Monthly Archives: September 2012

Who are you inviting into your Sukkah this year?

During the holiday of Sukkot, it’s customary to invite honored guests into our homes and sukkot, the festival huts we build at this time of year. It’s a holiday that’s all about inclusion and bringing our friends, neighbors, and distinguished visitors in to our homes, and into these temporary shelters with us. These honored guests are known as ushpizin. You might even remember a cute Israeli movie about the trials and tribulations of a religious couple who think that their troublesome ushpizin are a test from heaven.

Harvey Milk PosterThis year, we have a suggestion for some very special holiday guests for your sukkah. Invite politician Harvey Milk, activist and author Kate Bornstein, and writer Lesléa Newman into your sukkah — whether it’s at your home, your synagogue, your Jewish community center, or somewhere else.

We invite you to hang a poster of one of these Jewish heroes in your sukkah and let those who enter know that LGBT Jews have a home in your community.

Looking for more ideas about whom to invite into your sukkah this holiday?

Plus, tell us who else you’re bringing into your sukkah with you. Who are the LGBT heroes in your life?

 

 

Posted on September 28, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Words of Torah for Marriage Equality: Jamie Heller

Marriage equality is on the ballot in four states this November – Maryland, Washington, Minnesota, and Maine – and this High Holiday season a number of rabbis are choosing to use their pulpits, or have congregants use them, to encourage support of equal marriage. Over the next few weeks leading up to the election, we’ll share sermons from each state voting on marriage equality. We hope their words of Torah inspire you.

This Rosh Hashanah Jamie Heller delivered this powerful and personal (and yes, humorous!) sermon at Kol Shalom in Rockville, MD. The Hellers are long-time Keshet leaders and supporters – Jamie’s son Daniel is on the Keshet board and Jamie’s wife Debbie is a founding member of the Keshet Parent & Family Connection. See below to learn more about Jews United for Justice (JUFJ), the organization mobilizing the Jewish community in Maryland around marriage equality, and how you can get involved in this effort.

Breaking the glass at a gay Jewish wedding

Kimberly White/Corbis Courtesy the New York Post

Shana Tovah. Thank you, Rabbi Maltzman, for the honor of allowing me to address all of you this morning.

I want to start, by pointing out that not all problems are that difficult to solve.

One such example occurred just yesterday when my wife plugged a power strip into itself instead of the wall and then could not figure out why her computer wasn’t working.

An example of poor planning was the vacation I purchased on CheapCarribbean.com only to find upon arrival that the hotel and our room were still under construction.

Or the ill effects of hasty planning when I tried teaching our youngest son to parallel park by using our three cars. I accidentally parked two of the cars too close together so when he attempted the impossible task of wedging the third car in between, he damaged not only his self-confidence, but all three of our cars at once.

Unfortunately, not all problems are this simple to solve. Some pertaining to relationships, health, family and, career are truly hard. The one which I want to talk to you about this morning looks hard, but will be easy and obvious in hindsight. I want to talk to you about a civil rights issue.

Civil rights are the rights that belong to each of us as individuals because we are citizens of the United States. They promise us equal protection under our laws and freedom from discrimination. Sounds pretty simple, right? Continue reading

Posted on September 27, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Celebrate Bisexuality Day!

It seemed obvious to me that Celebrate Bisexuality Day is supposed be a celebration and featuring a list of notable Jewish bisexuals on the Keshet blog seemed like a great way to do that.

Bisexuals marching

As it turns out, easier said than blogged. My local library didn’t have any card catalog listings for “famous bi Jews.” There’s definitely stuff out there on the Internet, but searching for information on bi Jews isn’t as easy as finding stuff on gay Jews or LGBT Jews in general.

The sampling below is far from comprehensive or complete, but it is our contribution towards celebrating bisexuality, bisexuals, and the notion that there are, indeed, a lot of notable bi Jews out there – if only we remember to look.

