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.
Rabbi Amy Morrison first caught our attention when we heard that when she was a rabbinical student, she refused to take on any internship where she could not address LGBT issues. When we learned that Morrison works at Temple Beth Sholom in Miami, a city famous for both LGBT and Jewish life in a state not known for inclusive laws, we were eager to catch up with her about how she, and Beth Sholom, create a welcoming environment.
To what extent has being openly out affected your rabbinate? Any memorable responses from congregants or colleagues?
For as long as I can remember I have been on a journey to be true to myself. As a nurturer, a listener, a healer, a connector, and a spiritual seeker, being a rabbi allows me a chance to do all the things I love to do and be the kind of person I want to be. And in order to that with integrity I needed to be clear about being gay. At Temple Beth Sholom I have been fortunate to be surrounded by people who support me; and I have found that being open and honest attract the same.
We heard that prior to your ordination, you wouldn’t take any internship that forbade you to do work on LGBT inclusion, so clearly, this is a priority for you. So what successes – programs, classes, policies – in this area characterize your work at Beth Sholom?
Temple Beth Sholom and its leadership are always looking for ways to bring all types of Jews together under their roof and their success can be seen when you walk through the hallways. As the only out lesbian rabbi in South Florida and someone who does not cater to an exclusively gay constituency, Temple Beth Sholom is certainly making a statement. Once I joined the clergy I wanted to make sure that every pride event had a strong Jewish presence. In addition, I launched an interfaith LGBT group.
Beth Sholom will perform same-sex weddings, but marriage equality is not legal in Florida. In fact, Florida has often been held up as an example of a state with fairly homophobic legislation. Does that affect your work? Alternately, does Miami’s reputation as a city with a lot of Jews and a lot of LGBT people affect your work?
Without a doubt I am lucky to be in Miami and I worked hard to be here doing the work that I do. But by no means am I immune to gay-bashing, or anti-Semitism, for that matter. Though I am surrounded by warm and loving people, I am not living in a gay, Jewish bubble. I become most aware of the challenges in Miami when a teen sets up a meeting to talk to me about being gay or gay issues they are having at school – even the ones that are not gay. Some feel comfortable talking about gay issues or speaking out against xenophobic activity because they have had a chance to spend time with me and get to know how to deal with them.
What is one program, lesson plan, event, class, training, etc. that focused on or promoted LGBT inclusion that you would recommend to other synagogues, and why?
At Temple Beth Sholom we try not to focus on programs as much as on relationships. Statistics show that more people support same-sex marriage and other gay rights issues because someone they know is gay. Making sure that every community operates like an open tent, with safe spaces for each member to be true to who they are is key. The handicapped Jew, Jew of color, Jew by choice, and gay Jew should all always feel welcome and accepted.
Any advice for an LGBTQ rabbinical student?
Not everyone will be as lucky as I was, but my advice to rabbinical students would be don’t ever give up on your search to be true to who you are. When you are able to truly love and accept yourself, you will inspire the same in others. And they will thank you.