The central mission of the the Institute for Judaism, Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity focuses on the creation of welcoming spaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews in the Jewish world. Truly welcoming LGBT Jews into our synagogues and organizations means appreciating their gifts, allowing them and their concerns to be visible, and eliminating heterosexual biases.
Dr. Bernard Schlager whose research on congregational inclusion is included in this section writes that "any process of welcoming means that the congregation at large will necessarily be transformed by the GLBT people who are invited to live as 'out' members of the congregation. Those congregations that fear such transformations are not ready to incorporate in any meaningful way GLBT people who bring unique gifts, talents, and needs to the community-at-large and perhaps even challenge their non-GLBT coreligionists in ways that may make some of them profoundly uncomfortable. To welcome GLBT people into congregations of faith is risky business precisely because it is an invitation that involves change on the part of those who have the power to do the welcoming."1
Transformation and change take time, dedication and planning. Fortunately, the path has been trod before and there is research and literature on how to create welcoming and inclusive organizations as well as first person accounts of those who have done so. This section includes those resources from Jewish settings as well as other denominations that have worked to become open to LGBT people. We are always collecting new resources as well so please share your stories and resources with us.
This list is taken from a 2004 report entitled, With Open Arms: Gay Affirming Ministries in Bay Area Faith Communities by Bernard Schlager, Ph.D. The report funded by the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund which examines how local religious communities have developed supportive ministries for LGBT people, and which outlines strategies to further promote gay affirming congregations and increase dialogue about LGBT issues within larger denominational groups.
In his book, "Wrestling with God & Men - Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition," Rabbi Steven Greenberg explores his ten-year struggle to reconcile his homosexuality with Orthodox Judaism and to develop scholarship in this area. While many may not agree with him, his reflections and positions are an important contribution in the development of a theology and scholarship that integrates instead of divides homosexuality and Judaism. In the last chapter of the book, "Welcoming Synagogues," Rabbi Greenberg describes a framework for those Orthodox synagogues that wish to provide an inclusive and welcoming environment for gay and lesbian people. The three principles that he advocates are excerpted here in PDF form through the URL above.
The author, Rabbi Josh Lesser discusses his own history and that of the Reconstructionist Movement regarding gay issues. He concludes that the Reconstructionist Movement should create a timetable for all Reconstructionist communities to be inclusive and welcoming to gay and lesbian members and staff.
This Reconstructionist synagogue in Bethesda, MD, provides an excellent and multi-layered model for a welcoming statement and policy. Starting with statements in their mission about diversity to a paragraph on what an inclusive community means to them (in all its aspects) to a final specifc policy that welcomes all Jews, regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity. In this document, Adat Shalom affirms full equality for its members regardless of sexual orientation and states how the policy covers all aspects of synagogue life from ensuring the same membership categories as hetersexual couples to "full participation in religious practice". GLBT members are also encouraged to celebrate life cycle events such as commitment ceremonies, anniversaries, birth and adoption, with the community.
A compilation of eight Workshops designed for use by congregations or small groups to study the issue of inclusivity and becoming a Welcoming Community. The series was created in 1993 and thus is somewhat dated but there is still excellent material in it.
An online article that describes the efforts of one Reconstructionist congregation to develop and implement a policy of welcoming gay and lesbian Jews. Written by the chairperson of the committee responsible for drafting an official policy statement, the article points out some mistakes to avoid and offers a reflective assessment of an unexpectedly challenging process.
This is a website link to the resolution adopted by the Executive Board of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism in March 2003 in which they express full support for the inclusion and acceptance of the transgender and bisexual communities in general and in the Jewish Community. The Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism assists congregations in establishing social action committees that will help them to apply ethical Judaic principles to contemporary issues. It oversees the work of Reform Judaism's Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) in Washington, D.C. which pursues social justice and religious liberty by mobilizing the American Jewish community and serving as its advocate in the capital of the United States. The Commission on Social Action and the Religious Action Center implement the policy positions of the Union for Reform Judaism and CCAR.
The Union for Reform Judaism's (URJ) Department of Jewish Family Concerns includes a focus on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Inclusion. The Department of Jewish Family Concerns partners with other URJ departments and the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation (IJSO) at Hebrew Union College-JIR to work with congregations and communities to develop a more welcoming, inclusive culture. Resources include referrals to local organizations, liturgy appropriate for a variety of communities and Kulanu, the joint URJ and IJSO program guide for congregations implementing Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Inclusion. In addition, "AIDS in the Jewish Community: A Synagogue Response" (Study Guide/Video Set), produced by the Department of Jewish Family Concerns, looks at how to teach issues of sexuality and the Union for Reform Judaism AIDS Quilt is available to congregations for display and programs.
