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March 27, 2009

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MARCH 27, 2009 PAGE 11A By E.B. Solomont the "Welcoming Synagogues Project," which seeks to de- NEW YORK (JTA)--The velopamodelforinclusiveness newslettersentoutlastmonth to be implemented this sum- by Temple Israel of New Ro- merby I0 pilot congregations. chelle, N.Y., contained the "We're trying to come up usualsort of announcements, with aprocess that's scalable," including a reminder about said Joel Kushner, director of the synagogue's upcoming the Institute for Judaism and Purim carnival, mazal toys Sexual Orientation. A similar and condolences, and infor- programtookplaceMarch 1-2 mation about a social event in Los Angeles. at a local steakhouse. "There isn't going to be one But a small notice about a size fits all," he said. screening of the film "Hin- Findings from the 2009 eini: ComingOut InaJewish Synagogue Survey on Di- High School" reflected a quiet versity and LGBT Inclusion, change at the Reform syna- presented at the New York gogue in suburban New York. conference, underscoredwhat The screening is part of an Kushner described as a need overall push by Temple Israel for congregations to be more to be more welcoming to gay welcoming. The survey found and lesbian Jews. In recent that 73 percent ofthe 760 rab- months, the synagogue has bis polled thinktheir congre- edited its membership forms gationiswelcomingtogayand to accommodate diverse lesbianJews, althoughonly33 family structures, and it now percentofthe997synagogues advertises in the gaypress and thatrespondedoffer programs with gay advocacy groups. It aimed specifically at gays and also plans to train teachers to lesbians. expression. In the past there was a LGBT chevra, or social group, and the synagogue sent dozens of people to rally at the Massachusetts State House in support of equal marriage. "Acting publicly around justice issues is another way that we are proactively wel- coming," Kolin said. At the conference in New York, representatives of other synagogues shared their "best practices." At Kolot Chayeinu, a pro- gressive congregation in Park Slope, Brooklyn, b'nai mitzvah students discuss gen- der diversity in Jewish texts. Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta has adopted a "brit," or contract, that stipulates the inclusive values of the community. Beth Simchat Torah, New York's synagogue for GLBT Jews, has published a new prayer book in which the was no "separate but equal" status. His desire to hear a rabbi take a proactive stance from the bimahwas part of his attraction to B'nai Jeshurun, a liberal synagogue on Manhat- tan's Upper West Side. "It's too easy to say, 'Sure, we're welcoming,' but just don't talk about it," he said. In general, Antenson noted with regret, the Jewish com- munity has not been at the forefront of welcoming gays and lesbians into synagogue life. Antenson, a lay leader and member of the marriage equality, membership and interfaith committees at B'nai Jeshurun, said that when he told fellow congregants about his partner, "I never got a reaction." Half of the members of the marriage equality chevra are straight and at B'nai prayers forlife-cycleevents-- Jeshurun, it is common to including marriages and baby celebrate the anniversary of namings--are not printed in a gay couple, or to see a gay be sensitive to issues related to sexuality. Prompted by the experience of a teenager in the commu- nity who was teased when he revealed his homosexuality, momentum built last year when the synagogue hired a new youth director who is openly gay. "On some level, I kind of view myself as a poster child and that these kids and the adults need to see somebody in the community who fits the description," said Barry Shainker, the youth director. Shainker says that while changes are programmatic, the goal is to make such in- clusiveness rout:inc. "Of course ir~ some ways, our goal is to put ourselves out of a job," he said. "In a few years this will be a no-brainer. What could be a 30-minute discussion at a board meeting becomes a 30-second vote in the future." Temple Israel is not alone: A recent conference in New York attracted a cadre of about 60 rabbi cducator tiviat from across the denomina- tional spectrum who shared "best practices" for becoming more welcoming to gay and lesbian Jews. The conference, organized by Jewish Mosaic and the In- stitute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Insti- tute of Religion, was part of The impetus for adopting the conventional order, so as a more welcoming approach comes from a critical mass of gay members or from policy questions such as the ordination of openly gay and lesbian rabbis and cantors, according to one of the study's co-authors, Caryn Aviv. "It has shifted people's perceptions because they're having personal interaction with gays and lesbians," said Aviv, who co-authored the study with Steven Cohen. To be sure, some syna- gogues have consciously welcomed sexually diverse Jews for years For