More than 80 members and allies of the LGBT community gathered at the Washington, DC Jewish Community Center Oct. 26-28 for a "Queer Shabbaton" celebrating sexuality and Judaism.
Put on by Nehirim, the leading national community nonprofit organization for LGBT Jews and co-sponsored by GLOE, the Kurlander Program in Gay/Lesbian Outreach & Engagement at the DCJCC, and Bet Mishpachah, the District's LGBT synagogue, the weekend featured sessions and workshops focusing on queer identities, spirituality, Judaism and politics.
Jonathan Lipton, associate with Koda Leadership consulting, directed and organized the Shabbaton alongside Eryca Kasse, a poet whose work was recently included in Milk and Honey: Jewish Lesbian Poetry. Lipton, who is also a senior and master's candidate at American University, explained that the goal of the Shabbaton was to bring together members of the LGBT community from across the nation.
"We wanted people to leave the Shabbaton feeling like they became a part of a more unified LGBT Jewish community, both here in D.C. and nationally. I think that the Shabbaton, which was open to college students through middle-aged adults, gave individuals the opportunity to harness their identity as a single identity, not splintered between being Jewish and LGBT."
During the weekend, participants heard remarks from Nehirim's founder and best-selling author, Jay Michaelson; former D.C. congressional representative Sabrina Sojourner; and Dr. Warren Hoffman, author of The Passing Game: Queering Jewish American Culture. Wayne Firestone, president and CEO of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, who has announced he is stepping down from his position in June 2013, closed out the event on Sunday morning.
"Sabrina, of course, is a visible leader within the LGBT community, and within the Jewish community, and represents a driving force in the political world to advance full equality and to advocate for people of all identities," said Lipton.
The October Shabbaton was Nehirim's second in D.C., and 10th overall since its founding in 2004, with the total number of past attendees nearing 3,000. The organization was recently listed in the Slingshot Guide as one of the top 50 innovative Jewish nonprofits.
Michaelson described these weekends as "primarily community-building events. This is an opportunity for people to come together to connect on a deeper level as a tribe within a tribe. Everyone who was there last weekend is part of some larger community, and was able to touch base with people in their tribe."
Both Lipton and Michaelson recalled their favorite part of the Shabbaton, as being the speech by Firestone, whose remarks expressed Hillel's ongoing dedication to the LGBT community.
"We are proud of our affiliation with The National Union of Jewish LGBTQ Students (NUJLS) and the presence of many alumni in Nehirim. I find the Jewish LGBT community incredibly welcoming; they have so much to teach and contribute to the broader community," said Firestone. "Inclusiveness of students and staff is a priority for Hillel, in fact, a group of Hillel professionals developed an LGBTQ resource guide [available for free at Hillel.org/LGBTQ] to help campuses and community members to reach out to and engage the LGBTQ Jewish student population."
"Wayne is a leader within the Jewish community, and a stalwart ally that has been there to support individuals regardless of their sexual orientation," said Lipton. "It speaks volumes that Hillel has fully inclusive policies for students ranging in religious identity, and has created advancements to make sure that Hillels are welcoming and safe for LGBT students."
"Firestone is a straight ally, and he was really candid and forthcoming about his own journey, and it meant a lot to the participants to hear from someone in that position," said Michaelson. "It was a really nice conclusion to the weekend."Those interested in learning more or supporting Nehirim should visit www.nehirim.org. The organization is holding its first benefit in New York on Nov. 14.
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