It’s Wedding Season!

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As May rolls along, one thing is very clear: wedding season is here.

With so many positive steps towards marriage equality occurring throughout the country we thought we’d round up a few of our favorite gender neutral/same-sex traditions.

A Jewish Wedding Story: We love this G-dcast video of Margee and her partner’s traditional same-sex marriage. It was important to the couple to have a traditional Jewish wedding, and it took a lot of conversations to decide why and how to use traditional, Hebrew, religious language as a way to affirm their unique place in the Jewish community.

Queering Conventions —In Style: Buzzfeed has 11 ways to reinvent old wedding traditions with an LGBTQ twist. Our favorite? Their suggestion to get a new poem with “something old, something queer. Something borrowed, something dear.

16 Dapper Brides Who Said No To A Dress: Who could resist these fantastic brides who defined their own style with bow ties, vests, and suspenders!

A Proposal at Pride: June isn’t just wedding season—it’s also LGBTQ Pride month! If you’re looking for some wedding inspiration, read Josh and Aden’s story. The two met at a Keshet Shabbat dinner and Aden proposed at last year’s Pride parade in Boston!

The Photographer: Last February our own Keshet blog manager (and wedding photographer!) Jordyn Rozensky took the time to reflect on how she could make her wedding business as inclusive as possible. There are some great ways to think about approaching weddings as something other than “all about the bride.” (And, it’s a helpful reminder that even those of us who work for LGBTQ inclusion and equality on a daily basis have more to learn.)

The Equality Guide: Now that you have your planning down, don’t forget to check out Keshet’s Equality Guide for listings of rabbis and synagogues who welcome same-sex celebrations. (And, if you happen to know a synagogue that isn’t on our list, be sure to point it out to your rabbi!)

The Marriage Project: Check out our library of marriage materials! The Marriage Project includes liturgy, guidelines, and sample rituals for clergy and couples interested in infusing unions of LGBTQ couples with Jewish tradition.

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Posted on May 27, 2015

How Will Your Jewish Organization Celebrate Pride Month?

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June is Pride Month, and it’s one of the best opportunities of the year for visibly demonstrating your institution’s commitment to LGBT equality and inclusion. We invite you to join Jewish communities across North America to make a commitment to celebrate LGBT Pride Month.

We have a number of suggestions for ways you can participate, ranging from planning celebratory events to posting a supportive image on Facebook; all you need to do is fill out this quick form to let us know what you are planning for Pride.

If you need inspiration, take a look through some of these stories of LGBTQ Jewish Pride.

Take a look, decide to act, let us know. It’s that simple. If you have questions, let us know. We’re here to help.
Thank you for joining with us in this celebration of LGBT life and the ways it strengthens all of our communities.

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Posted on May 19, 2015

An Open Letter to Mom, From Her Gay Son

Frankie and his mom

In honor of Mother’s Day, I wanted to write a letter to my mom thanking her for the actions she took after I came out. I have never told her how much it really meant to me. I have decided to put this online because I hope it can serve as at least one model for a positive way to react. I do not speak for everyone, but I know for me, she could not have responded more appropriately.

Dear Mom,

I am writing this letter to say thank you. There are two main things I want to thank you for. Each of them has a story. The first is about you and Dad, the second is specifically about you.

It has been three and half a years since I told you I was gay. I know you somehow found out before I told you because you and Dad kept dropping hints. I remember that it was around the time New York legalized marriage because I walked down stairs that morning and you and Dad were so excited to tell me about reading it in the paper and the two of you were both so happy that it happened. I knew for sure then that you two both knew, but I still wasn’t quite ready to tell you.

The first thing I want to say thank you for is one of the first things you did right. Thank you for giving me the time and space to come out on my own terms, to tell you when I was ready. Thank you for working to make our house into a safer space for those few weeks between when you found out and when I felt ready to tell you. Thank you for making it clear that you wanted me to feel that when I was ready, you would accept me, you would still love me.

The second thing I want to thank you for is how you acted after I told you. This is the part that I tell all my friends when I share my coming out story. Logically so, when children come out parents have questions. Your vision for my life probably had to be shifted a bit.  Thank you for not taking that out on me.

Shortly after coming out, I remember being in the car with you one Sunday morning. You had mentioned that you would be busy during the afternoon. Being the inquisitive, somewhat obnoxious teenager I was, I forcefully inquired as to what you were doing. Finally, you told me. You had a PFLAG meeting that afternoon.

