What Happens at Keshet’s Growing LGBTQ and Ally Teen Shabbaton

Creating a space that is radically inclusive, empathic and empowering for those of us who often feel marginalized in our communities.

When 10 other participants and I arrived for our first LGBTQ and Ally Teen Shabbaton* in August 2012, we weren’t sure what to expect. As someone pointed out that weekend, that Shabbaton was the largest known gathering of LGBTQ-Jewish teens in the country at that time—and there were just 10 of us. It was the first time I had ever been in a space dedicated specifically to LGBTQ-Jewish teens. The friends that I made—and the community we began to build that weekend—are still dear to me.

Over the years, I’ve watched the Shabbaton grow from just 10 teens in the mountains of northern Connecticut to five weekends in 2018 dedicated to LGBTQ-Jewish teens. Originally, the Shabbaton was designed and run by staff. Over the years, it has grown to be a program that is primarily designed by our teen co-chairs—with programs, discussions and rituals led by LGBTQ-Jewish teen leaders.

Our teens are amazing. Together, we take ideas and conversations they’re passionate about and turn them into reality. A variety of themes are on the docket for this year’s programming: geography and politics; bisexual identity and bi-erasure; writing our own queer midrashim (Jewish exegetical folktales); queer art and activism; the connection between LGBTQ inclusion and disability inclusion; tips and tricks for running a high school GSA (gay-straight alliance); ethics and history of the term “queer;” and, of course, zine making, which is a staple of every LGBTQ and Ally Teen Shabbaton.

For so many of our teens, and for me personally, the connections made at our Shabbatonim inspire growth while also serving as an anchor to which we can return, literally and figuratively, time and time again. I love seeing the ever-increasing number of teens joining us for the first time. I know, from my own experience, that many will create friendships that will continue for years beyond their first Shabbaton. I know, too, that some of our quietest, most reserved teens will find their voice and step into roles of leadership at our Shabbatonim, and bring this sense of self and confidence with them when they return home. Each of us has more to contribute than we dare imagine; for many of us, the Shabbaton is where we discover the truth of that.

Next month, I’ll join our teens at the first Shabbaton of 2018. Old Shabbaton traditions will be brought back to life, and new ones will be created. I leave each Shabbaton tired, happy and renewed. At every Shabbaton, I get to be a part of the Jewish community that we envision for our world. The Shabbatonim are the Jewish community that I want to be a part of every day: a community which is radically inclusive, empathic, and empowering for those of us who often feel marginalized in our communities. They remind me that none of us is alone in our work to make the Jewish community a more inclusive, equitable, and affirming place for LGBTQ people. Each weekend we spend together brings us closer to realizing what our Jewish community can—and someday will—look like.

If you are an LGBTQ-Jewish teen in grades 8-12, I hope you will join us this year in helping create that community.

*This program is made possible through the generosity of our supporters: The Philip and Muriel Berman Foundation; E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation; Jim Joseph Foundation; Krupp Family Foundation; Leo Oppenheimer & Flora Oppenheimer Haas Foundation; Charles and Lynne Schusterman Family Foundation; and Denise Littlefield Sobel.

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