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. Take a look at this story of Tachlis of Inclusion, which we hope you find inspiring as we prepare for Transgender Day of Remembrance. Be sure to check out other stories of gender in our Jewish community including: “Transgender 101,” our look at the importance of voting, and the personal reflections of two parents looking at gender roles at daycare.
For the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center (PJTC), hiring Rabbi Becky Silverstein as their Education Director just made sense. A recent graduate of Hebrew College, Rabbi Silverstein brought the knowledge, the passion, and the training that the position required. He won over the board, the staff, and the community.
What made things just a little bit complicated was the fact that Rabbi Silverstein is transgender—and one of the very few openly transgender rabbis in America.
Keshet has talked with Rabbi Silverstein before to get his perspective on the learning curve associated with being, as a rabbi, a public transgender figure. For Rabbi Silverstein, “As a person who identifies as trans and genderqueer and whose pronoun (intentionally) creates dissonance with my name, I try and remember that those whom I am encountering may be going through their own process. This requires approaching everyone with compassion and an ear to understanding where they are so that I can respond appropriately.”
We recently talked with Eitan Trabin, PJTC’s Executive Director, about the tachlis of hiring Rabbi Silverstein. Trabin shared how the hiring process developed, “during our first interview with Becky, his pronouns were established. There wasn’t a dramatic moment of head scratching, but after the interview our hiring board took a moment to discuss. I knew we could talk about Becky being trans in terms of learning about it, but this wasn’t going to be something to weigh in terms of hiring. I probably had a dozen conversations with people about transgender education during the hiring process. Most of the people on the hiring committee said, ‘Oh, okay.’ And others said, ‘Oh, okay… so what’s that?’ So, there was education that we had to do right away.”
“There was a little bit of a conversion of ‘How would this be taken by the congregation?’ and the overwhelming weight was given to the fact that the Rabbi Silverstein was an exceptional candidate, no matter what. Which is why we offered him the position.”
When Rabbi Silverstein offered his thoughts on the hiring process he shared that PJTC being so open to discussing pronouns, gender, and creating a dialogue was crucial to feeling like they could be a professional and personal Jewish home for him. Concrete steps that PJTC took made it clear that they were doing their part to be an inclusive and safe place.
After Rabbi Silverstein was hired, one staff member came to Trabin and said, “I’m really excited, I met Becky, I think he’s awesome, and I’d love to know more. This is new to me, I don’t want to do the wrong thing and say the wrong thing, and I want to learn more especially since people will come to me with questions.”
Trabin and PJTC decided to hold a “Gender 101” training for their staff. They brought together the staff members who regularly interface with the community and congregation, with the idea that they should understand some basic ideas about gender identity, as well as how to make PJTC more trans friendly. With the help of Dr. Joel Kushner from The Institute for Judaism, Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the staff discussed lexicon, gender identity, and sexual orientation. They examined the practicalities of being an inclusive environment, and looked at how ideas of gender may or may not play out in the synagogue. Together, as a staff and a community, they discussed what could be done to make PJTC more trans friendly.
Trabin felt “the training was successful—folks who were there have been respectful about pronouns. It’s like learning a new language—and you have to think about learning styles and what makes sense. Sometimes it’s not a comment on openness, it’s a matter of understanding what learned behavior there is to overcome, so it might take longer for some people. It’s okay that not everyone gets everything, or that we don’t have all the terminology down. What was important was what this would mean when Rabbi Silverstein arrives, and it was easier to discuss in the concrete than the abstract.”
“Where the rubber hits the road and where it makes a difference is being willing to make mistakes, learn, and be open,” Trabin shared.
“Tachlis is learning vocabulary, and thinking about how we gender kids, what we do with bathrooms, even if all it comes down to is hearing voices and elevating voices. Sometimes there’s some repetitiveness that is required—we have to keep asking the questions: are we being successful? Are we shifting the conversation? What it would be like if a gender non-conforming kid walks in? How will they feel?”
Next up on PJTC’s inclusion docket? Broader congregational education on gender and sexuality, and a follow-up for staff and allies on how to correct people’s misuse of pronouns.
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- Transgender Day of Remembrance is November 20th. How will your Jewish community observe the day?
With Simchat Torah around the corner, we’re thinking about the resources the Jewish community needs to be more inclusive, welcoming, and a safer environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning individuals and families.
A special thanks to Keshet educator Suzie Schwartz Jacobson for helping to compile these resources!
Make sure your library has current LGBT books and media:
Often times when students are questioning their sexuality or gender identification, they will turn to the internet for information and support. But, they may also look for books, movies, magazines, and other materials. Be sure to have updated and current LGBT resources, and have them readily available and prominently displayed. Librarians, educators, and other administrators should be made aware of these resources and be available to help LGBT students find and access them. Click here, here, here, and here for lists of LGBT books and media.
Provide training for your staff, lay leadership, and community members:
Once your organization has committed to the full inclusion of LGBT individuals and families it is important to provide your community with the skills they need to put these goals into action. In a training, all stakeholders will have the opportunity to gain tools and resources, reflect on the needs of your population, and learn more about how to create inclusive community. Click here to find out more about Keshet trainings.
