Jewish LGBT organizations stake claim in SF
by Heather Cassell
San Francisco's Jewish LGBT community is filled with pride this year as it appears that the city by the Bay is emerging as a hub of LGBT Jewish leadership nationally and internationally.
Keshet opened its new office doors June 1 and in May A Wider Bridge was named an UpStarter by UpStart Bay Area.
UpStart is a social justice Jewish entrepreneurial organization for innovative and new Jewish groups that was founded by former Bureau of Jewish Education director Toby Rubin in 2006. Similar to venture incubators, it provides a variety of organizational development opportunities, professional training, and support with a unique Jewish perspective and purpose.
Both organizations are housed with a number of other nonprofit Jewish organizations in UpStart's San Francisco office.
"We are at a really exciting moment for LGBT inclusion and equality in the Jewish community," wrote Idit Klein, executive director of Keshet, in an email interview. Klein pointed to the recent ordination of the first openly gay rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary, the flagship seminary of the Conservative movement, and the outpouring of support from the Jewish community for a pledge to end homophobic bullying that the organization circulated last fall.
"It's vitally important for us to be in the Bay Area – some of the most vibrant, creative, dynamic queer Jewish culture and community life is here," Klein added. "By having a presence in the area, we can help strengthen and build on this energy at this key time."
San Francisco is the home of the third largest metropolitan Jewish community in the U.S. There are approximately 36,000 queer Jews in the Bay Area, according to the LGBT Alliance Study published in 2010 by the Jewish LGBT Alliance of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties. It only makes sense that LGBT Jewish organizations congregate in the heart of the "gay mecca," queer Jewish leaders expressed.
Keshet is a national organization that provides support, training, and resources to ensure that LGBT Jews are fully "included in all parts of the Jewish community," according to its website.
Lisa Finkelstein, director of JCF's LGBT Alliance, sees Keshet's presence in the Bay Area as a sign that the queer Jewish community is thriving and only is going to grow stronger to "create a healthier sustainable community."
Rebecca Weiner, education director of Congregation Sha'ar Zahav, agreed.
"It symbolizes that we've really created an infrastructure in the Jewish LGBT world" that provides an opportunity for real "measurable impacts in terms of inclusion and addressing homophobia and really educating," said Weiner, a 25-year educator.
The two organizations join a network of established queer Jewish institutions that include: the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center, Congregation Sha'ar Zahav, Jewish LGBT Alliance of the JCF, and Nehirim.
Keshet's new office steps into the place of Jewish Mosaic's former satellite San Francisco office, which closed when Boston-based Keshet and the former Denver-based Jewish Mosaic merged in June 2010.
The new office is headed by out lesbian Sasha T. Goldberg, 30, the former associate director of Nehirim, a queer Jewish culture and spirituality organization that hosts retreats and other programs. Goldberg, who took the position in May, has lived in the Bay Area for more than a decade after moving from Chicago. She earned her master's degree in Judaism from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and was a consultant to educators on LGBT issues.
Arthur Slepian, executive director of A Wider Bridge, understands bridges. The organization that works to bring queer Jews in North America and Israel together to learn from each other and build relationships became the first to be accepted into the UpStart program, according to both organizations' leadership. It is also the only LGBT program selected by the committee out of the competitive process this year, Rubin pointed out.
"I'm really proud that we have been selected," said Slepian, who has orchestrated bringing queer Israeli Orthodox and youth leaders to tour the U.S. and spoke to more than 1,000 individuals during the past year. He said he looks forward to taking the opportunity to build upon creating "opportunities for organizations in the U.S. and Israel to work together."
Slepian is currently planning an LGBT trip to Israel later this year with several other organizations. Additionally, the organization is planning a series of programs for college campuses, Slepian said.
"Our organization is about education, engagement, and experience. That's what really we are trying to bring to LGBT Jews and the broader LGBT community in terms of being able to connect with Israel [either for] the first time or to strengthen the connections that one might already have," said Slepian.
The three other organizations that were selected by UpStart: Amir, the Kitchen, and Urban Adamah. The organizations already started working with six UpStart alumni organizations and alongside each other for the next three years on their respective projects.