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.

No Place for Hate Crimes in Israel

— by Yaron Sideman, Consul General Of Israel, Mid-Atlantic RegionImageProxy.mvc

Last week we witnessed two hideous attacks in Israel: The first was an arson attack on a Palestinian family, in which an 18-month old toddler was murdered. His parents and 4-year-old brother were seriously injured. There is evidence pointing to the attack having been carried out by Israeli extremists. The second was a stabbing spree at the Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem that injured six people, two of them seriously, carried out by an ultra-Orthodox man with an existing criminal record.

 Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com.

Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com.

Every society has its negative elements: miscreants who seek to undermine its fundamental values and pollute it with their hateful agendas. Such criminal elements belong behind bars, but unfortunately they will succeed, on occasion, in rearing up their ugly heads and spreading mayhem and destruction. No society, even the most democratic and enlightened, is free of such “bad weeds.”

There are no other words to describe these attacks other than “despicable acts of terror.” They shocked the Israeli public and were condemned unequivocally by public figures from across the political spectrum. The murderous attack against the Palestinian family was condemned as well by the Yesha Council, the umbrella organization of municipal councils of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

Such attacks are an assault on all who cherish human dignity. They are, in effect, an attack on Israel as a democratic society, as described in the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, released immediately after the attack on the Dawabsha family:

This is an act of terrorism in every respect. The State of Israel takes a strong line against terrorism regardless of who the perpetrators are.

Netanyahu said similar things in response to the attack at the Gay Pride parade:

A despicable hate crime was committed this evening in Jerusalem. In Israel everyone, including the gay community, has the right to live in peace, and we will defend that right. I welcome the Israeli religious leadership’s condemnation of this terrible crime, and I call on all those in positions of leadership to denounce this contemptible act.

Our hearts and minds today are with the grieving Dawabsha family and with those injured at the parade attack in Jerusalem. We wish them healing and a speedy recovery.

Jewish Gay Pride Strong at Philadelphia Parade

Dignity characterized Philadelphia's Gay Pride Parade yesterday. Each group marching past the review stands at Independence Mall stood tall and in the thousands, reflecting a growing and strong array of social service, religious and artistic, family and corporate support for equality across the full range of gender. 

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice was on the scene with a substantial booth at the six hour Penn's Landing party into which the parade participants and observers poured. Why? Rabbi Janet Marder put the matter most succinctly to my mind in the October 1985 issues of the Reconstructionist Magazine: "Reverence for tradition is no virtue when it promotes injustice and human suffering." All afternoon long, Jews and non-Jews of all ages and gender orientations came over to appreciate and explore our Jewish presence. We could see representatives of Beth Ahavah, the Delaware Valley's only gay and lesbian synagogue, as busy as we, across the courtyard. 

The progress in GBLTQ acceptance in Jewish life is substantial, albeit incomplete and insufficient. Since the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College led the way with unconditional ordination of gay and lesbian students in 1984, all the movements, save for for Orthodoxy have found their way to inclusive rites and ordinations. A few summers back National Havurah Institute offered programming to raise awareness of the leadership, challenges and needs of transgender Jews. In Jewish Renewal inclusion has long been manifest and encoded within its ethical platform.
 
"I'm so glad you're here," was what we heard over and over at the parade yesterday. We're offering a free raffle through the end of June with one of the prizes a free commitment ceremony with trimming donated from the flowers, cake, clothes and more.
  
More after the jump.

Yes, Judaism is big on family and commitment, so it was a joy to hear many share that they'd already undertake a Jewish commitment ceremony with their local Philadelphia rabbi. And we often heard comments such as these: "Reb Goldie, did you know that our rabbi is out and she's amazing! and "Ours isn't a gay synagogue, our rabbi is gay. We're an everyone synagogue and we love our rabbi." 
 
Echoing in every moment, for me, was the memory of being a married student attending the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote back in the 1980s when gay and lesbian ordination was coming up for a vote in the moment. Accustomed to heterosexual privilege, my heart broke that a vote on the humanity and Jewish authenticity of those around me. As a student body we rallied together, making sure airfares were available to get all possible voters down to the decision-making body that would be meeting in Florida. How could a Jewish human's right to ordination could possibly be an issue if they were succeeding in their training and studies? Faculty and movement leaders held educational programs to help members prepare for the vote. Gay and lesbian ordination passed by an overwhelming majority.
 
The Reconstructionist movement report mentioned early in this report states: "Traditional Judaism spoke of the widow, the orphan, the deaf, and the blind as those most in need of protection. Justice for the vulnerable is a test of the ultimate values of a community or society. Jewish sources, prayers and rituals continually remind us that we were once vulnerable as a people, enslaved in Egypt. We speak of having been strangers in the land of Egypt .At various later points in Jewish history, we have been vilified and oppressed for no reason other than our identity as Jews. As a consequence, a major theme of Jewish tradition is the obligation to be sensitive to the needs of … those that society views as outcast. The Jewish people has a special concern about just and fair treatment …"
 
One of the many parade delegations is called PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. This year PFLAG was one of the smallest groups marching, which I find a cause for concern. Showing up and standing up for our neighbors' humanity, and in every extended family, the rights of those we love, is part of what it means to live a mitzvah-centered life. Next year, if you didn't this year, join us in "coming out" as Jews who do not accept discrimination as an acceptable way of life. 

Photo: Barry Bub.