Jennifer Baumgardner

Jennifer BaumgardnerIt’s important to include the person who actually wrote the book on bisexuality. Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics garnered major praise for its hopeful tone and smart challenge to all sorts of bi-stereotypes. (She also got a lot of deserved praise for writing a book about bisexuality, period.)

 

 

Sandra Bernhard

Sandra BernhardThis comedic lady is out, loud, and proud. Raised in a Jewish household, she even lived on a kibbutz for a short time in her late teens (wonder if they thought she was funny?). It’s not everybody who can tell David Letterman on live TV, “I know Madonna and I know Sean Penn and I’ve been with both of them!”

 

 

Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein This famous composer and conductor not only had the distinction of leading symphonies at the most prestigious opera halls across the world, writing the music for such musicals as West Side Story and Candide — he also conducted the inaugural concert of the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv! Though Bernstein’s relationships with men were well known, he also married a Chilean actress with whom he had three children. According to many accounts, their marriage was happy, so we’ve included him here! Bernstein was also a collaborator with another artist on our list, Jerome Robbins.

Sammy Davis, Jr.

Sammy Davis Jr.This sweet-toned crooner and actor has the distinction of being black, a convert to Judaism and reportedly bisexual (his relationships were the subject of speculation). It’s a testament to his immense abilities and talents that despite belonging to a minority-within-a-minority, he was immensely popular as a singer and an actor.




A.M. Homes

A. M. HomesThis frankly dark novelist is very straightforward about her bisexuality, though her Jewish roots — explored along with the rest of her family history in her memoir The Mistress’s Daughter — make for more complicated writing fodder.




Rabbi Debra Kolodny

Rabbi Debra KolodnyWhat’s a list of famous bi Jews without a rabbi? Rabbi Debra Kolodny wrote the seminal book on bisexuality and faith, Blessed Bi Spirit: Bisexual People of Faith. She is the Executive Director of Nehirim and was previously the spiritual leader of Pnai Or in Portland, OR and led ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal for nine years.




Cynthia Nixon

Cynthia Nixon with partner Christine Marinoni

The proud mom of kids she’s choosing to raise Jewish (the children’s father, Nixon’s exDanny Mozes, is Jewish), Nixon has been the Pride Shabbat speaker at the New York LGBT synagogue, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah. After breaking up with Mozes, Nixon made waves not only by dating her (female) partner, and becoming an outspoken advocate for same-sex marriage, but for such public statements as, “I’ve been straight and I’ve been gay, and gay is better.” Try not to be star-struck when you see her in shul on the Upper West Side of New York.

 

Jerome Robbins

RobbinJerome Robbins s – or Jerry Rabinowitz, as his parents called him – was an award-winning dancer, director, and choreographer. Though probably best known for his stunning choreography in West Side Story, Robbins also worked on a number of Jewish-themed Broadway hits, including Funny Girl and Fiddler on the Roof. Robbins’s long-term relationship with actor Montgomery Clift is known, and he’s often referred to as bisexual.

 

 

Susan Sontag

Though she claSusan Sontag imed to have never been inside a synagogue until she was in her twenties, Sontag was Jewish and actually examined the Yom Kippur War in her 1974 piece, Promised Lands.

Although we know about a number of Sontag’s relationships with women, including her decade-long relationship with photographer Annie Leibovitz, Sontag was not very public about her sexuality, telling Out Magazine, “Maybe I could have given comfort to some people if I had dealt with the subject of my private sexuality more, but it’s never been my prime mission to give comfort, unless somebody’s in drastic need. I’d rather give pleasure, or shake things up.”

 

Rebecca Walker

The daughteRebecca Walkerr of acclaimed author and activist Alice Walker is a noted writer in her own right. Her 2002 memoir, Black White and Jewish, explored many aspects of her identity, including what it means to be biracial – and bisexual. For Walker, fluidity is key to understanding herself, and that extends to her sexual orientation, as well.

 

That’s our short list! We know it was brief — so tell us who we forgot!

