advised his parents to preserve family unity by “pretending nothing happened” — a “systematic cover-up,” he says, “that still haunts me.”
But it didn’t silence him. Levin, who came out at 15 to a friend and endured homophobic yeshivas here and in Israel, eventually found a way to be a strong voice and champion for LGBTQ Orthodox Jews.
Still, it wasn’t an easy road. “During my teenage years I had my family who was supporting my abuser, I had a yeshiva system that failed me, that spit me out like dirt. But I just had to keep going.”
That meant, after his return from Israel, “getting rid of the homosexuality. I was willing to do whatever it takes.”
Levin signed up with JONAH, an Orthodox counseling group in New Jersey that used a controversial technique called “reparative therapy” to rid gay men of their homosexual urges. After 18 months of what he called “abusive” therapies, he quit, and in 2012 joined five others to sue JONAH for fraud. In December they won and the group was shut down.
“[The JONAH trial] was harder than I could’ve ever imagined,” he said. “My entire life was opened up for the world to see.”
In December Levin also founded LGBTQ Chabad, a 100-plus-member Facebook group for current and former Chadbadniks. He also mentors young LGBTQ Jews and works to get stories about sexual abuse and LGBTQ Jews in Orthodox communities into the news.
Now studying pre-law at Kingsborough Community College, Levin hopes to “get people justice,” as his lawyers once did for him. His father, Sam, says he has no doubt his son will succeed. (Levin is reconciled with his parents.) “He knows what he wants and he’s ready to fight for what he believes in,” he said.
Levin hopes to inspire others to come forward. “I want people to remember that you can always speak up,” he said. “Because no matter what the consequences are, you will know that you did the right thing.”
Puppy love: When not advocating for society’s underdogs, he’s walking society’s upper-crust dogs on the Upper East and West Sides. He’s proud of his pooches, regularly posting photos with them online.