List of actions for congregation leaders and members to take that will help create a more inclusive environment for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Jews. They are as simple as acknowledging the presence of congregants who may already be attending services.
In a collection of essays called Contemporary Debates in American Reform Judaism: Conflicting Visions, Rabbi Denise L. Eger wrote a chapter called "Embracing Lesbians and Gay Men: A Reform Jewish Innovation," which traces the evolution of the Reform Movement's inclusion of gay men and lesbians from an denominational viewpoint. Hinda Seif also has a chapter entitled " 'Where Kosher Means Organic and Union Label': Bisexual Women Re-embrace Their Jewish Heritage"
The URJ's Religious Action Center describes the programs of three congregations that received the Irving J. Fain Social Action Award for their work on behalf of GLBT rights in such places as Omaha (NE), Cobb County (GA), and Cleveland (OH).
Kulanu (All of Us) is a completely new guide for congregations to begin to understand what inclusion means for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Jews and how to operationalize that process in a clear and thoughtful way. The book answers questions like:
What do synagogues need to do in order to be a "welcoming and inclusive community for LGBT Jews"?
How do we make sense of same-gender marriage, when traditional Judaism, societal norms, or legal
issues sometimes point in a different direction?
How do we reduce prejudice against those who are LGBT?
How do we create a safe space in our schools for students to feel comfortable to grow into their own
sexual and gender identity, whatever it may be?
Kulanu provides clergy and congregations with:
Personal stories and journeys of LGBT Jews
Concrete steps for clergy and congregants to improve LGBT inclusion in their synagogue
Educational resources for reducing prejudice against those who are LGBT
Multi session curriculums on Reform Jewish views on same-gender marriage, oppression and (trans)gender diversity in Judaism
As co-editor, Geoffrey Mitelman said, "we hope this new version of Kulanu will give all Jews the knowledge and the tools to fulfill the words of the prophet Isaiah:"
"For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples."
In 1989, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) initiated the Welcoming Congregation program to educate its members. Each congregation adapts the program to best meet its goals. The program is initiated on a completely volunteer basis by congregations that see a need to become more inclusive towards bisexual, gay, lesbian, and/or transgender people. The program presents a broad and flexible framework for tackling the problem of affirming sexual minorities in UUA church communities. The website offers resource links for ways congregations can become more inclusive, integrated and welcoming including readings, worship materials and workshop ideas. The web page for the Unitarian Universalist Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Concerns is http://www.uua.org/obgltc/
The United Church of Christ domination has been creating open and affirming congregations since 1985. ONA is "shorthand" for Open and Affirming, the designation for congregations, campus ministries, and other bodies in the United Church of Christ which make public statements of welcome into their full life and ministry to persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities. On the website, the document, Open and Affirming: The Basics provides an overview of the program and is a good place to start. The Web site includes resources for congregations wanting to become more open and affirming; samples statements of welcome, the rationale for why the program is necessary, frequently asked questions and congregants reflections of becoming an open and affirming congregation
An account of the thirteen months the anthropologist author spent with the congregation of Beth Simchat Torah in New York City exploring the true story of how a group of gay and lesbian Jews came together to confront questions of sexual identity within the traditional religious framework in order to create what is now the world's largest gay congregation.
Author (and Editor in Chief of Zeek magazine) Jay Michaelson writes often about the intersection of Judaism and Queer issues. In this thoughtful article, he begins to create a queer Jewish theology based on an interpretation of Maimonides' Thirteen Principles of Jewish Faith.
Reverend Yvette Flunder, uses examples of persons most marginalized by church and society to illustrate the use of "village ethics" - knowing where the boundaries are when all things are exposed - and "village theology" - giving everyone a seat at the central meeting place or welcome table. This book speaks of a vision of Christianity that embraces the culturally marginalized as people of God. The three marginalized groups that are the focus of the book include: (1) same-sex couples, to convey the need to re-examine sexual and relational ethics; (2) transgendered persons, to illustrate the importance of radical inclusivity; and (3) gay persons living with AIDS, to emphasize the need to destigmatize society's view of any group of people.
