Who are we? Where did we come from? How do we get started? Where do we want to go and how are we a part of our Jewish community?
While these questions ring true for everyone, they’re especially true for members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender community looking to find their voice, place and acceptance in the Jewish community.
“I come from a much more open and affirming kind of family but for many years the attitude was largely that sexuality is a private matter,” said Marc Paley, 32, the coordinator of the LGBT Jewish Inclusion Project of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona. “But a person who is LGBT has a different balance than someone who identifies themselves as straight … it’s a much deeper process of reflection. I simply felt an absence of any kind of discussion regarding God and my LGBT identity.”
To help with that process, Paley and project steering member Ari Ginsburg in June took part in the 2010 LGBT Jewish Movement-Building Convening, the first conference of its kind, held in Berkeley, Calif. There they learned how to further achieve acceptance and affirmation in the Tucson Jewish community.
“We plan on increasing the offering of LGBT programming at all open and affirming shuls through education and programming for parents with easily acceptable reference materials from the LGBT community,” Paley said. “We also want to increase spiritual offerings through a chavurah (fellowship group), plus more speakers and also press the community to be more public on civil rights issues.”
Ginsburg, 44, added that there must also be liaisons within synagogues for members who need help with LGBT issues and a written policy for staff development.
Both Paley and Ginsburg said the conference was a moving experience.
“There was nothing like it,” said Paley about the conference and a Shabbat service held that weekend. “I have never felt so
affirmed as a Jew or as a member of the LGBT community. It’s an incredible feeling that your community is at the center of your Jewish experiences as opposed to being on the periphery.”
For Ginsburg, it was the diversity of LGBT Jews at the conference — from atheists to Orthodox Jews — that was remarkable.
“It helped reaffirm my being, also because I’m more religious but a little apprehensive to go deeper into my religion,” said Ginsburg, who is transgender. “Having the entire spectrum of LGBT Jews [there] was such an amazing experience — such a spiritual high and people from all over the world coming together for the same reason — to see how we can further ourselves in the community and beyond.”
But that’s not to say strides haven’t already been made in Tucson. Paley and Ginsburg both say Tucson has been on the cutting edge of affirmation for LGBT members.
The Inclusion project officially started in 2004 and is one of only three in the country associated with a Jewish federation. Since that time, programs introduced to Reform synagogues and the Tucson Jewish Community Center include LGBT sermons, adult education and training for Jewish professionals.
John Peck, former senior vice president of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, said the inclusion project has grown tremendously since its inception.
“Everybody needs a seat at our table and this is a way for a particular section of the community, a significant section, to have that seat and be a part of the community,” Peck said.
Ginsburg said members of Congregation Chaverim were very supportive when he went through his surgeries. And earlier this year, Temple Emanu-El launched an event with the Israel Center and the LGBT inclusion Project giving awards to local people who have promoted equal rights for the LGBT community. The Rainbow Keshet Awards are slated to become an annual community event.
The Berkeley conference also opened up further dialogue with many synagogues.
“I would love to see more programming for LGBT youth and their families,” said Lori Riegel, youth education director at Temple Emanu-El. “In my opinion there’s not much available for teens and youth in general to help educate them on peer pressure.”
Paley agrees there’s much more work to be done.
“We have a long road to go to integrate LGBT into a mainstream Jewish context,” he said. “But we are at that place where we are starting an integration of Jewish culture.”
The LGBT Inclusion Project is hosting its first annual meeting and social, which will include a presetnation about the Berkeley conference, on Aug. 22 from 3-5 p.m. at the JCC Heritage Room. Contact Paley at 577-9393, ext. 128 or email@example.com.
: Seven percent to 8 percent of the Jewish community is LGB (the number of transgender Jews is not known). This means that of the 22,000 to 23,000 Jews in Tucson, about 1,500 are LGB. Of those 1,500, less than 20 percent are affiliated with any aspect of the Jewish community. (In Tucson overall, less than half of the Jewish population is formally affiliated with the Jewish community.)
Source: Jewish Mosaic and the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona