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Reflecting on Inclusion: A New LGBT Jewish Resource Guide

September 25, 2014

It’s 3:49am. Gabriel, my four-month-old, is crying in his nursery. My partner and I roll over, look at each other, groan. What does it mean to be the best parents we can be in this moment? Allow Gabriel to learn how to soothe himself because we know he is safe, warm, and has a full belly? Or follow our instincts by going up and rocking him back to sleep? We have no guide book. As parents of two children under the age of three, my partner and I are constantly making decisions like this that collectively will shape our children’s lives.

In my role as National Program Director of Keshet, I help Jewish congregations every day make decisions that will shape the lives of their LGBT members. And while, like parenting, these decisions must always first come from a sense of love and trust in each other, I am proud to announce that there is now a guide book to support Jewish congregations in their efforts to create inclusive institutions for LGBT people and their families:

Screenshot 2014-08-27 14.59.31

“Kol B’mishpachat Elohim / All in God’s Family: A Jewish Guide for Creating Allies for Our LGBT Families,” is a multimedia curriculum created by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Institute for Welcoming Resources, Keshet, COLAGE, and Family Equality Council.

The High Holidays are the perfect occasion for the release of a new resource. At this time of the Jewish year, during the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we enter into a period of reckoning for all the choices we have made over the past year. We do the work of teshuvah, commonly translated as repentance and literally meaning “returning” – returning to our best and purest selves. We struggle to return to the people we want to be, the people we know we can be. We reflect on how whether or not we have shown up for others, whether or not we retreated from ourselves, and whether or not we did the right thing rather than the easy thing whenever we could.

Doing the work of LGBT inclusion in our congregations is doing the work of teshuvah – it’s an ongoing process of reflection, reckoning, and making change to better meet the mark. We can honor our accomplishments even as we strive for improvement. LGBT inclusion is not a box to simply check, not something that is achieved in a single training session. We may have developed an inclusion statement for our website. But did we train our staff in how to be more inclusive in their work? Did we create opportunities for community conversations about inclusion and LGBT themes? Did we make bathrooms available for people of all genders? Did we do enough?

There are no quick fixes. Rather, coming together to enact our values for a more inclusive community is a process, a practice that we carry over time. It involves reflection, teshuvah, consistently returning to the values that characterize our communities at their best.

Catherine Bell with her children

Catherine Bell with her children

This is not only a job for me — it’s also personal. As part of a queer family, I want my children to grow up knowing that the essential components of family are love and respect, not one mom and one dad; I want them to know that they have the spaciousness to experience and express their gender and sexual orientation however it evolves over their lifetime. And as part of a Jewish family, I want my children to participate in Jewish community that celebrates and teaches about embracing all people, all families, all genders, all kinds of love.

It’s our hope that Kol B’mishpachat Elohim will support Jewish congregations in pursuing the holy work of LGBT inclusion in Jewish congregations, and will ultimately help all Jewish families – LGBT and straight – experience the richness of a truly inclusive community.

And although there is no guidebook for us as parents, my partner and I will continue our own struggle to make the right choices — time and time again — for our children. But hopefully it won’t always have to be at Four in the morning.

 by Catherine Bell, National Program Director of Keshet

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