Collect and share resources on Jewish LGBT issues and topics:
Luckily, you do not need to reinvent the wheel when introducing LGBT issues and ideas to your community. There are many resources out there to help you.
Keshet provides many resources on our website including:
- Torah Queeries, textual interpretation of Torah and Jewish holidays from a LGBT lens;
- “Wrestling with God,” a collection of classical texts that deal with sexuality, gender and theology;
- and Trans Texts, a resource created by Rabbis Reuben Zellman and Elliot Kukla, which explores what traditional Jewish texts have to say about transgender and gender nonconforming experiences and gender in general.
And, here are a few other resources that may be relevant to your institution:
- Trans Torah, a website that seeks to help institutions like you become more trans- inclusive, and collects excellent resources, rituals, videos and text studies;
- The Institute for Judaism, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, which has many useful articles and other resources;
- The It Gets Better Project, a collection of videos and resources gathered to show teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone;
- Jewish Organization Equality Index, tools for Jewish institutions wanting to be more inclusive of LGBT individuals;
- National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Institute for Welcoming Resources, resources for LGBT inclusion in many religions;
- and “I am: Trans People Speak”, a collection of trans and ally voices from a range of personal experiences.
Make sure your institution is in Keshet’s Equality Guide:
The Equality Guide is simple way for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Jews and their loved ones to find inclusive Jewish clergy and institutions and learn about their policies and practices.
What steps will you be taking to make your Jewish community more inclusive?
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With the High Holidays right around the corner, now is a great time to be thinking about the message your synagogue sends to new and potential members about LGBT inclusion.
Here are several suggestions for how to make your synagogue a more inclusive, welcoming, and safe environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning individuals and families. This guide is neither exhaustive, nor does it apply to every synagogue community. A special thanks to Keshet educator Suzie Schwartz Jacobson for helping to compile the original, more detailed version of this guide—which will be published on the Keshet website soon.
Values and Policies:
Here a few suggestions to help you express your values clearly through your synagogue administration:
- Make inclusion of LGBT members a core value of your synagogue: Before you can examine how your synagogue could become more inclusive of LGBT individuals and families, there must be a commitment and buy in on the part of all staff, lay leaders, and members for this to be a core value of your community. It is essential that this value be explicitly expressed and discussed openly. One way to do this is to open up public and communal discussions about LGBT inclusion at the beginning of the year, or when discussing the vision and values of your synagogue. LGBT inclusion must be discussed by your board, professional staff, clergy, committees and lay leadership, general membership and in your religious school and teen programming
- Make sure your registration forms are inclusive of LGBT families and individuals: When crafting registration forms and other documentation, be sure that they are welcoming to a spouse or partner of any gender. Rather than marking only “mother” and “father,” or “husband” and “wife,” write “parent 1” and “parent 2,” or “partner 1” and “partner 2,” etc. If you need to ask for the gender of an individual, allow room for a write in category if the member identifies outside of the two binary genders (male and female), or avoid asking for gender if the information is not necessary.
Language and Communication:
As a synagogue professional or lay leader you are an important role model in the lives of the individuals in your community.
- Do not assume the sexuality or gender of your members: When leaders make incorrect assumptions about the sexuality or gender of community members we risk rendering gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning individuals invisible. For example, when talking to members of all ages about dating, don’t assume that they are interested in the “opposite sex”, and rather than referring to members as “ladies,” “girls,” or “boys,” ask them how they identify, and what words they use to describe themselves.
In order to achieve your goals, your values of equality and inclusivity must be embedded in the everyday culture and activity of your synagogue.
- Talk together about how to make your synagogue more supportive of LGBT members…often: The only true way to create a fully open and supportive community is to be committed to values of equality and respect all the time, every day. Have your rabbi, professionals, lay leaders and members check in regularly and discuss how your synagogue is meeting its goals and achieving its values.
Torah and Ritual Moments:
Our commitment to the inclusion of LGBT Jews is not just a secular value, but a Jewish value.
- LGBT issues on the bimah: Invite clergy or others speak from the bimah about Jewish values of equality, inclusivity, and safety for all LGBT individuals. This is an important way to teach about LGBT issues, encourage sensitivity regarding sexuality and gender expression and also publicly discuss your synagogue’s commitment to its LGBT members. Click here and enter the keyword “sermon” to see examples of sermons on LGBT themes.
- Provide adult learning on LGBT topics: When appropriate, integrate LGBT issues and topics into lectures and learning series in order to see how inclusivity is essential to our Judaism. When discussing Jewish ethics around love and sex, do not just refer to heterosexual dating and marriage, but include a full spectrum of relationships and ways to experience human love. When studying Torah, understand the text using a LGBT lens. One way to do this is to use the book Torah Queeries, or Keshet’s Torah Queeries online database, which provides a LGBT reading of each parasha (torah portion). You can also introduce or bring in LGBT scholars who interpret Torah from a LGBT perspective (Here is an example from Dr. Joy Ladin, and one from Rabbi Steven Greenberg. When studying Jewish history, include the history of LGBT Jews (for example: http://lgbtjewishheroes.org/). And start a conversation about Keshet’s Seven Jewish Values for Inclusive Community with your community. These are just a few examples of the many possible ways to teach about LGBT and Jewish topics.
