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!
•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.)
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.
This 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?
- The website NeoHasid.org offers a different (and egalitarian!) take on the traditional text used to invite ushpizin into the sukkah.
- Lilith Magazine offers seven “Eco-Ushpizin” to join you.
- Plus, it’s traditional to invite one’s ancestors into the Sukkah, so consider making and hanging a family tree! InterfaithFamily.com has some great suggestions.
Plus, tell us who else you’re bringing into your sukkah with you. Who are the LGBT heroes in your life?
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.
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.
It’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.)
This 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!”
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.
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.
This 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.
What’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.
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.
Robbins – 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.
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.”
The daughter 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
As someone who is involved in Jewish LGBT work, I am often surprised people tell me that they had no idea that we Jews have queer clergy. Not only are we very proud of the work they do, but they’ve also been around (openly, anyway) for over a quarter century !
With this post, we’re launching a new column spotlighting a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender rabbi or cantor. This behind-the-scenes look at queer clergy will cover both those who have paved the way, and those who are the up-and-coming trailblazers. It can be hard to come out, 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 excited to shine an extra light on their work, their ideas, and their stories.
In 1999, Rabbi Steve Greenberg became the first out Orthodox rabbi. Five years later, Rabbi Greenberg published Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition, a book that is not only an new look at depictions of same-sex relationships in Jewish sacred texts, but also examines these relationships in Jewish poetry and case law.
We’re proud to partner with Rabbi Greenberg in his work to bring full inclusion to the full spectrum of the Jewish community.
How has being gay informed your work as a rabbi?
I’m not sure being gay informs anything. It conditions things. It conditioned my growing up in a way that was sometimes scary, and very often confusing and alienating—as in making me feel like an alien in my own family and community.
For some people the experience of alienation leads to spiritual searching, for others it does not. For me, it did. Seeking a haven in ancient books, in a “child of a survivor” historical consciousness, and in God made perfect sense when I didn’t feel so at home in the world. While it was not the only cause for my budding interest in Torah study, the promise of a world very different from the All-American hyper-hetero teen world of the 1970s was surely part of my story.
My decision to become a rabbi was all about my love of the learning and the living realities of a religious community. I was able to sublimate and not really attend to my inner life for years. When I was twenty and in a yeshiva in Israel I could no longer deny the power of my feelings. Confused and scared, I went to a Haredi rabbi, the recently passed posek (high-level decisor of Jewish law), Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashuv. Quite surprisingly, he calmed me and gave me hope by describing my illicit desires as a power of love. I felt at the time I was bisexual enough to make a life with a woman. For fifteen years I dated women hoping this is what would happen. Once the fantasy of this way out evaporated, I realized that my gayness was either going to end my rabbinic career or shape it. I chose the latter.
Hillel International is the largest Jewish group for college students, with campus presence at over 550 schools in the U.S., Russia, Israel and South America. Hillel has been making big strides towards LGBT inclusion in the past few years, reconfiguring their goals for connecting with students to make sure they’re reaching a diverse spectrum of young adults, and finding ways to connect that are more nuanced and intentional than just getting them into the Hillel building. As part of their efforts, Hillel invited Andrea Jacobs, Keshet’s Director of Education, to the annual Hillel Institute at Washington University in St. Louis — a gathering of Hillel directors, staff, and student leaders from across the country. We talked with Andrea after the conference. Here’s a condensed version of our conversation.
It’s clear Hillel has really changed the way it imagines success. You could see that even from the groups at the “community organization fair,” where everyone from Israel advocacy groups to social media consultants to Keshet, was represented. At the fair, all the representatives of these groups answered questions and met one-on-one with Hillel staff and leaders. I spoke with dozens of people, but the issues that really jumped out at me came from self-identified LGBTQ Hillel staff. And by self-identified, I mean they were pulling me aside, coming out to me, and then asking these pressing questions:
- How do I be a source of support and safety without becoming “that gay Hillel staff person”?
- How do I engage with other Hillel staff or campus Jewish professionals who are Orthodox?
- How do I navigate the natural ebb and flow of student leadership while maintaining inclusion as an important issue?
It was really exciting to hear young professionals discussing these important issues and I’m so glad that we were there to be a touchstone, to encourage them to voice these questions and concerns. I’ve seen situations like this before where the educators know it’s important, the institution knows it’s important, but there’s always a lot going on, and these questions about how to create an inclusive environment for staff and students get left out in the crunch for time and competing priorities.
But when Keshet’s there, our presence creates the space where these conversations happen. That’s what we do.
