When Rachael Fried was 3, she drew a picture of “a stick figure with a palette and little stick figures with palettes,” she said, to illustrate her career goal of becoming a “mommy and an artist.” Today she draws pictures of surprisingly cute monsters, which she uses to help people confront stigmas, biases and taboos, a process she calls “destigmatology.”
“If you can look at a situation or scenario or even just emotions through a lens of something that doesn’t really exist in the world, you’re able to have a better understanding of it,” said Fried, who has an MSW from Yeshiva University and an MFA from Parsons.
Fried knows about confronting taboos. Orthodox and gay, she didn’t come out, even to herself, until she was 19. She didn’t tell her friends until she was 22.
“I thought that if the people knew this about me then they wouldn’t accept me, and even if they did, I would be ruining their [groups’] reputation,” she said. “But at some point … I decided that I wanted to strive to be the role model that I wish I had.”
Today she’s active at The Beis, which she calls “an Orthodox community that challenges routine Orthodoxy.”
“In a lot of spaces the conversation is about how we can welcome LGBTQ members,” she said. At The Beis, she’s one of the people doing the welcoming.
She also does the welcoming as assistant director of Jewish Queer Youth, where she launched a drop-in center for LGBTQ teens, advertising the center in charedi neighborhoods by putting stickers on bus shelters.
“As you can imagine,” she said, “the stickers are taken down. And then I just go back and put them back up.”
Asked if she’s ever thought of leaving Orthodoxy, she said no.
“The Orthodox community is my home,” she said, “and like in any home, when there’s conflict you can choose to stay there and change things … or you can leave. I choose to stay.”
Happy camper: Fried has spent the past 19 summers at Camp Nesher, rising from camper to director of operations.