Everything about that statement reflects what you did right, Mom. You had questions, but rather than putting them on me, making me have to be a walking encyclopedia and dictionary for what it meant to be gay, you contacted your old friend from Hadassah because you knew she lead the Indianapolis PFLAG chapter.

You sought out, on your own time, in your own way, the help you needed. Even you being hesitant to tell me showed me so much. You didn’t want me to know because you knew your questions and struggle was not about me. You didn’t want me to think even for a moment that you would love me any less, that any of your concerns or confusion was my fault.

You did so much so right, Mom. I am sorry to surprise you a bit with this and put it so publicly on the Internet, but I wanted to both thank you and use what you did as an example. You did what any parent should do when their child comes out to them; you showed me unconditional love. You recognized anything you were going through wasn’t my fault and you took measures to ensure that I would feel comfortable, welcomed, and loved in our family.

Writing this brings tears to my eyes: tears of joy at how fortunate I am to have a mother as caring as you, but also slight tears of sadness at knowing how many kids do not have that same experience. So I say again, thank you Mom for reacting so perfectly, for being so loving, and for allowing me an opportunity to write this and give an example of how to react.

Thank you, Mom.  I love you.

Your son,

Frankie
Are you a parent of an LGBTQ Jewish youth? Need some support or resources? Check out the Keshet Parent & Family Connection! The Keshet Parent & Family Connection is a diverse network of parents and family members of LGBTQ Jews across the country who are available to offer support to other parents dealing with any stage of their child’s coming out process.

Posted on May 7, 2015

My Son, My Hero

my son my hero

“Mom!” My sixteen year old son, Sage, announced excitedly to me at a Bat Mitzvah party this past weekend, a huge smile on his face. “The guy at the ice cream bar called me dude!”

“That’s amazing!” I exclaimed, hugging Sage. “I love you so much!” I whispered into his ear during our embrace.

My son is truly my hero.

In 1999, I gave birth to my first born child, a healthy and perfect beautiful baby girl. The moment I held her, I was filled with love and dreams; dreams of her first day of kindergarten, her first prom, her first kiss, her wedding day as she graced the chuppah in her flowing white dress. I knew my daughter’s future from the moment I met her. She was my mini me…or so I thought.

As this beautiful little girl grew, she filled me with love, joy, excitement, and a little bit of confusion. She was smart, kind, and loving. I wanted to be with her 24/7. I missed her when I was at work. I checked on her a million times after she went to bed each night. There was a bond between us like I had never felt ever before. She was such a part of me.

And yet, she was different.

As other children learned to play together in a typical sort of way, my little girl just never really fit in. She grew anxious and worried. She only wanted to be with me. Other people just didn’t understand her. Teachers said she had trouble making friends. Girl Scout leaders claimed she asked off topic questions and was disruptive to the group.

In middle school, the counselor called her defiant and obstinate. Even the religious school teacher at our Conservative synagogue said that my daughter was rude and inattentive. She was labeled with horrible, terrible words; words that angered me and brought out my inner-mother-lion. I fought for my child.

I sought out services, resources, and information for my child; my beautiful perfect daughter who had begun cutting her arms, starving herself, making herself vomit after eating, and refusing to go to school. My once perfect little girl was now only a shadow of what she had been. Society did not understand her. Even schools and synagogues, the places to which we cried out for help, did not understand my child. We switched religious schools. We switched secular schools—five times. Eventually my child hit bottom. She truly wanted to die.

But I am a mother above all else. My job, the only one that truly has any importance in my life, is to love my children unconditionally and help to keep them safe. I poured all my heart and soul into my broken child. I knew that I would never give up until I could find a way to fix her soul. My once bouncing, bubbly little girl was in the darkest place of her life; a place where the horrible reality was that no one understood who she was at her innermost core; a place where all she really wanted was to permanently melt away.

Yet, as my daughter was trying to give up, I took it upon myself to be her champion and find her some salvation. “I’m always on your side,” I told her often. “I know,” she would reply with a half smile. “But why isn’t anyone else on my side?”

Someone else would be on her side, I just had to find that person. And, eventually, I did. I found that person in the form of a therapist named Nikki.

