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.
We are only three days away from Keshet’s LGBTQ & Ally Teen Summertime Shabbaton. We pulled Keshet’s Youth Programs Associate Ami Altzman aside for a few minutes from his last-minute preparations for a quick interview about what makes Keshet’s Shabbatonim so meaningful for the LGBTQ Jewish teens and allies who attend.
The Summertime Shabbaton is only a few days away. Have you checked the weather forecast a million times?
Ha! Actually, today, just once. We will definitely start checking it more often as we get closer to Shabbat. At the end of the summer, at least we’re not looking for blizzards and storm systems that can shut down airports for days and days. When we tried to fly to Los Angeles for the West Coast Shabbaton from New York City, a blizzard shut down the city. When we had the East Coast Shabbaton, there was a massive nor’easter that shut down Logan Airport in Boston. Thank goodness the forecast is warm and sunny. We can go swimming.
Anything new that you’re especially excited about this year?
I’m running a program with one of the other faculty members on spirituality and what it means to develop spiritual practices as leaders and people dedicated to social justice. I think it’s important to identify how we want to be spiritually engaged and use that to talk about the actions and plans we take as leaders. I’d like us to have a more developed way to talk about how our spirituality can be part of who we are as Jews, as queer people, as trans people, but also as people who are interested in making the world a better place.
You attended the very first Shabbaton in 2012 as a teen participant. Has it changed a lot?
It’s hard to sort out the timeline! The way we do services on Friday evening and Saturday morning has a lot more options – songs and practices from different Jewish denominations, plus some that aren’t necessarily Jewish. We will all pray together when Shabbat starts, but we incorporate melodies and practices from the Jewish movements represented by the teens at the Shabbaton. It feels very welcoming. The teens from all these different Jewish movements feel included and like they’re participating. On Saturday morning, some teens start with prayers, but there’s also improv, hiking…all ways we can connect with each other and feel part of something greater than ourselves.
The Shabbaton has had a big impact on your life – you’ve been involved as a participant, a Steering Committee member, a fellow, and now staffer. Why do you think the Shabbaton became so important to you?
After my first Shabbaton in 2012, I really wanted to pay it forward to the next generation of teens to come through the doors. Shabbaton was the first place where I was around other LGBTQ Jewish people. There are always a couple moments where I can feel how special the Shabbaton space is. It’s a big moment when everyone gets off the bus, and the Shabbaton goes from being spreadsheets and schedules and phone calls to there actually being all these LGBTQ Jewish teens pouring into the lobby of the lodge where we’ll be staying. We’re now really doing this with the people in this room together for the next 48 hours.
My sense is that it doesn’t take long for the kids to start taking advantage of being with other kids like them?
The Shabbaton is one of the few places in the Jewish community right now where on Friday night teens can show up to services on Friday evening with nail polish and lipstick if they want to, or not, if they don’t. There’s definitely that sense of release when folks get to do be themselves like that. It’s also beautiful that the ones who don’t feel comfortable till later might do it on Saturday night. But it’s amazing how many of them jump in right away.
Today you’re focusing on getting everything ready for Friday – what will it be like on Sunday when everyone goes home?
It will be sad. In the span of 48 hours, you to get to form these deep relationships with other people who you don’t get to see very often. The Shabbaton is a place where we can be unapologetically ourselves in whatever way that is, and when we get on the bus and go back to the airport, even if we’re not always aware of it in that moment, we have to go back to living in a world where we are not always fully comfortable being fully ourselves. It’s hard to make the transition. I think it’s why we form these deep connections and friendships that last a lifetime. That’s one reason we take the time to make sure that the teens have time to socialize and get to know each other: To form those bonds.
For more information about Keshet’s LGBTQ and Ally Teen Shabbatonim, visit: https://www.keshetonline.org/teenshabbaton/