Posted on September 24, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Learning to Return to Myself

I remember Yom Kippur when I was 13. I was in synagogue, proudly wearing the tallit I had been given for my bar mitzvah some months earlier, sitting with my family in the seats we traditionally occupied throughout the High Holidays, four rows back from the bimah and the Ark where the Torah scrolls were kept. It was the Ne’ilah service, the closing moments of the holiday, and the congregation was rising for one final recitation of the Vidui, the collective confession of sins. With the infamous words of Leviticus 18:22, part of the traditional Torah reading for Yom Kippur afternoon, still ringing in my head, I too stood up and began to recite the litany out loud along with everyone else. But one sin, one above all, spoke up and demanded I confess it, repent from it, and pray for divine forgiveness: the sin of being a transgender person.

Torah Light by Mubina H

Torah Light by Mubina H

“For the sin that we have committed against You by identifying with a gender other than that which we were assigned at birth” isn’t part of any confessional liturgy I ever learned—it was more like “For the sins which we have committed against You both in the open and in secret”. But it didn’t matter that I could barely even express what I was thinking. I placed my hand over my heart, struck my breast, and begged God to forgive me for all the indiscretions within me: for desiring more than anything to be someone or something other than what I was, for having failed to fulfill the divine plan for me, whatever it was, for not having been strong enough to resist my yetzer ha-ra, my inclination to do evil. I prayed fervently, cried a little even, wishing that God would take away my transgender nature, and hoping He would make me, well, normal. Somehow.

The recitation of the confessional ended, and shortly the service came to a close with the words Adonai Hu Ha-Elohim, “The Lord is God”. The final shofar blast was sounded, and I remembered the verse: Vayomer Adonai solachti ki-d’varecha, “And God said: I have forgiven, as you have asked,” and I knew—or really thought I knew—that, like the people Israel after the High Priest had performed the Yom Kippur sacrifices, I had been cleansed. I went home happy that night: everything would be okay.

As I recall, that lasted two or maybe three weeks.

The next year, feeling even guiltier, I made the same supplication on Yom Kippur. And the year after that. And the year after that. I prayed earnestly for God to forgive me, to take it away, to make me normal, just like everyone else. When I grew older, and was beginning therapy in earnest, one of the questions I was asked was “Why do you believe you are transgender?” When I was younger, I believed it was because God had made an honest mistake. But as I got older and somewhat more theologically sophisticated sophomoric, I believed it was some kind of test, the purpose of which I could only guess at, and I wasn’t sure whether it was benevolently or malevolently intended. However, every time I prayed for God to “take the transgender away,” it only got stronger, and I ended up feeling, over and over again, miserable and worthless, like I’d failed the test.

I now know something I didn’t at the time: that many other people—trans, queer, both—have prayed that very same prayer alongside me. I was never alone; I always had company. I was not the first, and I will not be the last.

And every time I prayed it, it was an earnest, genuine prayer. But I discovered another prayer, a cry from my soul, that is even deeper, even more earnest and genuine. It took me long enough, but I finally heard it calling, from my kol d’mamah dakah, the “still small voice” within me.

The rabbis teach that all the rituals of confession, all the prayers for forgiveness, all the external trappings of Yom Kippur can only serve to atone for sins that are between a human being and God. Yom Kippur, they teach, does not bring atonement for sins one person commits against another, until the person who did wrong seeks forgiveness from the person who was wronged. This is one of the fundamental lessons of repentance and forgiveness in Judaism. The Hebrew word for “repentance” is teshuvah, which means, among other things, “returning.” The time between the start of the year on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called the Ten Days for teshuvah, for turning and returning inward, for the rediscovery of our selves. Yom Kippur asks us to return to the truth about ourselves; not to hide from it. It asks us to be genuine with ourselves; when we deceive ourselves, we cannot forgive ourselves.

I want to ask my younger self to forgive herself for not being perfect, for wronging herself by denying her inner nature, her truth, for failing to heed the kol d’mamah dakah within her. I want to reassure her that everything will be okay, that God doesn’t hate her, that she will eventually find and build a loving, accepting, and affirming community. I want to seek her pardon for the years of denials, purges, secrets, half-measures, traumas, deceptions, and lies I will inflict on her future self.