Nikki immediately bonded to my darling daughter. She saw in my child what I saw; a smart, beautiful, wonderful person who simply needed the right tools to find her way out from darkness. And to Nikki, my child confided her deepest, darkest secret; the reason she cut, and starved, and tried to harm herself. She hated her body, her female body, because my child, my perfect little girl, was really my handsome son.

He just needed to find a way to emerge as his true self. My transgender son needed to make a name for himself in order to find happiness.

Nikki helped my son in ways I can never completely understand. She saved my son’s life. She saved our family. She helped me learn to help my first born. Thus, when Sage finally told me several months ago that he had been living a lie and wanted to start living as the boy he’d always known he was, I breathed a sigh of relief. I finally had an answer. And now, just maybe, my child will not be among the 41% of transgender people who attempt suicide. Now, just maybe, my son can live a happy, normal, long and healthy life as the man he was always meant to be.

My dreams for my son are now different than they were back in 1999. I still think of his prom, his first kiss, and his wedding. But in my dreams he is now wearing a tuxedo and a crew cut instead of a beaded dress with a head full of beautiful curls. And yes, I would be lying if I said that there hasn’t been some sadness and a sense of loss on my part. But those feelings I have are nothing compared to the almost 16 years of pain my son has had to overcome.

And truthfully, as his mama-lion, my job is to love him unconditionally no matter who he loves and who he is. My job title “Mom,” came with only one task; love your children. And that is a task which I take seriously every single moment of every single day.

My son is my hero and always will be. And I will always be there by his side to share in his times of joy and sadness and help guide him to a healthy and happy adulthood.

And so, each morning, I offer my version of the Modeh Ani:

Modeh ani lifanekha melekh chai v’kayam shehechezarta bi nishmahti bechemlah, rabah emunaekha.”

I offer thanks before you, living and eternal G-d, for you have mercifully restored my son’s soul within him. Your faithfulness in my child is great.
Amen.

Are you a parent of an LGBTQ Jewish youth? Need some support or resources? Check out the Keshet Parent & Family Connection! The Keshet Parent & Family Connection is a diverse network of parents and family members of LGBTQ Jews across the country who are available to offer support to other parents dealing with any stage of their child’s coming out process.

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Posted on May 6, 2015

In My Lifetime I Will Have Rights: Marriage Equality & Beyond

Frankie, a college sophomore from Indiana, has been a leader and participant at the Keshet/Hazon LGBTQ & Ally Teen Shabbaton since its creation. For more information about Keshet’s programming for teens click here.

“Never in my lifetime.”

This is a phrase I have become all too familiar with this year in Indiana.

Frankie and fellow participants at the Keshet/Hazon LGBTQ & Ally Teen Shabbaton

Frankie (on left) and fellow participants at the Keshet/Hazon LGBTQ & Ally Teen Shabbaton

From my father, to members of my Jewish and queer community where I go to school in Bloomington, Indiana, none of these individuals believed they would see marriage equality come to the Hoosier State. But, thanks to a court ruling Indiana’s law banning same-sex ceremonies as unconstitutional, couples throughout my state have been finally able to have their loving relationships legally recognized.

However, as happy as I am to be able to see this, as a 20-year old college student, it doesn’t quite mean the same thing to me.

I did believe it would happen in my lifetime, maybe not as soon, but eventually. I have had support from peers and it is much more difficult to find people who oppose equal marriage at my age than to find those who support it. (I am also not looking to be married anytime soon.)

What is important to me is going to school somewhere I feel safe, being able to find a job in a place with both a welcoming Jewish community and a place where I, as a Queer identified person, do not have to fight for my rights.

I, and my peers, may not be in the market for a spouse, but we are in the market for a job and a place to live. While it is phenomenal that I can be married now in Indiana, in many states, and hopefully if the Supreme Court rules on the side of equality in every state, in many places I can still be fired for wearing nail polish to work and be denied the ability to lease an apartment based on my sexual orientation.

Marriage equality is an important, vital fight that may almost be won. But it is not the end.

This past summer I interned for Pride at Work, the AFL-CIO’s LGBTQ constituency group. During my time there, I learned a great deal about the work that still needs to be done in advancing employment rights for those in the LGBTQ community. Soon all couples may be able to have a legally recognized marriage, but not all couples will be able to display their wedding photo proudly at their desk without fear of backlash.

