I’m the Membership Vice President of a medium-sized synagogue in the suburbs. Obviously, as synagogue membership has declined in the last few years, we want to be as welcoming as possible to all people who might be interested in joining. I know that there are Jewish LGBT people in our community, but they don’t join the synagogue. Are we doing something wrong? What can we do to make it clear that we welcome them?
Thanks for your help,
-Joan

Dear Joan,

I’m glad to hear that you’re thinking about how to be welcoming to people who have, at times, not felt welcomed in their Jewish community. There are probably several things that the congregation can do to make LGBT people feel more comfortable. As Membership Vice President, you are in an excellent position to create changes in the membership process itself, as well as to make suggestions in other areas. As you proceed with this process, and it is a process, you will want to seek the support of the rabbi and educational director, as your congregation may need to institute changes in areas under their jurisdiction.

For starters, you should look at the membership forms and make sure that they say “Person 1” and “Person 2,” “Person 3,” rather than “Husband” and “Wife” or “Mother” and “Father.” Also, examine any other documents and descriptive information about the congregation to look for language that is or isn’t welcoming. Some congregations state openly that they welcome LGBT people.

Another thing that a congregation can do is to include acknowledgment of days that are special to the LGBT community, such as Equality Shabbat, on the calendar and during a service. Language is important so, for example, when the rabbi asks people to rise to say Kaddish (the memorial prayer) for a loved one, the word “partner” should be included with “husband” and “wife.” The religious school can include sexual identity and gender orientation in any curriculum on diversity at the upper levels and general suggestions about welcoming all people in age appropriate ways from the youngest grades on. Finally, if possible, the congregation should set aside at least one bathroom that is gender neutral (all genders welcome or single stall). This will be helpful for people with disabilities as well as transgender and non-binary people.

You can find more suggestions for making your congregation welcoming to LGBT people from Jewish Family and Children’s Service by visiting www.jfcsphilly.org  You can also contact Keshet, the national Jewish LGBT educational organization, for school curricula and other material at www.keshetonline.org. I applaud your efforts to make your congregation a true home to all Jewish people.

Best wishes,

Ally