This vision statement was created as a result of the Experiment in Congregational Education (ECE) Task Force at Congregation Sha'ar Zahav, a Reform LGBT congregation, in San Francisco, CA. The Kadimah Vision Statement outlines ways to create and sustain a thriving children's education program as a core part of a larger "congregation of learners." Since the release of this statement in 2003, they have redesigned and re-launched Kadimah as a theme-based learning experience where children learn in multi-age groupings. The children learn Torah, Jewish history, Israel, and other content areas in two-year rotations through thematic units (three per year) at age-appropriate levels on topics such as Tzedek/Justice, or Sacred Time and Space, all in an LGBT/Queer positive environment. Their website includes the current brochure for their children's and family educational programming where you can find examples of their LGBT inclusion which starts in grade 4.
This publication of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing includes sections on terminology, prevalence, science on sexual and gender diversity, marriage and family, youth, scripture and denominational perspectives. The study guide is intended to address the broad spectrum of the American faith community and provides print, media, online and organization resources for more information. Each section concludes with suggested questions for use in both group discussions and individual reflection. The Scripture section addresses the Biblical citations, both from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, that are used in discussions of sexual and gender diversity. To contrast the negative passages, the guide also includes passages regarding love, justice and inclusion. This guide is helpful because it provides thoughtful questions that take into consideration the variety of people of faith who seek wisdom from sacred texts. The guide also uses simple terminology and does a good job at both discussing the issues and providing the resources for further investigation.
In this article from the Boston Globe magazine discusses the struggles of gay and lesbians trying to find a spiritual home and how it is dividing congregations, both Christian and Jewish, across America. The article writes positively about Temple Israel in Boston and their congregation and clergy who have welcomed gay couples since 1985. Many people in the article proclaim that they are not activists, but merely spiritual seekers looking for their own niche in the complicated world of congregational affiliation.
Ken Richmond, Cantor and Family Educator at Temple Israel of Natick, MA discusses his personal journey in becoming an ally to the LGBT community and the progress of the LGBT community in civil and religious settings including the recent developments in the Conservative Movement.
Rabbi Harold Schulweis's Rosh Hashana sermon relates his personal experience in dealing with gay and lesbian congregants and the children of congregants. This sermon is an example of early Conservative rabbis who spoke out against the injustice of rejecting LGBT Jews.
This document from 1993 is an example of the Reconstructionist’s early efforts for inclusion. It is the first attempt by the Reconstructionist movement to provide a contemporary approach to homosexuality both just and authentically Jewish. Secondary to the historical biblical, rabbinic and medieval Jewish Sources on homosexuality, this position paper discusses values such as human dignity and integrity, holiness and loving caring relationships among others that help define the stance of the movement.
This informative document lays out a map to guide organizations towards being completely Transgender-inclusive. Interspersed throughout the guide are first-person narratives from successful transgender integration and examples on how groups went about becoming fully transgender inclusive. Also included at the end of each step is space for reflection and potential action item.
In recent years transgender people have begun to take a more visible place in the LGBT and wider communities. Many non-trans people want to be respectful of transgender community members and want their community to be trans-friendly and welcoming, but they don't necessarily know how to do that or where to begin. This page is intended to answer some common questions and to provide some basic ways to make your synagogue more trans-friendly. There is a lot more information out there and many creative ideas that have yet to be invented.
Article focuses attention of the role a rabbi can play in helping their communities set standards of behavior and of tolerance. The author, Karen Becker, contends that “a rabbi is not just a religious leader, a rabbi is also a community leader and a role model”. She describes how two straight rabbis from different communities in the South, by advocating a more inclusive and welcoming congregational community toward LGBT people, influenced the views of members of their own congregations, and the larger civic community.
As part of the Welcoming Synagogues Project, IJSO and Jewish Mosaic: The National Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity sponsored a public panel focusing on inclusion. Dr. Caryn Aviv, Research Director, Jewish Mosaic; Posen Lecturer in Secular Jewish Culture, Center for Judaic Studies, University of Denver, moderated the expert panel. IJSO and Jewish Mosaic were thrilled to have the following people on the panel: Rabbi Denise Eger, Congregation Kol Ami; Dr. Bernard Schlager, Interim Deputy Director and Development Director for the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CGLS) at the Pacific School of Religion; Rabbi Harold Schulweis, Congregation Valley Beth Shalom; and Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, Program Director for the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force's Institute for Welcoming Resources.