As a college student, these are the pressing rights on my mind.

When I graduate college, I will be looking for a Jewish community to join, but before that will come finding a place where I can feel safe and secure in my rights. A place where I do not have to conceal who I am at that job I hopefully find, or worry that if I ever try and challenge a future landlord that my sexuality could be held over my head. Why would I choose to live somewhere where this could even be a concern?

I have spent my entire life in Indiana, but as long as sexual orientation and gender identity are not legally protected classes, it does not seem like a smart place for me to begin building a future.

The Jewish community has long been an advocate for equal rights, and we as Jews can understand wanting things like employment protection. We value our legally protected right as a religious group to have High Holidays respected, and we believe in the simple but critical way of living life as treating your neighbor and the stranger like you would yourself.

The Jewish community has been a huge supporter as one of the strongest religious voices in the fight for equal marriage. I ask, hope, and truly believe that this community will not stop here. Marriage equality is a great first step, but it is just that one of many steps.

Let us change the phrase from “Not in my lifetime” to “In my lifetime.” In my lifetime, there will be full marriage equality. There will be employment and housing protections. There will be health care rights and LGBTQ will become a protected class in the eyes of the law.

One of my favorite phrases in Judaism is L’dor V’dor, from generation to generation. We as Jews make it a point to create a better world for the generation to come. Let us make a difference. In my lifetime I will have rights. Love and equality will win.

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Posted on April 27, 2015

Six Stories of Marriage Equality

David and Jonathan’s Wedding by Shannen Norman

David and Jonathan’s Wedding by Shannen Norman

Next Tuesday, April 28th, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on marriage equality. The outcome, which will most likely occur in June, will resolve the nation’s legal debates about same-sex marriage.

The Court will hear arguments from cases originating in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee, and will explore whether individual states can limit marriage, and if they must uphold marriages granted in other states.

With all eyes on the Supreme Court, we wanted to revisit six of our favorite stories of marriage, each told from a different—and distinctly Jewish—viewpoint.

After all, at the heart of this debate are people and their love.

From My Orthodox Yeshiva to Standing With My Husband Under the Huppah:
Growing up as an Orthodox Jew, Jonathan wasn’t sure if he’d find a way to make peace with both his Jewish and LGBTQ identity.

How My Wedding Made Me Feel More Jewish and More Gay: So, a rabbi, a Hindu doctor, and two lesbians walk into a country club… Trust us, you’ll want to read this one.

Will You Travel Through Space and Time with Me?: A Proposal at a Pride Parade: Josh and Aden met at a Keshet Shabbat dinner and got engaged at last year’s Pride parade. They plan to marry this October.

Marriage: A Political Act, A Religious Endeavor, A Chance to Celebrate Love: For Abi and Melissa, marriage was the ultimate act of commitment. But finding someone to officiate their same-sex, interfaith wedding wasn’t so easy.

And We March On: 10 Years of Marriage Equality in MA: Sarah and her wife were married twice: once in a religious ceremony in Georgia, and again legally in Massachusetts.

Let Us Come Home: Dan is a gay man from Massachusetts. So, legally, he can marry his fiancé, Keith. The only catch is that Keith is South African – so unlike heterosexual couples, Keith is not allowed to enter the U.S. as Dan’s legal spouse.

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Posted on April 23, 2015

Why Gay-Straight-Alliances Are Needed in Schools

Each April schools across the country observe a Day of Silence, a day dedicated to ending anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment. While we will be silent on our blog on the 17th, today we are bringing you the voice of one Jewish LGBTQ high schooler who is standing up for herself, her rights, and her community by helping Keshet research Gay-Straight Alliances at Jewish high schools. If you’re interested in learning more about the creation of safe spaces in Jewish schools, 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.

picLiving in Boston there has never been a great deal of conflict between my Jewish identity and my queer identity. I have been lucky enough to grow up in communities predominantly comprised of LGBTQ folk and allies—even my rabbi was a lesbian. My congregation, my childhood summer camps, and my high school have all been centered around being open and educated about the infinite spectrum that is gender and sexuality. These accepting and open communities made it relatively easy for me to explore my own identity.

My communities taught me that there are limitless ways to feel affection and attraction and that there are a vast range of experiences between binary genders; they also taught me that this in no way needs to conflict with my personal spiritual life in Judaism.

