Holocaust memorial to gays to be built in Tel Aviv


A monument to gays persecuted by the Nazis will be built in Tel Aviv.

The monument, the first of its kind in Israel, will be constructed in Meir Park, near the Tel Aviv Gay and Lesbian Association Center in the central part of the city, Haaretz reported.

It will include a concrete pink triangle along with a bench and a plaque providing information on the persecution of gays during the Holocaust. Gays were forced to wear an identifying pink triangle on their clothing in the same way that Jews were forced to wear a yellow star.

The inscription on the memorial will read: “To the memory of those persecuted by the Nazi regime for their sexual preference and gender identity.”

Attorney Eran Lev, a member of the municipal council from the Meretz party, came up with the idea for the memorial.

“This will be the first and only memorial site in Israel to mention the victims of the Nazis who were persecuted for anything other than being Jewish,”  Lev told Haaretz. “As a cosmopolitan city and an international gay center, Tel Aviv will offer a memorial site that is universal in its essence. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not a monument but a place  — a place of quiet that will invite visitors to sit, contemplate, reflect and be in solitude.”

Memorials to the gay victims of Nazi persecution exist in Berlin, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Sydney and San Francisco, according to Haaretz.

L.A. Jewish LGBT community reacts to same-sex marriage decisions


Leaders of the area’s Jewish LGBT community rejoiced today after the Supreme Court ruled that part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denied federal benefits to same-sex couples, was unconstitutional. The court also paved the way for a return of same-sex marriage to California in a separate case by dismissing an appeal to Proposition 8 that banned such marriages.

“It’s a historic and wonderful day,” said Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami, a Reform congregation serving gay and lesbian Jews in West Hollywood. “It means marriages are restored in California It means federal protection.”

Kol Ami is a sponsor of a rally tonight in support of the rulings. It will take place at 5:30 p.m. at San Vicente and Santa Monica boulevards.

According to Eger, the ruling gives married LGBT couples 1,138 benefits that were previously denied to them, including Social Security benefits for surviving spouses, the ability to file tax returns together and hospital visiting rights for spouses.

Other examples abound.

“Let’s say there is a binational couple,” Eger said. “A heterosexual couple can apply to have one spouse have permanent residency status in the United States. [LGBT] people were hanging in limbo, where one spouse was forced to live in their country of origin while other, say, finishes school here in America.”

Rabbi Lisa Edwards of Beth Chayim Chadashim, the world’s oldest gay and lesbian synagogue, pointed out that the court’s rulings do not address prohibitions against gay marriage in other states and that prejudice remains. But, she said, “It will take us a long way.”

Edwards’ congregation on Pico Boulevard has been involved in many of the efforts to bring about marriage equality, including Equality California, GLAAD, and the Courage Campaign.

To celebrate today’s court rulings, BCC has planned two events. On Friday night, a chuppah will be placed on the bimah as a symbol. Two days later on June 30, David Codell, who was involved in the litigation for the 2008 California Supreme Court ruling that struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, will speak from 2-4 p.m. The event will be streamed live on the Web at bcc-la.org.

Codell, who received BCC’s Humanitarian Award this year, is currently the visiting legal director of the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.

“These are exciting steps forward. The court’s ruling invalidating DOMA is monumental. It enables same-sex couples to finally experience equality under the law,” Codell told the Journal.

“Exactly 10 years ago today, the Supreme Court ruled that the states could not make it a crime for gay people to have intimate relations. The progress in 10 years is remarkable. Today the court recognized that the families that same-sex couples formed are entitled to the same dignity as other families.”

Codell predicts that it will take some time to determine how today’s ruling will apply to same-sex couples in states that do not currently recognize same-sex marriage. In California, however, same-sex marriages could resume in as little as a month. Even then, there are more important decisions to be made.

“Is the Supreme Court’s decision effective as of now, or is it retroactive to the date a couple was married?” Codell asked. “It will likely take time to sort out these questions.”

Both Eger and Edwards already have begun scheduling same-sex marriages. Edwards says that many people planned their marriages after the election in 2008 and then got “left out.”

Eger said, “The Supreme Court did not give us a sweeping marriage ruling, which means we have to continue to fight for equality… but I believe we will be successful.”

Rabbi breaks with Carl Paladino over apology


From NYTimes.com:

The alliance between the Republican Carl P. Paladino and an Orthodox rabbi from Brooklyn has fallen apart, with the rabbi denouncing Mr. Paladino on Wednesday for his apology over remarks he had made about homosexuality on Sunday.

The rabbi, Yehuda Levin, who helped write those remarks, said Mr. Paladino “folded like a cheap camera” because of the uproar they had set off. And the rabbi said he could no longer support Mr. Paladino’s candidacy for governor of New York.