With that in mind, I’d mobilized our network in the weeks and months leading up to the summit. Look, I’d said to educators and campus professionals, there’s nothing official for LGBTQ and allied staff on the docket. We’re going to have a meeting the day after the community organization fair, even if it’s unofficial, so please invite the people you know will be looking for something like this. And I reached out to folks who could make sure Hillel found a place for us to meet. In the end about twenty Hillel professionals showed up!
My goal was to help these folks create a connection with each other, to start recognizing and using each other as a resource, so I threw all of those questions I’d collected from the day out to them as a group. We all sat around the table and started tackling some of those issues: how can Hillel and Hillel professionals, who come from this big-tent, pluralistic organization, reach out to queer students, and make sure queer students have safe and accepting space within Hillel, while still doing everything else Hillel does?
All of these amazing out rabbis and senior staff began to talk about their experiences and brainstorm with this new network. It was so exciting, not only to hear their stories of both success and failure but also to see younger staff realize that they’re not alone; there are lots of people who have gone through these same issues and have a lot of great ideas. Some of the staff gave out general pointers like:
- When you talk to students, you can use your own life as an example.
- If you have a partner, you can talk about your partner!
One rabbi had a whole list of suggestions for how to get Hillel working for LGBT inclusion across an entire college. A lot of campuses are struggling with the issue of housing for trans students right now; that’s a great issue for Hillel to get involved with. Plus, Hillel can be a role model and partner with other faith groups on campus as they work towards LGBT inclusion.
What this conference really brought home for me, yet again, is that sometimes it’s not about the expertise that we bring. Sometimes, it’s about the conversations that we help bring out — out of the closet, out of the hushed whispers, out loud and in public. Those conversations themselves have the power to really change things. The group that came together for this conference is going to work to become a recognized group in Hillel — a formal place for LGBTQ and allied staff and student leaders to come together to discuss, network, brainstorm, and work together. We had a great time at the conference, and the exciting work for next year has already begun!
Looking for a day school that offers materials listing “Parent 1/Parent 2” instead of “Mother/Father”?
Want to find a synagogue that offers all-gender or non-gendered bathrooms?
Seeking a JCC with LGBT events on the calendar?
Keshet’s new Equality Guide is a user-friendly database connecting LGBT Jews and their loved ones to inclusive institutions and clergy across the country. Already, over 700 synagogues, camps, JCCs, rabbis and cantors have listed themselves.
But we know there are more of you out there—just as we know that there are plenty of people already looking for an institution near them. So we invite you to come peruse, search, look around, and keep us in mind. Plus, please make sure that the inclusive institutions in your life get added to the Guide! Just click here to get started.
Plus, we’re always looking to add more information, making the guide a stronger and better resource all the time. So if you’re proud of the fact that your campus Hillel has out LGBT staff, if you’re a rabbi who would love to perform same-sex kiddushin, if your synagogue has programming for LGBT Jews—please let us know!
Talking to Joy Ladin is like speaking with your favorite professor from college — the one who wove words in a way that was simply magical, who would drop bits of wisdom into a conversation that you wouldn’t even notice until days later, when you remember them suddenly. She is clearly an incredible teacher.
And that makes sense, because Joy is that professor for plenty of students at the Stern College for Women, part of New York’s Yeshiva University. Joy made headlines in 2007 when she became the first out transgender professor at an Orthodox institution.
She is the David and Ruth Gottesman Professor of English at Yeshiva University. And lucky for us, she also joined Keshet’s board this spring. You can see Joy speak at a number of upcoming engagements, including at the Yale Hillel on September 11, 2012. (Exact time and location will soon be posted here.)
Through the Door of Life is a remarkable, soul-baring memoir. You chose a title that immediately lets people know that your story is a Jewish one. For anyone who hasn’t read your book yet, can you explain briefly how Judaism structured your “journey between genders”?
I grew up as a trans kid in hiding, but I also grew up as what my rabbi, Jill Hammer, calls a “feral Jew.” I was very drawn to Judaism, but my family wasn’t religious. It was very freeing, actually. I didn’t have anyone else’s version of Judaism to push against, so I could make it up as I went along, and not feel like I was bound to those Bronze Age laws.
It was the portrayal of God in the Torah that really grabbed me. God is an alien — in the sci-fi sense — and I felt like an alien. God has trouble communicating, and is very lonely, and has no real body and that’s how I felt, as a kid. So much of holiness is about how people relate to one another. The core of Judaism is this longing for contact with humanity despite all of the obstacles that our bodies put in the way.
In a profound way, Judaism gave me a language to express my longing to relate to other people.