I’ve always known that a lot of people don’t have access to the kinds of supportive communities that I do. It took me a while to find some of them, myself. Knowing that in theory still rendered my recent work with Keshet to be eye-opening.

My assignment as a two week high school intern at Keshet was to contact Jewish private schools across the U.S. and ask if they have Gay-Straight Alliances. I called almost eighty different schools. Twelve had GSAs. The ones that had them were eager to tell me about the great work their clubs were up to, and their stories were heartwarming! Other schools were less receptive and practically pushed me off the phone after I offered to send more information about our work. Each conversation made me really recognize the personal advantage it was for me to have these open environments in my life.

Posted on April 15, 2015

Joining Hands, Marching Together

Last week we celebrated Passover. The Seders I attended called me to think about Mitzrayimthe narrow places where people are still oppressed.

I thought about the connection between Jewish history and oppression, from slavery in Egypt to today’s Jewish organizations who fight against inequality.

The LGBTQ community is familiar with oppression and the narrow places of the Mitzrayim. Yet, while there have been many broadened passages in movement for marriage equality and LGB rights, the channels for transgender and gender non-conforming folks are still the most narrow and constricted passageways in our community.

A recent study, “A Broken Bargain for Transgender Workers,” shows that more than four in 10 transgender people (44%) are underemployed. Unemployment rates for the transgender community are twice as high as the population as a whole—and for transgender people of color, the rate is four times as high. Additionally, transgender workers are nearly four times more likely than the population as a whole to have a household income of under $10,000. These disparities are mind boggling and yet they are real. Simply put, transgender and gender non-conforming people, in contrast to their straight and cisgender peers, experience higher rates of poverty.

I’ve seen these disparities in my own life as many of my transgender peers have found themselves stuck, with no chance of advancement, in the food service industry. I’m thinking specifically about one of my peers who, interview after interview, has been met with the phrase, “You aren’t quite what we are looking for.” Behind each rejection was an implied “Your gender presentation doesn’t look like what we were expecting.” And so my peer is stuck. He is underemployed and unable to leave the food service industry. He is having trouble making ends meet.

To step back to our Passover story, my friend, and other transgender folks, are working for corporations who act like Pharaoh. These big corporations make a generous profit and have the means to treat their workers fairly, yet they don’t. Instead, my peers, their workers, are unable to meet their basic needs. They struggle to afford essentials like food, rent, and transportation, let alone medications like hormones. Because more than four in every 10 transgender people are underemployed, the transgender community is disproportionately stuck in this reality—unable to advance, and unable to support themselves and their families.

Posted on April 14, 2015

Passover & the Dream of Liberation

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On Passover, we are taught every generation must see themselves as if they had personally been liberated from Egypt. For queer individuals, who too often have to struggle to come to terms with their own identity, on top of the daily struggle of living in a heteronormative world, the idea of liberation is all too real.

When I was still in the closet, I dreamed of the liberation that would come with being out. Ironically, I pictured myself advocating for LGBT rights even though at the time, I was too nervous and uncomfortable to proudly declare my own sexuality. Fortunately, since coming out, I have had the opportunity to realize that dream.

When I entered college, I came out, and had the opportunity to intern for Keshet. Working for Keshet, an organization that advocates for the full inclusion of LGBTQ Jews in Jewish life by working with rabbis, Jewish professionals, and Jewish institutions throughout the country, was especially meaningful; not only did it allow me to fulfill my dream of advocating for LGBT equality, it also allowed me to do so in a context that was especially personal. One of the major reasons I did not come out in high school was because of the homophobic environment in my Jewish day school, and I was delighted to learn that Keshet was working with my high school, among others, during my time there.

Jordan leading a session on LGBTQ rights.


Jordan leading a session on LGBTQ rights at the RAC’s L’Taken Social Justice Seminar for high school students.

The past eight months, I have had the pleasure to continue my advocacy work on the federal level as a legislative assistant at the Religious Action Center, where I handle our LGBT rights portfolio, among others. Beyond advocating for legislation that would further LGBT equality, teaching students about the current state of LGBT rights, and blogging about the intersection of current events, LGBT equality and Jewish values, I recently had the opportunity to work on a resolution on the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, which was adopted by the Central Conference of American Rabbis (the organization of reform rabbis in North America).

Posted on April 9, 2015