example, Temple Israel in Boston, a Reform congregation with 1,700 families, made such a decision based on what members believedwas"right." "It was untenable to them that gay and lesbian Jews wouldn't have a home," Rabbi Stephanie Kolin said. The synagogue is working with the Boston-based advo- cacy group Keshet to become a so-called "safe school," meanin{ it will train teaeher to address bias and promote gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender inclusion. Temple Israel recently conducted a focus group with some of its LGBT mem- bers to find out what as a community the synagogue could improve. Last year the synagogue hosted a program on transgender and gender to promote the idea of diverse family life. According to Debra Kolod- ny, the executive director of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, a critical part of be- ing inclusive is to have leader- ship that reflects diversity in sexual orientation, and that LGBT perspectives are heard and integrated into teaching and services. "So it's just kind of norma- tive," she explained. "I think inclusion presumes that You be the judge or lesbian couple celebrating an aufruf. "It's public evidence thatwe welcome gays and lesbians, and they are full members of the congregation," Antenson said. But according to Aaron Weininger, a second-year rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, a change in cultural as- sumptions must accompany concrete actions. "There areso many ways to engage the issues," he said, Hineini Scene from the film "Hineinh Coming Out In a Jewish High School," which one suburban New York synagogue screened in an effort to be more welcoming to gay and lesbian Jews. While Weininger noted there is no "one size fits all" model, he said synagogues should be askingwhether they are engaging all members of the community. "Because LGBT Jews have been marginalized and alienated for so long, there does need to be a certain level of awareness," he said. "The more messages our synagogues send that are pro-inclusion, the more younger people coming out and identifying as LGBT feel safe." Still, he and others noted, a shift in attitude in Conserva- tive congregations is linked to the movement's policies regarding gay rabbis and cantors. Rabbi Morris Allen of Beth Jacob Congregation in Men- there is an 'in group' and 'out citing films such as "Hineini" group.'" and programs like LGBT dota Heights, Minn,, said were,'Allen said. ',t think all At Kehilla Community Shabbat dinners. "It is not his congregation was ahead we've done is open the door Synagogue, a Renewal con- 'either-or,' it's 'and.' " of the curve:~:and :had been and allow people o wa|k n. tothe Led bv Rabbi Gaw G. Perras Wednesday, April 8 Service: 6:00 prn / Seder: 6:30 pm Even though the seder is geared for singles, families who wish to attend are more than welcome. I Sixth Annual gregation in Piedmont, Calif., the congregation's inclusive- ness was on display last sum- mer when seven same-sex couples married in a group ceremony staged in reaction to the state's Proposition 8. Sandy Bredt, Kehilla's executive director, said the ceremony "was kind of a mar- riage of_our political and our spiritual values." For [ ay and l bian Jewry having programs and sermons targeting them--combined with a generally welcoming attitude--make congrega- tions more inclusive. When Joseph Antenson was shopping for a synagogue several years ago, he sought a congregation that had obvious participation from gay and les- bian members andwhere there Rabbi Yosef Konikov of Chabad of South Orlando is flanked by three of a classroom of Orlando lqwyers. Linda Goldman, Rick Geller and Mel Pearlman attended the Jew- ish Learning Institute course, which ran for six weeks and explored topics in United States and Talmudic law. The lawyers earned Continuing Legal Education credits, which are a requirement in order to practice law within a particular jurisdiction. The course was sponsored by the Chabad of South Orlando. The next course offered by the Jewish Learning Institute, "Biblical Reflections," explores the book of Genesis and will provide Torah insight into critical moments that one is faced with in one's own life. It is designed to help in responding more thoughtfully. For more informa- tion: 407-354-3660. since the mid-1990s, when the synagogue was asked to participate in a gay marriage ceremony. "I think that the Conserva- tive movement in its official capacity sort of caught up to what we've been doing," said Allen, who served on the Rab- binicalAssembly's Committee on Human Sexuality in the early 1990s. Allen said in lieu of pro- grams targeting LGBT mem- bers, his congregation has ad- opted a welcoming mind-set. "We didn't make a special gay slot on our board," he said. Gay members serve on the board because they are involved and supportive of the synagogue. "For many years, people did not feel they could talk about the core of who they 2rid Night Seder Pricin Adult M bC S, $ 30 ,n:M em ers: Children ages 4-1 2 Thursday. April 9 rvicc; 6:00 pm/Secler: 6:30