I’m the educational director of a large Conservative synagogue. I am aware that there is nothing in our religious school curriculum that deals with LGBT people and issues of diversity. I’m also aware that several teenagers in our high school are gay. I want them to feel comfortable coming to school and I want all of the straight kids to be comfortable, too. I also want them, and their parents, to be knowledgeable about Judaism’s approach to homosexuality as well as gender identity. What should I do? Where do I start?
Dear Concerned Educator,
First, let me commend you on your sensitivity to this issue and the fact that there is a need to discuss it in synagogue schools. There is a Jewish approach, which like most things Jewish, starts with concern for the individual. There are many things that you can do, and I suggest you begin with discussing your concerns with your synagogue’s rabbi. Hopefully, your rabbi will have the same sensitivity to this that you do and will want to help. If you have a school committee, I also suggest that you bring your concerns to them and get their support for any programs or curriculum changes you eventually decide to make.
Even before going to the rabbi, and certainly before approaching your school committee, I suggest you take the opportunity to educate yourself about LGBT issues and the Jewish approach to them. Keshet is the national Jewish LGBT educational organization and they have material and professionals who can be of great assistance. You can find them online and may also wish to speak to one of their professionals at www.keshetonline.org. In Philadelphia, Jewish Family and Children’s Service can also be of help at www.jfcsphilly.org.
I also encourage you to look broadly at your entire school curriculum, not just that of the high school. Children should be learning about diversity and welcoming of all people from the youngest grades with age appropriate material. In the early grades, this can be intertwined into many areas of the curriculum as children learn about mitzvot. In the upper grades, a more specific program can be added. It is also helpful to include parents with a program especially for them that presents what many may not know, namely the Jewish approach to LGBT concerns.
I’m glad you reached out. I think that your school will benefit from your efforts. Good luck.