Synagogues Working to Be More Open to Gays


[UPDATE]

NEW YORK (JTA)—The newsletter sent out last month by Temple Israel of New Rochelle contained the usual sort of announcements, including a reminder about the synagogue’s upcoming Purim carnival, mazal tovs and condolences, and information about a social event at a local steakhouse.

But a small notice about a screening of the film “Hineini: Coming Out In a Jewish High School” reflected a quiet change at the Reform synagogue in suburban New York.

The screening is part of an overall push by Temple Israel to be more welcoming to gay and lesbian Jews. In recent months, the synagogue has edited its membership forms to accommodate diverse family structures, and it now advertises in the gay press and with gay advocacy groups. It also plans to train teachers to be sensitive to issues related to sexuality.

Prompted by the experience of a teenager in the community who was teased when he revealed his homosexuality, momentum built last year when the synagogue hired a new youth director who is openly gay.

“On some level, I kind of view myself as a poster child and that these kids and the adults need to see somebody in the community who fits the description,” said Barry Shainker, the youth director.

Shainker says that while changes are programmatic, the goal is to make such inclusiveness routine.

“Of course in some ways, our goal is to put ourselves out of a job,” he said. “In a few years this will be a no-brainer. What could be a 30-minute discussion at a board meeting becomes a 30-second vote in the future.”

Temple Israel is not alone: A recent conference in New York attracted a cadre of about 60 rabbis, educators and activists from across the denominational spectrum who shared “best practices” for becoming more welcoming to gay and lesbian Jews.

The conference, organized by Jewish Mosaic and the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, was part of the “Welcoming Synagogues Project,” which seeks to develop a model for inclusiveness to be implemented this summer by 10 pilot congregations.

“We’re trying to come up with a process that’s scalable,” said Joel Kushner, director of the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation. A similar program took place March 1-2 in Los Angeles.

“There isn’t going to be one size fits all,” he said.

Findings from the 2009 Synagogue Survey on Diversity and LGBT Inclusion, presented at the New York conference, underscored what Kushner described as a need for congregations to be more welcoming. The survey found that 73 percent of the 760 rabbis polled think their congregation is welcoming to gay and lesbian Jews, although only 33 percent of the 997 synagogues that responded offer programs aimed specifically at gays and lesbians.

The impetus for adopting a more welcoming approach comes from a critical mass of gay members or from policy questions such as the ordination of openly gay and lesbian rabbis and cantors, according to one of the study’s co-authors, Caryn Aviv.

“It has shifted people’s perceptions because they’re having personal interaction with gays and lesbians,” said Aviv, who co-authored the study with Steven Cohen.

To be sure, some synagogues have consciously welcomed sexually diverse Jews for years. For example, Temple Israel in Boston, a Reform congregation with 1,700 families, made such a decision based on what members believed was “right.”
“It was untenable to them that gay and lesbian Jews wouldn’t have a home,” Rabbi Stephanie Kolin said.

The synagogue is working with the Boston-based advocacy group Keshet to become a so-called “safe school,” meaning it will train teachers to address bias and promote gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender inclusion.

Temple Israel recently conducted a focus group with some of its LGBT members to find out what as a community the synagogue could improve. Last year the synagogue hosted a program on transgender and gender expression. In the past there was a LGBT chevra, or social group, and the synagogue sent dozens of people to rally at the Massachusetts State House in support of equal marriage.
“Acting publicly around justice issues is another way that we are proactively welcoming,” Kolin said.

At the conference in New York, representatives of other synagogues shared their “best practices.”

At Kolot Chayeinu, a progressive congregation in Park Slope, Brooklyn, b’nai mitzvah students discuss gender diversity in Jewish texts. Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta has adopted a “brit,” or contract, that stipulates the inclusive values of the community. Beth Simchat Torah, New York’s synagogue for GLBT Jews, has published a new prayer book in which the prayers for life-cycle events—including marriages and baby namings—are not printed in the conventional order, so as to promote the idea of diverse family life.

According to Debra Kolodny, the executive director of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, a critical part of being inclusive is to have leadership that reflects diversity in sexual orientation, and that LGBT perspectives are heard and integrated into teaching and services.

“So it’s just kind of normative,” she explained. “I think inclusion presumes that there is an ‘in group’ and ‘out group.’ ”

At Kehilla Community Synagogue, a Renewal congregation in Piedmont, Calif., the congregation’s inclusiveness was on display last summer when seven same-sex couples married in a group ceremony staged in reaction to the state’s Proposition 8.

Sandy Bredt, Kehilla’s executive director, said the ceremony “was kind of a marriage of our political and our spiritual values.”

For gay and lesbian Jews, having programs and sermons targeting them—combined with a generally welcoming attitude—make congregations more inclusive.