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Want to make your organization more inclusive? Take a look at the images you include in your materials- are you representing the diversity of your community? CJP, Greater Boston’s Jewish Federation, just released their 2015 calendar and with it, showed their commitment to inclusion.
The month of August features two brides signing their ketubah. (And, as an added bonus, these brides are the daughter and daughter-in-law of a founding member of the Keshet Parent & Family Connection program and Keshet board member!) We sat down with Julie Somers, CJP’s Vice President of Marketing, to get the scoop on the calendar.
CJP profiles so many diverse organizations and causes in the yearly calendar. What is the goal of project?
The CJP Calendar helps tell the story of CJP’s mission, the people we touch and the organizations that partner with us to make an impact in the Jewish community and beyond. And, of course it’s very practical as it serves to provide information on the dates of all the Jewish holidays!
Why was it important to CJP to include an LGBT moment in the calendar?
Our community is diverse and we want people to see themselves on the pages of our calendar.
What was the process for selecting the photo of Jewish two brides?
In our efforts to include the diversity of the Jewish community throughout the calendar, we reached out to Keshet to find a photo of a same sex couple celebrating a ritual of Jewish life.
This powerful image captured the beauty of a Jewish wedding ceremony. Last year we featured a family with two moms who were hanging a mezuzah. There wasn’t any pushback- CJP has been at the forefront of establishing an inclusive community for LGBT since 1998 when we developed a team of LGBT leaders to create programming. Along with Keshet, we support a community where Jews of all gender identities and sexual orientations are valued and integrated in Jewish communal life. I have heard it said that CJP opened the door and Keshet opened the entire house!
What other ways does CJP work towards inclusion and ensuring a strong and welcoming Jewish community?
CJP and our partners have numerous programs that strive to create an inclusive community where everyone feels welcome. This includes programs for interfaith couples and families, work that supports people with disabilities in the areas of education, recreation, employment, housing and synagogue inclusion, and strong engagement offerings for our Young Adult community as well as services and programs for our seniors.
Where can someone get their hands on a CJP Calendar?
Calendars can be requested via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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As Pride month comes to a close, we asked a few rabbis to share their thoughts on their own LGBTQ communities. Let us know in the comments, what about inclusion work makes you proud?
DO YOU OFFICIATE AT SAME-SEX MARRIAGES?: Rabbi Mitchell Chefitz
In 2001, Temple Israel of Greater Miami, a prestigious center-city congregation, had fallen on hard times. In three decades membership had fallen from 1,800 households to 300 something. The pulpit was vacant. Career wise, it was a stepping stone to nowhere.
I had been in Miami 25 years, five as associate rabbi at a conventional suburban Reform congregation, 20 as director of the Havurah of South Florida, a progressive outreach program.
I was on sabbatical from the Havurah, considering my next direction, when friends brought me to Temple Israel. I saw a physical plant capable of becoming the great Jewish center South Florida lacked. Within the congregation was a nascent havurah, Ruach, formed by and for the LGBT community.
I began a series of interviews to see if there might be a match between me and the congregation.
One question surprised me, because it was asked by an old-time member. “Rabbi, do you officiate at same-sex marriages?”
I didn’t know what answer he expected. Perhaps he was from the old institution, resentful of the gay intrusion. Perhaps he was a member of Ruach itself. Either way, my answer surprised him and the others around the table.
“It’s easy to do a same-sex marriage,” I said. “The difficulty is same-sex divorce.”
More than a decade before, two women from the Havurah of South Florida had told me they would like to be married. We gathered the Havurah and presented the issue. Ultimately, we realized we couldn’t do a marriage unless we could also do a divorce. It took weeks to prepare durable parties of attorney and other legal documents to protect the union. We also prepared one additional document, an agreement, should there be a separation, to come back to a rabbi for a bill of divorce, to allow the individuals to marry another person, should they choose.
With this work done, we celebrated that marriage.
I described that incident to the interviewing committee.
“With that work done,” I said, “I will surely officiate at a same-sex marriage.”
I got the job.
WHY I’M PROUD: Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin
I am proud of my synagogue, Israel Center of Conservative Judaism, because our members don’t care about whether or not someone is gay or straight, or where they fall on spectrum. It is irrelevant and a non issue when someone walks in our doors. ICCJ is a place where people can flourish in a Jewish community, no matter their sexual orientation.
Looking back ten years ago, before we had any out LGBT members, we created membership forms with spaces for “Adult One” and “Adult Two.” This way if someone who identified as LGBT wanted to join our community, they would feel welcome from the first Shalom.
When I teach, I bring in Jewish LGBT writers, because they are part of the larger Jewish conversation. This way, the shul is a microcosm of the larger Jewish world.
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
“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.”
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.