Kulanu (“All of us”) is a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning Temple Shalom members and their supporters. This year, they have been hard at work advocating to the synagogue community the need for attention, acceptance and understanding. Last Wednesday night, Kulanu members introduced themselves to members of the board of trustees. They spent time telling their individual stories and inviting temple members to attend a community-wide discussion on inclusion in the Temple Shalom community scheduled for March 11 from 6-8 PM. Everyone is invited to attend this very important conversation!
Below is a letter written to the board of trustees by Sarah Ze’eva Berman. Sarah is a college student who is active in our Temple Shalom community. She became Bat Mitzvah in our sanctuary and was involved with the high school program and NFTY. She is truly a gifted musician and an aspiring Jewish leader. Sarah’s powerful words are an inspiration to all of us. They are also a great introduction to the work of Kulanu and why this group is needed in the Temple Shalom community.
Board of Trustees Presentation
By Sarah Ze’eva Berman
Temple Shalom is not a homophobic place by any stretch of the imagination.
As a semi-out (not shouting it to the world, but happy to talk about it if asked) queer high schooler at temple shalom, I never experienced any hateful or hostile words or behavior.
What was made it slightly difficult for me, though, was a feeling of a push to be invisible. To my memory, apart from the screening of the film Hineini by Keshet (The Jewish Community’s LGBTQ Advocacy Organization) (which I thought was fantastic), there was no affirmation of acceptance within the temple shalom community.
I always questioned whether putting myself out there as a queer teenager would ruffle people’s feathers the wrong way and that I would suddenly be seen as “that gay teenager” that was pushing my agenda in people’s faces. However, I chose to let my sexuality become a known fact about me for anyone that cared. And, though I’ve never had any expressly negative experiences regarding being queer as Temple Shalom, I’ve never felt a true sense of acceptance and welcoming from the community.
Being an out queer is something I chose to do, even though I probably did ruffle a few people’s feathers in the process. But the point is that being out shouldn’t have to be some radical thing. There are queer kids at temple who haven’t come out yet (I can promise you that). And the lack of a vibe of acceptance and warmth preceding their choice to come out can be the deal breaker for them as they decide whether or not they feel comfortable choosing to share an important part of themselves with the temple community.
It is not hatefulness or hostility towards the queer community that needs to change at Temple Shalom. That has never been a problem in the years I’ve been at temple. What needs to arise is a sense of welcoming, of warmth, and of acceptance for all members of the LGBT+ community. In such an environment, hopefully kids at temple questioning their sexuality right now don’t have to wonder whether temple would be an accepting place for them to express who they are.
My Hebrew school teacher Michelle D. was an inspiration. Really, truly. She was open enough to, when we asked why she was leaving, to tell us that she was moving to Florida to be with her girlfriend. At the time, I was… ten? eleven? I don’t remember. But the fact that she was willing to share that part of her life with us made me respect her so much as a person. I’m so sorry she had to leave. I think she set a precedent that should be followed. She was brave enough to be out to her students and become an inspiration to me.
I think, if Temple Shalom creates a more welcoming environment, we can create a more open and sharing environment that will benefit… everyone.
The film Hineini was great but the impact of it didn’t reach far enough. It was quite a moving film for me, and the discussion afterward led by Keshet was fantastic. But for those for whom the movie didn’t resonate on such a personal level, it was seen, appreciated, and then basically forgotten. If we want events like that to have more impact, LGBT+ active acceptance and welcoming attitudes need to be embraced as a part of the atmosphere of the temple.