Author Archives: Melanie Weiss

I AM: Trans People Speak

As October moves on into November, we move from LGBT Month into Trans Awareness Month, culminating in Transgender Day of Remembrance. (You can find much more about Trans Day of Remembrance in our Jewish Guide to Marking Transgender Day of Remembrance.) Check out this series of videos of transgender Jews and allies created as part of the “I AM: Trans People Speak” project. We’re grateful to Keshet members Alex, David, Stacy, Stephanie, and Suzie for sharing their lives with us and to the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition for this project.

Alex

“Eventually, [my job] became unbearable because the senior staff were making my life miserable because I was open about being transgender. So even somebody like myself, with all these credentials and all this training and all this experience — still gets discriminated against. I can’t reach my full potential, because of other people’s discrimination against me. [Judaism] connects me throughout the generations, with people all over the world. …Being Jewish has helped me in dealing with being transgender.”

 

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Posted on November 15, 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

The Jewish Organization Equality Index Launches!

A new report on LGBT inclusion in the Jewish community was just released and it’s already making waves. The Jewish Organization Equality Index by the Human Rights Campaign is the first-ever index of inclusive policies and practices in a faith-based community and nonprofit sector. (The report is modeled on HRC’s groundbreaking indices in the corporate and healthcare sectors and it was Initiated by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, together with The Morningstar Foundation, Stuart Kurlander and an anonymous donor

The Index creates a snapshot of how Jewish organizations — from big nonprofits to local groups and synagogues — address inclusion of LGBT members, clients, employees and volunteers.

The report looked at three areas:

  1. Organizational Inclusion Efforts: Actions and programs that encourage contributions from the LGBT community and foster diversity and an inclusive environment within the workplace.
  2. Community/Client Engagement: Programs specifically for LGBT members and clients, including programs and facilities designed for youth and the elderly.
  3. Workplace Policies: Policies and programs in place that support LGBT employees of the organization.

So, how are we doing as a Jewish community?

The good news:

  • 50% of the organizations achieved the top score of “Inclusion.”
  • 66% of organizations actively reach out to the LGBT community to attract members or clients.
  • This is a bit of a mixed bag, but encouraging. 65% of the organizations with a non-discrimination policy include “sexual orientation” in their policy. Only 30% of those also include “gender identity or expression.”

But, not surprisingly, the report revealed that there is a lot more work to be done.

  • Only 33% of the organizations that serve youth have an anti-bullying policy.
  • 59% of participating organizations have not completed diversity or inclusion training.
  • 51% do not provide LGBT-specific programming.
  • 79% have not specifically targeted LGBT individuals in employee recruitment efforts in the past three years.

Check out the #JLGBT page where you can download the report, grab some infographics, and find lots of ways to get involved (both on- and off-line). You can also follow the discussion on Twitter using #jlgbt.

 

Posted on November 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

Marriage Equality: So What Happened?!

“Justice, Justice shall you pursue,” exhorts Deuteronomy. Today, we woke up in a more just nation, as the four states that voted on marriage equality all chose in favor of extending (or, in the case of Minnesota, not limiting) the civil rights of LGBT Americans. Yes, marriage equality went four-for-four: a clean sweep for justice!

Mainers United for Marriage urge vote for Yes on 1

Mainers United for Marriage urge vote for Yes on 1

Over the past few weeks, we’ve run posts with words of Torah in favor of marriage equality in the four states where it was on the ballot: Maryland, Minnesota, Washington, and Maine. So…nu? How did it all unfold, exactly?

Here’s what happened, state-by-state.

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Posted on November 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

The Tachlis of Inclusion: Beth El Synagogue Center

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. 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 inaugural post in this series, on the Israel Center for Conservative Judaism, here.

Here, Elise Richman of Beth El Synagogue Center in New Rochelle, New York, shares what happened when they invited writer gay Jewish author Wayne Hoffman to speak at the synagogue for one of their first LGBT events. Special thanks to Rika Levin for sharing this with us. (Westchester County, where New Rochelle is located, is the 7th largest Jewish population in the country and one of the the fastest growing Jewish populations!)

Beth El synagogue

Beth El Synagogue Center

On a recent Sunday, we all woke up a little more tired than usual. After all, we had to change our clocks and lost an hour of our precious time. Time means different things to different people, but this Sunday the large group of people gathered at Beth El Synagogue Center learned even more about the value of time as we “spring forward.” I refer not to the changing of the clocks, but to an effort to change perceptions, as Beth El strives to communicate a message of inclusiveness to its diverse Jewish community. More than 70 individuals, including over a dozen teens, gathered to hear the gay Jewish author Wayne Hoffman speak about his experience integrating these dual identities in his own life and work. Continue reading

Posted on November 2, 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

Don’t Touch that Dial! It’s a Round-Up of LGBT Jewish Election News

Election fever is heating up as we head into the final stretch of the 2012 election season. Here is a round-up of articles and resources on LGBT Jewish issues and political players. So enjoy – and vote on November 6th!

Maryland Marriage Equality sign

Maryland Marriage Equality sign. Image from Jews United for Justice.

Marriage Equality is up for a vote in four states this November: Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington. Marriage Equality USA has a great list of organizations and resources for religious people, including Jews, to connect with in order to support marriage equality. You can read sermons from rabbis and lay leaders in each of the four states that will be voting on our rights this November – Words of Torah from Maryland, Minnesota, Washington, and Maine.

(For a thorough examination of marriage equality issues this year, check out Naomi Goldberg’s post on the topic, The Year of Marriage Equality.)

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Posted on October 25, 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

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

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’s led currently the spiritual leader of Pnai Or in Portland, OR and before that 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 ex Danny 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

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

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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

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

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

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