A unique study of 36 seminaries throughout the U.S. showed that seminarian education in sexuality is lacking. None of the 36 seminaries met 100% of the Criteria for a Sexually Health and Responsible Seminary and only 10 met a majority of the criteria. The report outlines the findings and opportunities for seminaries across religious affiliations.
"TheOpen Letter calls for the full inclusion of LGBT people in faith communities and society… Denying that God created diversity as a blessing is denying Biblical teaching." This open letter also lists the denominations and organizations that have inclusive policies and practices for LGBT people.
Written in 2006, this short article provides several suggestions on how synagogues can show their LGBT constituents that they are welcome and included. Although grand gestures (like hiring an openly gay staff member) are important and necessary, synagogues can demonstrate their inclusive practices by insuring the smaller things (like a nondiscrimination policy) are firmly in place as well.
This statement of principles serves as the foundation for the Renewal Movement. Of particular note is the explicit inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the principle 9: The creation of a safe and inclusive environment. Jewish Renewal is founded upon the inclusion of all people.
This article about Rabbi Bernard Mehlman, rabbi emeritus of Temple Israel in Boston, explores how Rabbi Mehlman created a safe and welcoming space for LGBT people long before it was popular to do so. In this welcoming, Temple Israel has also become welcoming of all kinds of diversity, including single parents, Jews of Color, Jews by Choice, intermarried families, and younger generations of Jews
This blog is an explicit welcome the lesbian and gay members of the Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, North Carolina. It is also an examination of Rev. Rick Warren's invocation at President Obama's inauguration.
With the shooting at a Tel Aviv LGBT Youth Resource Center as a backdrop, Joanna Blotner of the Human Rights Campaign writes about how children's religious education can be more inclusive of GLBT families and experiences.
This statement outlines Liberal Judaism's stance on gay and lesbian inclusion. It rejects the Torah being used to stigmatize gay and lesbian Jews, and offers alternative interpretations of Leviticus 18:22. Additionally, Liberal Judaism concludes that it is wrong to discriminate against gays and lesbians, that since many gays and lesbians died at Hitler's hands, Jews should be especially sympathetic toward gays and lesbians' situations, that monogamous relationships are encouraged in heterosexual and same-sex couples, that same-sex couples are raising families in new and creative ways, and that gay men and lesbians should be able to live as God made them to be.
Having an GLBT Welcome Page on your website is a great way to show current and potential members your welcoming stance. This is an example from Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA. The website provides a clear statement of welcoming, congregant testimonials, examples of inclusion (such as weddings and education), comments from the Rabbi, and links to relevant resources.
Having an GLBT Welcome Page on your website is a great way to show current and potential members your welcoming stance. This is an example from Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, CA. The site provides a clear statement from the Senior Rabbi, writings from well-knon Rabbi Schulweis, a brief history of welcoming in the Conservative movement, and links to relevant resources.
Another way to show your inclusion and welcoming of LGBT Jews is to cultivate a Kulanu group, or other GLBT Community Group. This example is from Congregation B'nai Israel in Bridgeport, CT. The site provides an overview of the group, a brief history of the group, a calendar of events, and a list of relevant links.
This powerpoint presentation summarizes research conducted by Professor Steven Cohen, Dr. Caryn Aviv, and Dr. Judith Veinstein, supported by the IJSO and Jewish Mosaic. Over 3000 synagogues throughout North America were surveyed, with a response rate of one third, about welcoming and inclusion practices of LGBT Jews, Jews of Color, Intermarried Families, and Jews with disabilities. The presentation provides a variety of qualitative and quantitative results related to Perceptions, People, Policies, Practices, and Programs.
This 2001 document outlines the formation of a sub-committee on same-gender commitment ceremonies and to create a kehilla mekabelet (welcoming congregation) for groups that have been historically underserved in the community. This proposal outlines several opportunities for congregation-wide education as well as potential content areas to cover during those educational opportunities.
This comprehensive LGBT Inclusion statement is a good model for other congregations. Kol HaLev outlines how LGBT people are welcomed in a variety of ways -- recognition of milestones through ritual, including milestones related to children, community wide celebrations of commitment and marriage, and educational program opportunities for everyone.
In 2007, the Jewish Theological Seminary announced that qualified openly gay and lesbian candidates would be accepted to rabbinic and cantorial programs. This letter outlines the process by which the group addressing this issue took to come to the decision, the basis for the decision itself, and the next steps for JTS to implement this new policy.