But the temporal continuum only works in one direction for us mere mortals, which means this exercise is doomed to failure. I cannot literally commit teshuvah by going back in time; I shall have to content myself with a metaphorical teshuvah. But I trust the kol d’mamah dakah within me, which tells me that this teshuvah must be more genuine than any other I have ever professed to make. I have to be willing to forgive my past self for not knowing that things would change, and both my past and present selves for being so hard on themselves, for demanding such perfection, for not giving themselves permission to fail. And I can try to return the courtesy to my future self: to give her permission to screw up, to fail, to commit wrongdoings and to learn from them. It’s a small comfort, but it helps.

A very wise friend of mine told me that beating myself up, as so many trans people do, for not having transitioned earlier is pointless. Whatever happened in the past, she pointed out, whatever decisions I made, were necessary at that time, because they kept me alive and got me to where I am now. When I introduced my blog (with this very point!) as “my record of surviving,“ I was not speaking metaphorically. And I am learning that part of survival—more than simple survival, actually; part of living—is having the ability to forgive myself.

So this is my Yom Kippur prayer this year. May I learn to accept and embrace the person I am, even if I do not know who she is yet. May I have the strength and the courage to forgive myself for the wrongdoings that I have committed against myself in the past, or will commit against myself in the future. May my teshuvah be sincere, and may it bring me closer to knowledge of my own truth. May I learn to recognize and to listen to the kol d’mamah dakah within me, and may I write my own Book of Life in that voice this year. May I love myself, may I remember that I am loved, and may I be at peace. Kein yehi ratzon—may this be so.

 

Posted on September 21, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Liberating Foreigners, Together with Our Sisters and Brothers

Jews read sections of the Torah each week, and these sections, known as parshiyot, inspire endless examination year after year. Each week we will bring you regular essays examining these portions from a queer perspective, drawn from the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible and the Torah Queeries online collection. This week, Tucker Lieberman looks at the lesser-known holiday of Shmini Atzeret.

On Shmini Atzeret, we can seek freedom from bondage--for everyone

Creative Commons/Dan Iggers

Gay and transgender people often feel like foreigners within our own communities. We sometimes feel as if we are treated with a double standard or altogether shut out from religious practices. Similarly, as Jews, who are a minority in every nation except Israel, we often feel as if we are foreigners in our own homelands. We understand the meaning of exclusion.

Yet in this week’s portion, in which the Jews are still wandering in the desert (Deut. 14:22-16:17), foreigners are excluded from the Jewish community in three distinct ways: they are not explicitly invited to the consecration of the first harvest (the festival of Shavuot), their debt is not forgiven, and, when enslaved, they are left unmentioned in regards to the gentle treatment and the eventual redemption to which Jewish slaves are explicitly entitled.

Thus, while the portion encourages the Jews to literally “come out” of the settlement to worship, celebrate freedom, give ceremonial charity, and cement our own identities, we are, at the same time, encouraged to use identity labels to divide us from others. What might we create if we apply the Torah’s vision of Jewish freedom and prosperity to all our neighbors, regardless of their identities?

Continue reading

Posted on September 19, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Back to School: Guides for Creating Safe Space for LGBT Jewish Youth

It’s September and students across the country have headed back to school for a new year. But are they heading back into safe and inclusive spaces? Our friends at The Aleph Project at Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth (LIGALY) created two great resources for Jewish schools and settings.

Teens make signs for NCOD

From "Coming Out in Support of Safer Jewish Settings"

National Coming Out Day: Planning Manual
A step-by-step guide to planning a National Coming Out Day (October 11) observance in a Jewish educational setting, with information about why this day is relevant to Jews and Jewish organizations. This guide provides everything from a timeline, to an FAQ, to sample planning meeting agendas.

