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I belong to a reform synagogue. We have a new lesbian rabbi. I’ve noticed that some of the other congregants, a few who I would consider friends, have been vocal with their opinions. I fear that their negative attitudes and behavior will influence other congregants and make LGBTQ members feel isolated and not welcomed. I’m not sure how to address this.

Concerned

Dear Concerned,

I’m so glad that you are concerned about this and care about making all congregants feel welcome at your synagogue. Certainly, if this negativity towards the rabbi because of her sexual orientation begins to spread through the congregation, even if it began with only a few people, it can cause other LGBTQ folks, and their family, friends, and allies, to doubt their welcome there. It is possible that you can address this in two ways. One way is to be openly supportive of the rabbi in general, commenting when you are appreciative of an interesting sermon she has given or class she has taught, complimenting a particularly moving service, or mentioning that she carried out some other rabbinic task with sensitivity, caring, and skill. Members of the congregation, both your critical friends and others, will hear your opinion and, hopefully, focus on the qualities that are important in a rabbi. Another way to address this, which is more difficult, would be to “confront” the critics next time you hear a negative comment and ask what they mean and why they are so negative about it. You can then counter their comments with your own positive reflections on the rabbi and even your concerns about making members feel unwelcome. Keshet at http://www.keshetonline.org is a great resource with a range of articles that may be helpful.This is a sensitive situation and you are right to be concerned. Some people might hesitate to speak out, and by their silence lend support to the rabbi’s detractors. Kudos to you for living your Jewish values of welcoming and inclusion.

Ally