Keshet is a national organization that works for LGBTQ equality in Jewish life. The organization equips Jewish leaders with tools to build LGBTQ-affirming communities, creates spaces for queer Jewish teens to feel valued and develop their own leadership skills, and mobilizes the Jewish community to fight for LGBTQ justice. Keshet’s blog spotlights this work, as well as the voices of LGBTQ Jews, our families, and allies.
The Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly (GA) in Washington, D.C. is an annual conference of thousands of North American federation leaders, Jewish philanthropists, agencies and Jewish organizations like Keshet. Attendees travel to the GA to meet, learn, and work together in support of the Jewish community. This year, speakers include the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Andy Cohen.
Since 2009, Keshet has hosted an LGBTQ and Ally Reception at the GA. Keshet’s Executive Director Idit Klein described the first reception as “50 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews and their allies gathered in a small room on the ninth floor of the conference hotel. The event was not part of the official GA program, and the room was in the hinterlands of the hotel, hidden from the public eye. It reminded me of photos of 1950s gay bars, underground dives with no signs or windows. At the biggest annual gathering of Jews in the world, it felt like LGBTQ Jews were still stuck in the closet.”
For the last several years, Keshet has invited organizations to come together and sponsor the LGBTQ and Ally reception as a way to show their support for LGBTQ community members. This year, over 30 federations have signed on to cosponsor the reception, more than double last year’s number. Now, the reception is more important than ever, and there’s something else that makes this year’s GA uniquely special for Keshet: each one of the five Jewish federations in the state of North Carolina joined together to be a lead sponsor of the reception.
This support is especially powerful given the recent legislation in North Carolina. HB2, nicknamed “the bathroom bill,” states that trans people will not have the legal right to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify. Keshet is thrilled that the North Carolina federations took the initiative to organize themselves in order to show their opposition to HB2 as Jewish organizations.
The North Carolina Jewish Federations themselves have histories of intentional inclusion for LGBTQ Jews: these community-based organizations work to serve each and every one of their members. And at this critical time, they’re reaching out.
Jill Madsen, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Durham-Chapel Hill, described her community as having a supportive, committed role: “A few years back, when there was work to try and change marriage laws, both the JCC and Federation were active in unifying local Jewish federations to be strong opponents. The same was true the minute that HB2 was passed: a board member reached out to the board, which voted unanimously to send letters stating strong support of repeal to all local officials.”
Durham Chapel Hill’s community also stays away from gender normative language. “Our communications and forms are set up to define a family how they define themselves, instead of male and female heads of household,” explained Jill. “After HB2, we wanted to make our stance clear very quickly. We hung up gender neutral signs on every one of our bathrooms, and even though that was the practice, we wanted to explicitly state it. As an organization we’ve tried to be very clear about our openness, that’s a really important piece to us.”
According to Bob Goldwasser from the Jewish Federation of Raleigh-Cary, there wasn’t a lot of back-and-forth between the five federations on whether or not they were going to come together as a lead sponsor of the reception: it was pretty clear to all involved.
The Greensboro Jewish Federation and Executive Director Marilyn Chandler were instrumental in bringing all of the federations together: “We received the letter from Keshet and JFNA inviting us to sponsor, and knowing that we are all created in G-d’s image, the Jewish Federations of North Carolina proudly wanted to stand together as a lead sponsor,” explained Chandler. “It was really essential for us to make a statement in light of recent events going on in our state. Our federation discussed this in executive committee meetings, our vice presidents made the recommendation that we reach out— that all of the federations bond together. We very boldly and proudly got resounding ‘yes’s.’”
“We would invite you and anyone reading us to visit us in North Carolina,” Chandler says, “it’s a very special place to live, we’ve gotten some negative press and we feel the need to turn that around.”
One thing is clear: each of the five federations is very proud of their participation in this effort, and that their fellow federations stepped up to show their support.
If you’ll be at the JFNA General Assembly, we hope you’ll join Keshet at the reception.