Creating a Jewish Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA): Youth Organizing Manual
A guide to help students who want to create a GSA at their Jewish institution make the “Jewish case” for why it’s important. With a list of ten easy steps to starting a GSA, along with definitions of important terms and information on useful resources, this manual will get help get your GSA off the ground.

And here’s a bit of inspiration for starting that GSA: Hineini: Coming Out in a Jewish High School, the story of one student’s courageous fight to establish a Gay-Straight Alliance at a Jewish high and the transformative impact of her campaign on her entire community. You can purchase a copy of the film here to show at your school or synagogue.

Posted on September 14, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Yom Kippur — A Different Read

The High Holidays are nearly upon us, and while it’s wonderful to carve out time for reflection, contemplation and community, the holiday season can also be stressful (dealing with family, long days in synagogue, confronting a challenging year). For LGBTQ Jews and our families, there is the added element of stress: during the Torah service on the afternoon of Yom Kippur we read from Leviticus. This reading includes the verses from the Torah frequently used as a religious prohibition of homosexuality.

Casting Off Sins in the Mississippi River

Casting Off Sins in the Mississippi River. Creative Commons - On Being.

So this year, Keshet’s providing you with a little extra High Holiday reading. Whether you make good use of these resources at home or slide them into your machzor (High Holiday prayer book)  — we promise we won’t tell — we hope they enhance your understanding of the holidays, and add layers of meaning to your experience of them. You can find many more resources for the holidays in our Resource Library.

Days of Awe: Turning to Do Good
Dr. Joel Kushner, the Director of the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, examines the Al Cheyt prayer, used in the High Holiday liturgy, to look at how we deal with LGBTQ inclusion. The prayer lists all of our sins and Dr. Kushner uses them as a focus for how we are culpable for — and how we can fight against — transphobia and violence against transgender people.

Plus…You’ll never look at Leviticus the same way again:

Interpreting Leviticus: Contemporary Voices
One of the most challenging aspects of Yom Kippur for LGBTQ Jews is the portion of Leviticus read for this holiday which includes the injunction against men “lying with other men as with women,” and which is cited in several faiths as the textual basis for prohibitions against homosexuality. In this excerpt from the Hineini Curriculum Resource Guide, six scholars – Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Rabbi Bradley Artson, Dr. Rachel Adler, Thomas Herz, Rabbi Steve Greenberg, and Rabbi David Greenstein – provide close readings and interpretations of Leviticus. Through historical context and interpretive translations, these scholars reveal a number of fascinating Jewish values and ancient prohibitions, none of which would condemn LGBTQ people in our time.

Homosexuality: An Insider’s Look at the Conservative Movement’s Halakhic Process
Another way to look at Leviticus: Yom Kippur is an excellent occasion to examine how one major Jewish movement has dealt with the Levitical injunction from a Jewish legal standpoint, and Rabbi Michael Beals’ sermon from 2006 — just before a major change in the Conservative Movement’s treatment of gay and lesbian Jews — shows how that thinking has evolved.

A Kavanah — Directing our Hearts and Minds: A Declaration of Intention that we bring to the reading of Leviticus 18 on the Afternoon of Yom Kippur
In a different examination of these same troubling verses, Rabbi Victor Reinstein of Congregation Nehar Shalom (a long timefriend of Keshet and host to many Keshet events) redirects our kavanah, or intention, in reading them, transforming them from a condemnation of homosexuality to one examining unequal power dynamics within a relationship. (You might remember Rabbi Reinstein from an earlier post featuring rabbis who spoke out for the Transgender Equal Rights bill in Massachusetts. You can read his beautiful testimony here. It’s the second one from the top.)

Posted on September 12, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Four Ways to Make your Jewish Institution Inclusive for LGBTQ Interfaith Families

The High Holidays – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – can be the most synagogue-centric of the Jewish calendar year. They’re also among the most-well attended, even by those who may not otherwise go to synagogue.

