“To exclude same-sex families from membership and adult volunteerism is in direct contradiction of school policies, which place high value on inclusion.”
-Donna Oshri, Golda Och Academy
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 running this regular column, called “The Tachlis of Inclusion,” to spotlight practices and policies that have worked for Jewish institutions all over the country. We hope they inspire you.
In October 2012, the administration of Golda Och Academy, a Conservative Jewish day school in New Jersey, sent a letter home to parents, letting them know that the school would not be renewing its Boy Scouts charter. The reason? The Boy Scouts of America’s decision to ban gay scouts and adult troop leaders.
“It was a very short meeting,” Adam Shapiro, Dean of Students at Golda Och Academy, remembers about the decision to end the school’s relationship with the local Boy Scout Troop. “Everyone on our administrative team looked at each other and said, this is pretty obvious. And since we made our decision, basically all of the feedback we’ve received has been positive.”
Golda Och Academy sponsored the Boy Scout Troop 118 and Cub Pack 118 and offered them a place to meet. But the Scouts’ policy of discrimination has made what had been an otherwise harmonious match untenable. “The Scouts and the school have enjoyed a wonderful relationship for many years,” said Donna Oshri, Director of Marketing at Golda Och. Donna continued: “The policy of the Boy Scouts of America to exclude same-sex families from membership and adult volunteerism is in direct contradiction of our school policies, which place high value on inclusion. Our school has decided that it cannot act as the sponsor organization until that national policy changes. Golda Och Academy has worked hard toward making all families feel welcome and comfortable. At this point in time, the scouts represent a problematic image for many families. This decision is based solely on ideology, and not as result of any biased action or exclusion on the part of the leadership of Troop 118 and Pack 118. Rabbi Lisa Vernon and Mike Schatzberg have been stellar leaders to the boys, scouting, and to the school, and we commend their unfailing commitment and leadership.”
The school has since received a lot of attention for their decision.
It’s encouraging to see that actions like these might not be falling on deaf ears: the Boy Scouts of America is currently debating formally abandoning policies that exclude gay members or participants, as well as permitting individual troops to decide whether or not to permit gay members.
Of course, it’s not only the actions of individual schools, communities, and troops that may affect the BSA’s ultimate decision: other forces have also been at work. Throughout 2012 and into 2013, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has been organizing against the Boy Scouts’ discriminatory policy, working with scouts and parents who have been forced to leave the organization because of their sexual orientation. They’ve also been collecting and posting the testimony of former Eagle Scouts who are now protesting the policy on the GLAAD website.
Meanwhile, the National Jewish Committee on Scouting recently voted to determine if they should maintain the ban on gay scouts and troop leaders. The vote was 27 to one in favor of overturning the ban, with one abstention. Though the Committee’s vote does not directly affect the BSA’s position, it was reported back to the Scouts’ Religious Relationship Task Force, and will hopefully affect the outcome of the ultimate decision.
What will happen to the policy is anyone’s guess, but for some, a strong stand against exclusion and discrimination is the most important thing.
“We had had a big push from within the student body last year to create a Gay-Straight Alliance. Clubs and activities are for the students, by the students, so we knew that this was something the students really wanted,” explained Adam Shapiro. “So we have a GSA now, which is not that common in Conservative day schools, and their main focus is on creating safe space within our school. Given that emphasis, the decision to step away from the Boy Scouts just seemed natural.”
Drop us a note if you have a story to tell and you may end up as next month’s feature! You can read the previous posts in this series, on the Israel Center for Conservative Judaism and The Beth El Synagogue Center.