When Joseph Antenson was shopping for a synagogue several years ago, he sought a congregation that had obvious participation from gay and lesbian members and where there was no “separate but equal” status. His desire to hear a rabbi take a proactive stance from the bimah was part of his attraction to B’nai Jeshurun, a liberal synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

“It’s too easy to say, ‘Sure, we’re welcoming,’ but just don’t talk about it,” he said.

In general, Antenson noted with regret, the Jewish community has not been at the forefront of welcoming gays and lesbians into synagogue life.

Antenson, a lay leader and member of the marriage equality, membership and interfaith committees at B’nai Jeshurun, said that when he told fellow congregants about his partner, “I never got a reaction.”

Half of the members of the marriage equality chevra are straight and at B’nai Jeshurun, it is common to celebrate the anniversary of a gay couple, or to see a gay or lesbian couple celebrating an aufruf.

“It’s public evidence that we welcome gays and lesbians, and they are full members of the congregation,” Antenson said.

But according to Aaron Weininger, a second-year rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, a change in cultural assumptions must accompany concrete actions.

“There are so many ways to engage the issues,” he said, citing films such as “Hineini” and programs like LGBT Shabbat dinners. “It is not ‘either-or,’ it’s ‘and.’ ”

While Weininger noted there is no “one size fits all” model, he said synagogues should be asking whether they are engaging all members of the community.

“Because LGBT Jews have been marginalized and alienated for so long, there does need to be a certain level of awareness,” he said. “The more messages our synagogues send that are pro-inclusion, the more younger people coming out and identifying as LGBT feel safe.”

Still, he and others noted, a shift in attitude in Conservative congregations is linked to the movement’s policies regarding gay rabbis and cantors.

Rabbi Morris Allen of Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights, Minn., said his congregation was ahead of the curve and had been since the mid-1990s, when the synagogue was asked to participate in a gay marriage ceremony.

“I think that the Conservative movement in its official capacity sort of caught up to what we’ve been doing,” said Allen, who served on the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Human Sexuality in the early 1990s.

Allen said in lieu of programs targeting LGBT members, his congregation has adopted a welcoming mind-set.

“We didn’t make a special gay slot on our board,” he said.

Gay members serve on the board because they are involved and supportive of the synagogue.

“For many years, people did not feel they could talk about the core of who they were,” Allen said. “I think all we’ve done is open the door and allow people to walk in.”

Open-Door Policy


They are your brother, your cousin, your lawyer, your best friend, or possibly yourself. Yet, while there are as many gays, lesbians and bisexuals in the Jewish community as in any other, they often feel like outcasts in their own faith, afraid that they can’t be open about their sexuality and a committed Jew as well.

Am Echad, a group that formally became part of the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles in March, aims to help change both the perception and the reality of being homosexual or bisexual in the Southern California Jewish community. The organization, whose name means “one people” in Hebrew, will, for the second year, have a booth at the Christopher Street West Lesbian and Gay Pride Festival (CSW) this weekend (June 21-22), at the corner of San Vicente and Santa Monica boulevards in West Hollywood. The importance of visibility was underscored by Am Echad co-chair Bruce Maxwell.

“I think it’s very important that many gays, lesbians and bisexuals feel that they don’t have to go back in the closet to get involved with the Jewish Federation Council or with any other Jewish organization,” Maxwell said. “Many people come to [Jewish] events with their spouse or partner, but, if you’re gay or lesbian, you have to think twice about whether you can safely support something because you’re not sure if you can bring your partner.”

By providing a safe place for gays, lesbians and bisexuals to come out as committed Jews and be visible in their own community, Am Echad “puts a face to the stranger,” said Maxwell.

At last year’s CSW Festival, Am Echad gathered 250 names of people interested in volunteering and contributing money to the Federation. Some were already affiliated with synagogues and other Jewish organizations, but many were not.

“For some, for the first time, they felt that ‘maybe, I can be who I am and be part of the larger Jewish community,'” said Stuart Leviton, Am Echad’s campaign chair.

Several groups within the Federation are co-sponsoring the Am Echad booth at CSW, including the Federation’s Metro and Western regions, the Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance and the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles.

“It’s a tremendous step the Federation has taken in recognizing this community,” said Jan Simons, who chairs Am Echad’s Public Relations Committee.

Am Echad is the first gay and lesbian outreach group that has been made an official part of any federation across the country, Maxwell said. At least three similar groups are beginning efforts to affiliate with federations in San Francisco, Philadelphia and South Florida, he said.

The initiative to bring this organization into the Los Angeles Federation came from the Metro region, said Federation executive vice president John Fishel.

“There are large numbers of residents of this community who are positively identified as Jewish and are part of the gay and lesbian community, and who would like to be more…active in Jewish life,” Fishel said. “We thought that it was a good thing, and we’re encouraging it.”

For more information about Am Echad, call the Federation’s Metro office at (213) 852-7759. n