Are Those on the Periphery the Most Welcoming?

Writing in the Forward, Jay Michaelson, an educator whose work focuses on spirituality, Judaism, sexuality, and law, brought up an interesting point about GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) synagogues. He has noticed a growing number of the congregants at these synagogues are straight – and in some cases, these members make up the majority. This naturally led him to wonder why, and he found that it has to do with an innate ability by GLBT synagogues to be open, welcoming and inclusive above and beyond most mainstream synagogues.

He points to a recent study by Jewish Mosaic: The National Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity which found that “inclusion is a value that transcends subject matter.” Regardless of background – intermarried, Jew-by-choice, adult child of intermarriage – everyone likes to feel included. And in a synagogue started by a traditionally marginalized group, there are “fewer judgments, raised eyebrows or grumbles about political correctness.”

Michaelson says that GLBT synagogues aren’t necessarily more “enlightened about inclusion,” they have just had no choice but to develop in this way. Their longtime awareness of the diversity of the Jewish people has helped them nurture “values and practices that are now hot commodities in the Jewish community at large,” like an understanding that Jewish traditions can and must be “reinvented, re-appropriated and renewed.”

The merging of the marginalized and the mainstream brings us to an interesting place, and it’s one of the reasons JOI wants to work more extensively with the GLBT community. Since the LGBT community is over-represented among the numbers of intermarried families in the Jewish community, we want to make sure that these families are also welcome—whether in an institution specifically for the LGBT community or in the mainstream Jewish community, in general. Too often, the LGBT issues eclipse those of intermarriage and, as a result, leave the latter unaddressed.

The bigger question is, if inclusion is the baseline, what is the best way to help create a unified Jewish community? Multiracial Jews, GLBT Jews, Jews-by-choice and any others that may find themselves on the periphery all have one thing in common – they are all Jews. Wouldn’t we be better served by the richness and diversity they bring to Judaism if we were all members of one Jewish community?

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