Welcome to our fifth installment of “Queer Clergy in Action,” spotlighting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rabbis and cantors. This behind-the-scenes look at queer clergy covers both those who have paved the way and up-and-coming trailblazers. Here, we interview Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell.
Coming out can be really difficult and it can be especially risky for those who are, or aspire to be, clergy. Nonetheless, this vanguard has helped open up the Jewish world, and we’re very proud to shine an extra light on their work, their ideas, and their stories. You can also read the first four posts in this series, about Rabbi Steve Greenberg, Rabbi Reuben Zellman, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Rabbi Denise Eger, and Rabbi Elliot Kukla.
Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell has worked as a rabbi for over three decades, serving congregations in California, New Jersey, and Virginia, and taught at a number of universities across the country. She was on the editorial board for The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, and was one of the editors of Lesbian Rabbis: The First Generation. She was the Director of the Los Angeles Jewish Feminist Center and has worked for the Union of Reform Judaism since 1996.
How has being LGBTQ informed your work as a rabbi?
I see my queer identity as a mirror and a reflection of my identity as an engaged, committed Jew and as a rabbi. For both LGBT folks and Jews are other, subversive, challenging, counter-cultural. This is a source of great strength and creativity. I hope that my work as a rabbi is a reflection of my continuing growth and learning to be present, compassionate and deliberate as I work for greater justice in each of the communities each of us inhabits. Continue reading
Tu B’Av is a little-known Jewish holiday, coming just six days after the mournful commemoration of tragedy during Tisha B’Av. In ancient times, Tu B’Av was a joyous matchmaking holiday for unmarried young women; in our day, it’s observed as a more general day of love. In the spirit of this holiday, we present you with snapshots of three well-known, real-life, queer and Jewish love stories.
Tony Kushner is a playwright and author, best known for his epic play Angels in America, while Mark Harris is an author and editor whose focus has been Hollywood and cinema. So it is perhaps not that surprising that the two reported that their first dates, way back in the late ‘90s, took place “in theaters of bookstores.” In 2003, this couple had the distinction of being the first same-sex commitment ceremony to be featured in an extended column in the Vows section of wedding announcements of The New York Times. (The very first same-sex couple to be featured in The New York Times wedding announcements was another Jewish couple, Steven Goldstein and his partner Daniel Gross, on Sunday, September 1, 2002. Their wedding website www.Celebrating10.com is still up and features the original announcement. Thanks Steve for sending us this!)
They sometimes speak or present together under the title “Too Tall Blondes,” and for Kate Bornstein, author, playwright, and gender theorist, and her partner Barbara Carrellas, author, sex educator, and university lecturer, it seems a fitting title. This couple resides in New York City (with a house full of pets), but between teaching, presenting workshops, writing, and appearing in online classes, their combined reach is huge. (You can read more about Kate, one of our LGBT Jewish Heroes, here!
A Jewish power couple if ever there were one: Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, have only been romantically linked since December 2012, but they’re already a familiar site together at public events throughout New York, as well as in the Jewish press. Rabbi Kleinbaum is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, one of the oldest LGBT synagogues.
This spring, Rabbi Jason Klein was elected to lead the Reconstructionist movement’s rabbinic association, making him the first out gay man to hold such a national position in the U.S. Keshet caught up with Rabbi Klein to discuss his experiences in Jewish institutions, the next steps for inclusion at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (RRA), and what it’s been like to be out.
You’re the first openly gay man to lead a national rabbinic association in the U.S. What has the response been like? Among Reconstructionist Jews, and also across the Jewish community?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive from Jews of all denominational identifications. I have been struck by some younger people’s feeling affirmed in their own identities as LGBTQ or allies and the responses of elders who have watched so much change happen around creating warm communities just within the span of their adult lives. Continue reading
Every June people across the world celebrate LGBTQ Pride. As LGBTQ Jews and allies, we are proud of our own identities and those of our loved ones. Whether you are looking for a Pride Shabbat service, a fabulous Jewish sign to hold in a Pride Parade, or just want some inspiration, you’ve come to the right place!
Visit our Pride Events page for a list of Jewish LGBTQ Pride events happening across the United States (and a few in Canada too!) this June.
Download your own Pride posters, stickers, and a graphic to help you celebrate and show your pride!
III. Sermons and D’vrei Torah
Today Harvey Milk would have been 83. Instead, this gay Jewish hero, who was cut down in his prime, remains a vaunted icon of gay rights across the globe. On his birthday, now known as Harvey Milk Day, we celebrate his work, life, and lasting legacy. At Keshet, we’re honoring his life and achievements by bringing you some rare photos of this pioneer.
After a career that included the Navy, high school teaching, and time on Wall Street, Milk moved to San Francisco. By 1973, he launched his first run for City Supervisor – and lost. In 1977, after his third attempt, he won the seat, becoming the first openly gay man ever elected to major public office in America. Harvey Milk was assassinated in 1978. His legacy of working for the civil rights of all and building coalitions among diverse groups continues to inspire and inform social justice work today. Enjoy this photo essay in honor of Harvey Milk, and check out events happening near you on the Harvey Milk Day website.
