If you want to contribute to the Jewish News LGBT section, then contact us! Email jackm@thejngroup.com – Jack Mendel

Keshet UK held their annual Chanukah lighting reception in Parliament, celebrating diversity and inclusion within the Jewish community. 

The reception was hosted by Finchley and Golders Green MP Mike Freer, and was attended by a range of Jewish community, and LGBT organisation and figures.

The evening was opened with food and drinks for Chanukah, before Benjamin Ellis, who is a director at Keshet UK and is also a founding member, addressed the reception. IMG_0041

After thanking Mike Freer for having allowed volunteers to organise the event, Ellis outlined that “Keshet UK is the forum to champion the rights of LGBT people in different [Jewish] communities in the UK”, before highlighting their achievements of 2014. 

“Keshet UK had been running on an entirely voluntary basis” but the achievements in that time have been phenomenal.

In the previous year for example, Ellis said that they had spoken to school assemblies and hundreds on campus, trained 180 community and youth leaders about LGBT diversity and inclusion, and recruited and trained at least 20 new volunteers. 

He outlined with four key reasons, why Keshet UK needed to exist. The first of which was that, that being LGBT and Jewish are not mutually exclusive.

Those that identify as Jews and LGBT “have a right to their Jewish and LGBT heritage”. Secondly, “Judaism values diversity – we are all valuable and different”. Thirdly that change was not going to happen if they didn’t do it themselves, and lastly, that it is ‘our’ community, and ‘our’ problem, so “If our community is broken, then we have a responsibility to fix it.”

MP for Finchley and Golders Green, Mike Freer, addressing the reception. Benjamin Ellis is second from the left.

L-R: MP for Finchley and Golders Green, Mike Freer, Alma Reisel, Benjamin Ellis and Dave Shaw

For 2015, he outlined that they sought to raise significant funding, because many organisations had come to Keshet UK to ask for training. We have had to turn people away, saying “we just don’t have the capacity to offer the training you need in the speed with which you need it.” 

Ellis then introduced the second speaker, Isabella Segal, who spoke about her first hand experience.

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“My name hasn’t always been Isabella, I was married and I have 2 children.. but I have always had issues with my gender.”

“I had been suffering from Gender problems from sometime, so I decided that life is too short and that I should go for it.”

“I was diagnosed with Gender Disphoria, and was advised to do something about it… so 18 months ago I started living as Isabella.”

Isabella said that she didn’t want to ‘lose’ her Jewish identity through, nor did she feel she should have to chose.

As a chartered accountant, she said that she could help Keshet UK function as a charity, with the knowledge that she was helping people in a similar position. 

She ended her speech by outlining that “I feel part of the community. I feel loved, and I feel accepted. That is the most important thing.”

Returning from the Prime Minister’s Chanukah party, Conservative MP Mike Freer was the final speaker.

He began by welcoming everyone to the second ‘annual’ Keshet UK Chanukah party, saying that the work that Keshet UK does is ‘remarkable’, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

His short speech ended with a poignant remark that Jews should be supporting the rights of minority communities, ensuring there is inclusivity. 

When the speeches came to a close, the Chanukah candles were lit, and everyone sang Moatzur (rock of strength).

Afterwards, Mike Freer kindly offered all attendees a full tour of the Houses of Parliament.

Visit http://www.keshet.org.uk for more details about the work that they do.