By Benjamin Ellis, A Director at Keshet UK ( http://www.keshet.org.uk/)
Four arguments for Jewish change
I thought I knew why we were there. Fifteen of us. Sitting in a circle on a Saturday night at JW3. But then someone asked the question: Why does Keshet UK exist?
It’s not that there isn’t a problem of homophobia in the Jewish community; nor that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people find Jewish organisations and institutions so warm and welcoming that our work was over.
What they meant was why does there need to be a Jewish approach to address these problems?
And so, before immersing ourselves in a full day’s discussion of gender, sexuality, privilege and discrimination, we asked ourselves why.
Top of the list was that Jewish LGBT people are entitled to their heritage and their own community.
Yes – we live in a time of unprecedented freedom, and of course LGBT people can simply leave – indeed, many have. I’ve lost track of the number of rabbis and communal leaders that have said well, we just don’t have any gay people in our community to worry about.
Well, then. Thousands of young people are growing up and simply leaving. And while this allows them to live a life true to their LGBT identity, many would love to be just as proud to be Jewish. So we need a Jewish approach to create Jewish communities where Jewish LGBT people can stay, being twice proud of this intersection of identities.
For many in the group, diversity itself was a Jewish value. We are all of us created and born in the image of God. Many Jewish texts celebrate human dignity, call for reciprocal responsibility between Jewish people, and express the desire to build unified, inclusive communities where all Jewish people can feel welcome. Creating space for diversity within the Jewish community is intrinsically Jewish, and is something that Jewish communities should do to remain true to their values.
Pragmatism was not far behind. As Jewish people working within a Jewish framework we are uniquely placed to understand, work with and influence the Jewish community. We who live within the community understand how decisions are made, where lie the opportunities for change, and who will support the call for change. Like all communities, the Jewish community can be insular. Sometimes solutions from outside can seem irrelevant, or threatening. It takes the insider knowledge that we have to support the community to find its own solutions, rooted in its own identity.
Finally, though, this is our community.
As Hillel taught over 2,000 years ago: If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?
We can’t sit back and wait for someone else to come and make our community a safe place for young people, one free from bullying and rejection; to become a place where LGBT people and their families can live with dignity and respect; where all Jewish people feel they can belong. And if there is a problem with our community, then it is our own responsibility to recognise it, to understand it, and to fix it.