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Boston’s Keshet Welcomes LGBT Jews for Rosh Hashanah

by Antoinette Weil

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday September 17, 2012

Sundown on September 16 marked the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and the beginning of the High Holidays season of 2012. For the Jewish community this is a time of anticipation for the New Year, atonement for the year passed, and gathering as a community to share in worship.

But what if, despite your similar religious beliefs, you didn't feel welcome in your community?

For many years, LGBTQ Jews grappled with the notion that their lifestyle may not have been condoned in their religious community, and many struggled to find where, and if, they could balance the seemingly dissonant yet equally important parts of themselves.

This feeling that so many queer Jews felt, of being uncomfortable, unaccepted and unsafe in their religious communities, was the driving force behind the formation of Keshet, a Boston-based nonprofit dedicated to the full inclusion of LGBTQ Jews in Jewish Life.

"In many Jewish communities there is a basic level of understanding and tolerance of LGBT life," said Keshet Executive Director Idit Klein. "But tolerance and basic acceptance is not what we seek."

This multifaceted organization works for LGBTQ inclusion in a variety of ways from offering social events to LGBTQ Jews, to providing training and education to community leaders and institutions, offering support for families of LGBTQ Jews, and producing informative LGBTQ resources.

So where’s a gay to go for a good Rosh Hashanah service? What Jewish Day school can a lesbian couple send their young Jewish child to? Which synagogue will be most comfortable and nonjudgmental for a trans person to attend?

For these types of questions, which are so common in the LGBTQ Jewish community, Keshet has created the "Equality Guide," a web-based resource that allows the user to choose location, denomination, and what they’re looking for (rabbi, day school, synagogue, etc.) to find inclusive Jewish clergy and institutions near them.

Keshet Fights For Your Civil Rights

Keshet has also been hard at work fighting for LGBTQ civil rights, playing a huge role in mobilizing the Jewish community in Massachusetts around equal marriage rights as well as the Transgender Rights Bill, which passed in 2011.

Perhaps Keshet’s best known undertaking, and one reason for its rapid growth, was its part in the making of "Hineini: Coming out in a Jewish High School." The documentary, which follows a young Jewish student on her quest to create a Gay-Straight Alliance at her high school, received critical acclaim and put Keshet on the map.

What started as a small grassroots project in Jamaica Plain has expanded to become a respected national organization with a million dollar budget and offices in Denver and the San Francisco Bay Area.

"Our growth has been phenomenal and I think it reflects the tremendous hunger for the kind of work we do," Communications Director Bonnie Rosenbaum told EDGE. "There is a tremendous demand in the Jewish community for resources and education that talk about LGBT issues from a Jewish framework. We begin from a place that looks at traditional Jewish values and show how these fundamental values support LGBT inclusion."

Klein, who was born in Jerusalem and had family members who were Holocaust survivors, said that she was fortunate to never doubt for a moment that she could be both queer and a Jew. For others, she said, it was not so simple.

"A lot of LGBTQ people didn’t feel safe being themselves in their Jewish communities. And for a lot of straight people this was simply not a priority. I knew this needed to change, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that change," she said.

While there has certainly been a shift in attitudes and acceptance of LGBTQ people in Jewish communities, education is the key to fostering a fully inclusive community.

Klein explained that beyond the obvious issues faced by LGBTQ Jews like bullying, being unable to come out or being denied marriage by your rabbi, there are also more subtle forms of discrimination that make LGBTQ Jews feel like a lesser part of the community.

A form at your JCC only offering "husband/wife" as an option, or your synagogue’s website not having one photo of a gay or gender variant person and not using any LGBT terms are a few examples of what Rosenbaum calls the "everyday reminders that your community is not fully yours."

"If institutions see themselves as inclusive and not homophobic, they need to reflect that," said Klein.

Keshet’s training and education programs are conducted nationwide and teach Jewish leaders, parents, teachers and other community professionals the importance of this and of using inclusive language and practices.

"We provide tools and resources to enable Jews to transform their communities into inclusive spaces," said Rosenbaum, "confronting both the obvious discrimination and the subtle forms of exclusion."

To find an upcoming Keshet event, learn more about this organization or request training or resources, visit