Many interfaith couples and families, along with adults raised in interfaith homes, don’t feel welcome in Jewish organizations. And since many LGBTQ Jews feel excluded from Jewish communal organizations, it’s a double challenge for Interfaith LGBTQ Jews. This might be one of the reasons LGBTQ Jews are more likely to interdate and intermarry than their straight peers. But it’s also a reason why our organizations must ensure that every member of the Jewish community is welcomed and included this holiday season – and all year long.

Here are four easy steps your organization can take right now.

1. Update your website.

  • State explicitly on your homepage that your community includes and welcomes both LGBTQ and interfaith families and looks forward to engaging them in all activities;

    Making Your Jewish Institution More LGBT Interfaith Inclusive

    Courtesy InterfaithFamily

  • Use photos that reflect your community’s diversity.

2. Create a Welcoming Policy Document.

  • Start the policy with a statement of inclusion;
  • Let interfaith LGBTQ families know what their membership status will be;
  • Let partners and spouses who are not Jewish know if there are restrictions for leadership positions.

3. Make your inclusion visible.

  • Add an Organizational Affiliate Badge from InterfaithFamily.com to your homepage, in your links section, or on your about us page.
  • Put a Safe Zone sticker on your door or your website.
  • Mention the “I” Word: when creating publicity materials for your Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, events, and programming. Don’t forget to explicitly invite “interfaith families,” and “LGBT families.” (InterfaithFamily’s studies have found that 72% of our users find it “important” that a synagogue say its programming is “for interfaith families” in marketing material.)

4. Don’t assume.

  • We all have different levels of Jewish knowledge and hurdles that match, so:
    • Translate all Hebrew/Yiddish language;
    • Avoid terms like “non-Jew” to describe a partner who isn’t Jewish (I can only speak for myself, but I do not identify as a “non-Christian”);
    • Provide easy access material (like our booklets), for visitors and others who might want a refresher; locate them near main doors as well as in low traffic areas.

For more information on making your synagogue welcoming and inclusive to all types of interfaith families, check out InterfaithFamily’s Resource Center for Program Providers.

Posted on September 10, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Entering the Holy of Holies

Creative Commons/vonCroy

Jews read sections of the Torah each week, and these sections, known as parshiyot, inspire endless examination year after year. Each week we will bring you regular essays examining these portions from a queer perspective, drawn from the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible and the Torah Queeries online collection. This week, Joshua Lesser looks to the holiday of Rosh Hashanah to find a more expansive vision of Judaism.

“Folks, in a moment we are going to hit the birth canal,” the leader of our spelunking trip chuckled. I felt the air thin as the 20 of us, mostly strangers, gasped at his description. Up ahead in the cave was a narrow tunnel that would require us to get on our bellies and contort and wriggle our bodies to make it through to the other side. Already muddy, I did not relish this part of the trek. I imagined spiders lurking in the dark. Taking deep breaths, I proceeded in line on hands and knees. Our headlamps provided little help as we moved forward, feeling the sides narrow. I imagined being trapped and buried under the earth. I heard the grunts and whimpers of those around me, straining to make it through, as we all lost any remaining sense of grace or composure.

My brief time in that cave is exactly how I feel about Leviticus, particularly when the texts of Leviticus are used to constrict Judaism and to squeeze people out of faith communities. I am frequently asked to speak about Judaism and homosexuality and how to reconcile Leviticus, its prohibitions, and its declarations of abominations. Recently I came to an important realization: using Leviticus as the starting point or the end game to talk about Judaism and homosexuality is a trap. By doing so, we buy in to a fundamentalist view that there is a narrow path to God and only a limited few can get there. Using Leviticus this way is to agree that Judaism is a religion of narrow laws that do not always have meaning, and that we have to contort and squeeze ourselves to make it through, often leaving our sense of dignity behind. I reject this Judaism because it is faith described as a weapon. I reject this kind of Judaism because it says blind allegiance to law is more important than people, and thus, misses the entire point of being Jewish.

