Getting Involved in the Jewish LGBTQ Community in Philly

June is Pride Month, which celebrates those who are homosexual, bisexual, transgender and queer, and recognizes their historical struggle for equal rights. Locally, many people rocked rainbow colors at the Philly Pride Parade, including members of the Philadelphia Jewish LGBTQ community. For Jews looking for LGBTQ activities and information beyond the parade, there are a number of communal resources available year-round.

pRiSm is an LGBTQ social group within Congregation Rodeph Shalom that is also involved in activism. In addition to marching in this year’s parade, the group hosted its second annual Pride Shabbat dinner. Among the speakers was Amber Hikes,  executive director of Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs. Throughout the year, pRiSm provides “people of all gender and sexual identities” in “Philadelphia and the greater Delaware Valley’s GLBT Jewish community” with a space for community, education and activism, according to the group’s website.

J.Proud and Spectrum Philly, two other groups that cater to Philadelphia’s queer Jews, cosponsored pRiSm’s Pride Shabbat.

J.Proud is a group within Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Greater Philadelphia. In addition to hosting Passover seders for the LGBTQ community, J.Proud also held an educational conference last fall in conjunction with Congregation Kol Ami on inclusiveness for transgender and non-binary (people who don’t identify with a specific gender) Jews. On its website, J.Proud offers an extensive list of Jewish LGBTQ resources, including social services, congregations, schools and other useful information.

Spectrum Philly is geared specifically to LGBTQ Jews in their 20s and 30s, offering a range of social activities, such as parties, Shabbat dinners and opportunities to attend cultural events. in fact, on June 29, Spectrum is holding a happy hour meet-up at Toasted Walnut Bar and Kitchen.

Finally, for those who are not quite ready to join a group, but who would like to learn more about Jewish-American LGBT history, the Tumblr page called LGBT Stories: A Collecting Project might be a good resource. This page was created by Philadelphia’s National Museum of American Jewish History in 2014, and was followed a year later by an exhibit called “The Pursuit of Happiness: Jewish Voices for LGBT Rights.” Although the installation, which featured artifacts from a series of gay protests in the 60s, is over, the LGBT Stories page remains. The site acts as both a resource for curious readers and an opportunity for Jewish LGBT Americans to share their stories.

pRiSm, J.Proud, Spectrum Philly and the NMAJH Tumblr page are only a sampling of the resources available in the Jewish LGBTQ community in Philadelphia — but they are good places to start for those interested in getting more involved.

A Hunger for Learning

Refugee Kids: One Small School Takes On the World Trailer from Renee Silverman on Vimeo.

On Tuesday night, I attended a viewing of the documentary film Refugee Kids, about an American program set up for refugee children.  Run by the International Rescue Committee (founded by Albert Einstein to rescue Jewish refugees), the Refugee Youth Summer Academy transforms 120 kids speaking 26 languages from the world’s hot spots – Iraq, Egypt, West Africa, Tibet, Burma and Bhutan – from tongue-tied newcomers into confident, savvy New Yorkers over the course of a six-week program.

There is Helen, a 16-year-old Burmese refugee, who effortlessly translated from English to Burmese to Chin to Thai to Nepali.  There is Tek Nath, who in his first six months in America, did more than most adults: he leased the family apartment, translated for the surgeons operating on his brother’s heart, applied for the family’s green cards, opened bank accounts, and tutored both parents and younger siblings in English – and all the while maintaining straight A’s in his school work.  Tek Nath is a 17-year-old who had spent his entire life in a rural Nepalese refugee camp where he had virtually no English instruction.

George from Liberia had lost both parents at a very early age and was raised in Staten Island where he was confronted with the brutality of gang violence and yet still emerged as a student mentor, exhibiting leadership skills.  There are also the siblings who faced long separations from their families: Rigzin and Tashi from Tibet who are reunited with their parents in Brooklyn after eight years spent at the Dalai Lama’s refugee school in India; and Ida and Jennifer from Togo who were raised by their aunt and encountered an unforeseen family tragedy — fire and death of a young sister– upon their arrival in the Bronx.

The directors, Renee Silverman and Peter Miller, added to their footage with interviews in the children’s homes and in their communities.  The children narrated their often harrowing back stories in hand-drawn pictures, which were animated by the talented Brian O’ConnellLiz Swados, the beloved composer, recorded an original score before her untimely death.  Editor Aaron Vega wove the many stories together into a cogent, short film as his last project before winning a seat as American state legislator in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Refugee Kids is the second film by Silverman and Miller, following their teen Holocaust theater story, Sosua: Make a Better World.  Miller writes, “It’s something of a miracle that we were able to shoot, edit, and complete Refugee Kids for what might be the lunch budget of normal film, but we were blessed with generous and talented friends.”

The screening at Rodeph Shalom was sponsored by HIAS PA and the American Jewish Committee.  HIAS PA runs a similar summer tutoring program, and it welcomes volunteer tutors and donations of books.

Kosher Locusts and More at Hazon’s Philadelphia Food Festival


Locust: the only kosher insect.

— by Ronit Treatman

Congregation Rodeph Shalom, which boasts one of the most beautiful synagogues in Philadelphia, will be the site of Hazon’s first food festival in Philadelphia on October 20.

Titled “Liberty, Food & Justice For All,” its goal is to bring hundreds of people across the Jewish community together around issues of food, sustainability and Jewish life, as well as to celebrate Philadelphia’s unique Jewish culture. I invite you to join me for my presentation about locusts, the only type of kosher insect. The more intrepid among you will have the opportunity to taste roasted, spiced locusts.

More after the jump.
Hazon is promoting this event for the community to create connection between our food choices and sustainability on one hand and Jewish identity on another.  The star of this first festival will naturally be the local Philadelphia sustainable food scene, which will be showcased through workshops, tastings, and how-to demonstrations led by Philadelphia based Jewish chefs, foodies, and activists. Participants will be taking part in interactive discussions covering food justice, green living, and Jewish food culture. Pickle making, beekeeping, and sustainable cooking using (CSA) community supported agriculture ingredients are just a few of the topics that will be covered during this day-long event. Local products and delicious, healthy food will be available for sampling and for purchase in Hazon’s Shuk, with items ranging from locally made soap to hand-crafted garden tools.

State Senator Daylin Leach (D-PA), a Philadelphia native, will be in attendance to give the keynote address on (GMO) genetically modified organism foods and labeling in Pennsylvania.  Rabbi Mordechai Liebling of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and Rebecca Frimmer, General Manager of Greensgrow Farms will be presenting as well.

The Festival will take place Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013 at Rodeph Shalom. Doors will open at 9:30 AM and activities will begin with morning services and yoga. To register visit the Festival’s website.