Special thanks to the James C. Hormel Gay & Lesbian Center San Francisco Public Library for access to these wonderful photos.
Here at the Keshet blog, we’re celebrating Mother’s Day with a reminder of how important parental love and support are. So here’s our Mother’s Day gift to you (and your mom(s)): a one minute video by our friends at The Righteous Conversations Project, a project of Remember Us, which brings together Holocaust survivors and teens to speak up about injustice through new media workshops and community engagements. In this short clip, two teens compare notes about their supportive, if slightly overbearing, parents. As these teens remind us, the things that bind families together, like love, concern, and even a little loving parental nagging, are pretty universal.
We know that for many families, Mother’s Day can be a tough time. If you know a mom (or dad) with an LGBTQ child who would like another parent to talk to, let them know about the Keshet Parent & Family Connection, a confidential peer support program for parents and family members of LGBTQ Jews.
Welcome to our fifth installment of “Queer Clergy in Action,” spotlighting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rabbis and cantors. This behind-the-scenes look at queer clergy covers both those who have paved the way and up-and-coming trailblazers. Here, we interview Rabbi Elliot Kukla.
Coming out can be really difficult and it can be especially risky for those who are, or aspire to be, clergy. Nonetheless, this vanguard has helped open up the Jewish world, and we’re very proud to shine an extra light on their work, their ideas, and their stories. You can also read the first four posts in this series, about Rabbi Steve Greenberg, Rabbi Reuben Zellman, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, and Rabbi Denise Eger.
How has being LGBTQ informed your work as a rabbi?
I work in a team of four rabbis at the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center, providing spiritual care to those struggling with grieving, illness, or dying, and I also direct the Healing Center’s hospice spiritual care volunteer program. The experience of being a transgender and queer person with a body and life trajectory outside of mainstream expectations is what led me to this work. I don’t consider being queer or trans a form of illness, but for me, being transgender and building a queer family and community has theological implications that also impact the way I respond to illness and aging. If we really embrace the idea that all of our various genders and desires were created in the image of God, we must believe that God wants and needs difference. This means that all bodies as they stretch, sag, shrink, grow, age and heal are divine; and all phases in the life cycle are holy and deserve sacred attention and care. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
One day each year, students across the country pledge to take some form of silence.
In the hallways, in the cafeteria, they silence themselves in order to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment. Below are some resources to help your school, youth group, or Hebrew school class participate in this national Day of Silence.
GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, has a series of good videos on what the Day of Silence means and why it’s so important to LGBTQ teens and their allies alike. You can also find an a great assortment of resources for bringing the Day of Silence to your community.
- The Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund (the Federation for San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma counties) offers a variety of resources – including organizing tips, information on how to find or start a Gay-Straight Alliance, and suggestions for post-Day of Silence programming, that can work well in a Jewish setting.
- In this essay, a Jewish teen details the homophobia he sees in Jewish youth culture. Share this essay and discuss with your youth group or day school classroom before or after the Day of Silence.
- See how other Jewish teens have committed to ending homophobia and transphobia in their Jewish youth groups. Share the following with teens, and use them to prompt break-out discussions.
- Share this letter written about bullying by coalition of Jewish youth groups.
- Watch a BBYO president explain why creating safe space for Jewish teens is so important to him.
- Listen to a USY president talk about why personal difference is a strength and a virtue. (Be sure to watch the very end!)
- Hear from a group of BBYO teens about why their commitment to stand up for each other is such vital part of their youth group experience.
- For more general information on how to create a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at your Jewish school, and other ways to make Jewish space for teens more inclusive, check out this post for resources and ideas. And if you think it can’t be done, or need a little inspiration to take the first step:
- Read this essay by Amram Altzman how he started a GSA-type club at his Orthodox high school.
- Watch Keshet’s documentary film, Hineini: Coming Out in a Jewish High School, about the formation about the first Gay-Straight Alliance at a Jewish high school.
- Read this article that explores the growing popularity of Gay-Straight Alliances at Jewish schools.
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 spoke with Rabbi Jill Borodin of Congregation Beth Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Seattle, WA, to find out how this congregation has evolved on the issue of LGBT inclusion, to become a place where the rabbi performs same-sex marriages and speaks publicly in support of marriage equality. Learn more about Congregation Beth Shalom’s LGBT inclusive offerings here.
What does Congregation Beth Shalom do for same-sex commitment ceremonies and weddings? I’ve read that in 2001 your predecessor took a year to deliberate whether or not to perform a commitment ceremony. I know you weren’t at Beth Shalom then, but can you speak to where you are as a community now? What did the process of that evolution look like? Was there community support?
You’re right – we do both commitment ceremonies and same-sex weddings. My predecessor did one, but I think that’s because he was only asked once. I’ve done three in the last eight years, and I’ve got another one on the calendar. Continue reading