Those who see Jewish law as an end in and of itself, and not as a means to a wider purpose, would subject us to a labyrinth of narrow places, with only the tool of a dimly lit headlight to look for cracks and fissures in order to breathe. Searching for breathing room in the legal loopholes is a stimulating intellectual exercise, but too often it can remove meaning and even God’s presence from the text. But the greater trap for us is to get completely caught up in railing against and rebelliously rejecting this Jewish way of living. Doing this we allow our “religion” to be reduced to what we don’t believe in, what angers us and what seems unfair. This may keep us out of the labyrinth, but it is not nurturing and does not support spiritual growth. It is a negation of faith, not an affirmation of God’s presence in our lives.

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Posted on September 7, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Tachlis of Inclusion: Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin and the Israel Center for Conservative Judaism

Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin with congregants at the ICCJ

Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin with congregants at the ICCJ

With the High Holidays approaching, and major spiritual heavy lifting to be done, it’s an especially important time of year for LGBT Jews and allies to find inclusive Jewish spaces. If you’re in New York City (and over a million of you are), we’ve located a wonderful synagogue doing great work to make sure all Jews feel included: the Israel Center for Conservative Judaism in Queens.

Creating inclusive Jewish spaces is a great goal — but how do you do it? While the answer is likely different for every synagogue, school, and youth group, it’s helpful and encouraging to hear about others’ successes, triumphs, and their lessons learned.

So we’re starting this regular column to spotlight practices and policies that have worked for Jewish institutions all over the country. We’re calling it “The Tachlis of Inclusion” — tachlis being the Jewish term for the substance of something, the mechanics, the nuts-and-bolts of it.

We’ll share a different story of one synagogue (or school, or camp) finding success on the road to inclusion. We hope they inspire you. We’re always looking for institutions to profile – drop us a note if you have a story to tell and you may end up as next month’s feature!

In this month’s installment of Tachlis of Inclusion, Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin talked with us about how the ICCJ has built a community where individuals and families of every background, configuration, identity, and interest are welcomed and valued. We first met Rabbi Fryer Bodzin in 2008, when she attended a Keshet Training Institute.

There’s a great video of what inclusion looks like at the congregation you lead, Israel Center for Conservative Judaism. What are some of the LGBT-inclusive projects, initiatives, and general stuff you and ICCJ have been working on recently?

Thanks for taking notice of our video. We tried to capture that we truly are a diverse community. At ICCJ, we focus on enabling and encouraging people to travel on their Jewish journeys. We are not a massive synagogue, but we are very diverse. We have a significant Jews by Choice population, and our membership has a 100-year age range. It is just taken for granted that we are LGBT inclusive. For example, on our membership form, we have spaces for Adult 1 and Adult 2, instead of Male or Female. There is no stigma here about one’s sexual orientation.

We heard that you hung our Seven Jewish Values poster up in the synagogue — can you share why, and what responses you’ve received?

The seven values are not just LGBT values, they are universal values. They are what lead to a caring community, which is what we strive to be. The poster is up in our lobby so that when people walk through the doors they will know what they are walking into. Hopefully, everyone, no matter how they identify, will read it and think, “Hey, this is a welcoming community.”

You wrote a beautiful piece in eJewish Philanthropy this past February on the “changing modern Jewish family,” where you shared different ideas about creative inclusive space, and you mentioned attending a Keshet Training Institute. Can you talk about some of ways institutions can cultivate spaces that acknowledge, include and value these modern families?

Thank you. When I look at the young families community at my synagogue, it is hard to ignore how diverse they are. While this community is comprised of single parent families, interfaith families, two mommy families — none of that matters when they are here. They really have molded into a community. They celebrate holidays and Shabbat together. They learn together and share b’nei mitzvah experiences together. A few generations ago, the synagogue was the center and the dad worked and the mom stayed home and everyone came to shul on Shabbat. Nowadays, we need to compete with so much. So sometimes a synagogue experience might be a tweet or reading a Facebook status update, and that is fine for me. Everyone has their own entry point to Jewish institutions, even if some people don’t walk in the door so often. What is important for me is that when people walk in the door, no matter their family structure, they feel welcome.

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Posted on September 6, 2012

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