First Person

JFSA LGBT group voice heard ’round the world

Ellen Freeman
Ellen Freeman

This summer, 150 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews from around the world gathered in Winnipeg, this year’s host city for the 21st World Congress of GLBT Jews, held July 5 to 7. Attendees represented more than 15 countries, including the United States, Canada, England, France, Israel, Argentina and Mexico.

The experience of being together to learn and to celebrate Shabbat with other LGBT Jews from around the world was so powerful. To know that we are not alone; we are not isolated — we truly have a global voice.

The World Congress of GLBT Jews, or Keshet Ga’avah (Rainbow of Pride), which consists of member organizations and individuals from across six continents, holds conferences and workshops and aspires to be the worldwide voice of LGBT Jews. The Hebrew subtitle emphasizes the importance of Hebrew and of Israel to the World Congress.

The Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona supported the LGBT Jewish Inclusion Project’s participation in the conference. I represented our local group, which is one of only two Federation supported LGBT programs nationally, both in the board of directors meeting and throughout the conference.

While the entire conference program was rich with learning, what seemed truly unique and exceptional, in terms of World Congress members’ and attendees’ comments and reactions, was the fact that the Federation was the support behind our LGBT group. The board of directors of the World Congress has asked for the JFSA LGBT Jewish Inclusion Project’s help in reaching out to other Federation organizations. Our Tucson Jewish community stands as a wonderful example of working together to help all our people.

The conference program included a rich array of topics including:

• “Rainbow Blossoms On The Tree of Life: How Torah Grows When Read Through LGBTQ Eyes” by Joy Ladin, Ph.D., the first openly transgender professor at Yeshiva University, an Orthodox Jewish institution.

• “LGBTQQIAAGNC — Alphabet Soup or Meaningful Differences” by Joel Kushner, Psy.D., founding director of the Institute for Judaism, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity at the Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion, the Reform movement’s seminary.

• “God vs. Gay? Making the Religious Case for Equality” by author Jay Michaelson, founder of Nehirim, a national LGBT Jewish community.

• A screening of “The Invisible Men” followed by a Q&A with Israeli producer and director Yariv Mozer

• “How Can You Be a Lesbian? You’re Jewish!” featuring “A Letter to Harvey Milk” by author Leslea Newman

While our JFSA LGBT Jewish Inclusion Project sometimes feels quite local and small, we are a voice heard round the world. The Jerusalem Post recently wrote an article, “U. S. Jewish groups seek to increase LGBT affiliation” that quoted the Jewish Community Foundation of San Francisco, the national organization Keshet, Jewish Federations of North America and me.

As I told the Jerusalem Post, “We have made some major changes in our programming and outreach in the recent past, mostly due to the increasing openness at many of our area congregations and the world in general. We still offer stand-alone programs, but the majority of what we offer now are truly collaborative efforts including other departments of the Federation, its agencies, area congregations and other Tucson institutions including the University of Arizona.”

A great example of such collaborative program planning will take place Nov. 14 to 17, when Joy Ladin visits Tucson. Cosponsored by Temple Emanu-El, the University of Arizona LGBT Studies, the UA Arizona Poetry Center, the UA Hillel Foundation and the JFSA LGBT Jewish Inclusion Project, Ladin will participate at multiple events throughout the city including presentations at the University of Arizona on Nov. 14 and 15, and Shabbat services at Temple Emanu-El on Nov. 15. On Sunday, Nov. 17 she will take part in the Global Day of Jewish Learning at Temple Emanu-El with the Rabbis’ Recommended Reading LGBT book group and Temple’s Sefer book club, where she and Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon will lead a discussion of her memoir, “Through the Doors of Life.”

To learn more about the JFSA’s LGBT Jewish Inclusion Project, the World Congress of GLBT Jews, or events during Joy Ladin’s visit to Tucson, contact me at 577-9393 or

Ellen Freeman is the coordinator of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s LGBT Jewish Inclusion Project.