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Small Changes Make a Huge Difference for Inclusion

As we near the end of Pride month, we want to wish everyone who is a part of the LGBTQIA+ community a Happy Pride. At B’nai Jeshurun we are committed to creating an inclusive holy community enhanced by our diverse membership. 

We’ve been fortunate to be able to work closely with Keshet for the past few years. They are the leading organization focused on LGBTQ rights within and for the Jewish Community, as well as an important advocate nationally on LGBTQ rights issues. 

I spoke with Idit Klein (she/her/hers), president and CEO of Keshet which she has led since 2001, and Dubbs Weinblatt (they/them/theirs), associate director of education and training at Keshet, to talk about our collective work and our committed path forward. 

Members of BJ’s Marriage Equality Havurah meeting with Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal in 2011.

Ten years ago, on June 24, 2011, New York State signed into law the Marriage Equality Act, an effort for which the BJ community was commended for its grass-roots organizing and lobbying. This has largely been seen as a victory for the LGBTQ community and one of the biggest markers of social progression since the gay rights movement started in the late 1960s. But, as Idit and Dubbs explain, while important progress has been made, the work is not over. 

“There’s a reason to feel more profoundly hopeful than ever,” Idit said. She mentioned Bostock V. Clayton County, a 2020 decision in which the Supreme Court held that Title VII protects employees against discrimination because they are gay or transgender. 

“On the other hand, there are many reasons to be profoundly troubled by recent developments.” 

Idit is talking about the surge of proposed legislation attacking trans people, especially those targeting trans youth all around the country. 

“There are more than 250 bills aimed against the LGBT community, over 100 of those specifically towards the trans community,” Dubbs said. Beyond the restrictions proposed to prevent trans people from using the bathroom they feel comfortable in, transgender people are also being targeted by bills restricting their healthcare and blocking updates on birth certificates. 

“I just want the same access and rights as everybody else,” Dubbs said.

Still, Idit and Dubbs remain steadfastly optimistic about their work and its impact not just within the Jewish community, but more broadly

“It’s the most hopeful feeling… when I see Jewish institutions really taking this work seriously and prioritizing LGBTQ equality,” Dubbs said. 

BJ was an early advocate for LGBTQ inclusion among mainstream synagogues, but is now among many that are taking the initiative and asking questions, bringing staff in for training, and updating membership forms and email signatures to utilize more inclusive language. We’ve also started using Keshet’s safezone images on emails, changed bathroom signs in the building, as well as started an LGBTQIA+ havurah. These small changes make a huge difference for the whole community and those looking at us from the outside. 

“These changes may feel small, but they’re actually huge,” Dubbs said. “This is an organization that is thinking about all of the ways or some of the ways that they can signal that this is a space where we are thinking about LGBTQ equality and the people who are part of our community.” 

The BJ staff also includes our pronouns with our names in Zoom meetings, which creates a much more inclusive environment so that no one assumes anything about one another. 

Jewish youth are an especially vulnerable population that seek validation, especially during the time of Pride Month. Idit and Dubbs are both continuously inspired by LGBTQIA+ Jewish teens who Idit describes as being “entirely and authentically Jewish.” 

“They’re not apologizing about who they are,” Idit said. “And they’re angry and sad when their Jewish communal institutions and leaders don’t see that. But they largely don’t retreat, they largely don’t despair. They demand change and they look to us to partner with them and help support them in working for that change.”

The importance of being an inclusive space means all of our members can always feel at home with us. As Keshet teaches: it isn’t enough to just do the surface level work. Our goal is to be open and inclusive to every one of our members and that work must be on-going. As we celebrate our community members and the LGBTQIA+ community and those in the intersection of both, we hope you’ll partake in the work as well. 

Let’s move forward together. Happy Pride to all! 

 

Written By Max W. Orenstein

Max comes to BJ after nearly a decade working in the non-profit and political space, having served as creative director for the Clinton Foundation and New York State Governor's Office. Specializing...

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