When Oliver Rosenberg came out to his friends and family, he did so on a one-on-one basis. When he spoke about being gay for a communal cause, 800 people, mostly students he didn’t know, showed up to listen.
In 2008, Rosenberg was one of four members on a panel called, “Being Gay in the Orthodox World,” hosted by Yeshiva University, where Rosenberg went to school. The reaction was as split as Moses’ Red Sea. Faculty members were largely critical while students were supportive.
Inspired by the panel, a rabbi developed a statement of principles advocating for inclusion of LGBTQ people in the Orthodox community; over 300 Modern Orthodox rabbis from around the country signed the document. A nonprofit called Eshel, which provides inclusion education to Orthodox communities and resources to parents of LGBTQ Jews, also sprung from the event.
Growing up in Los Angeles, Rosenberg describes his younger self as “a poster child for Modern Orthodoxy.” Now, living on the Upper West Side, he is a leading member of the LGBTQ Jewish community as the founder of Or Chayim, a year-old congregation that holds monthly Orthodox-style Shabbat services and dinners for LGBTQ Jews and their allies.
“Shabbat dinner is a place for real conversation,” he said. “Orthodox or not, people know to keep their phones in their pockets.”
During the work week, however, Rosenberg’s phone is front and center. At the same time he started Or Chayim, Rosenberg launched Prealth, a healthcare tech start-up that is developing a medical cost comparison app. Rosenberg, a former investment banker, envisions the app as a sort of Uber for healthcare, allowing people to compare doctors based on cost, insurance information and patient reviews.
At night and on weekends, Rosenberg’s likely to be found spreading the word about Or Chayim.
The 2008 panel, he said, illuminated the sense of displacement many people felt when trying to reconcile their gay identity with their Judaism. Or Chayim was Rosenberg’s answer to that discord, cultivating a community that celebrates both identities equally. “People feel like I’ve given them a sense of belonging,” he said.
Kicking back: When Rosenberg isn’t spending his time launching congregations or tech start-ups, he can be found at Therapy — which is not a psychologist’s office, but a gay bar in Hells Kitchen.