When asked how congregations can be more welcoming to the LGBTQ community, Beth Am Israel Rabbi David Ackerman held up the rainbow flag in his hand, just one of countless flags held, waved and worn by participants at the Philly Pride Parade.
“Put one of these on the front door,” Ackerman said. “And there’s one of these on our front door. If you walk into our office, you’ll see rainbow flags in our office. We put our J.Proud logo on all of our communications, on our website, on everybody’s email.”
He then pointed to a sign reading, “Our doors are wide open. Congregation Beth Am Israel is J.Proud,” held by a congregant. “Things like that,” he continued. “That sign is on the front door of our building, and not just this week.”
Ackerman was just one in a group of about 25 people marching in the parade as part of the J.Proud Jewish Philly LGBTQ Consortium. Others came representing Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JFCS) of Greater Philadelphia, Congregation Kol Ami, Tribe 12 and KleinLife, in addition to Beth Am Israel. For the marchers in the J.Proud consortium, some of whom are members of the LGBTQ community and some allies, marching served as a way to say that their organizations welcome LGBTQ people.
“We feel that inclusion and LGBT rights are at the heart of Jewish life or what it means to be Jewish,” said Donna Kirschner, co-coordinator of Beth Am Israel’s LGBTQ working group.
Under a gray sky and the constant threat of rain, participants waved rainbow flags and cheered as the parade wound its way through Center City, from 13th and Locust streets, through the Gayborhood and ending at Penn’s Landing.
The J.Proud consortium is part of JFCS’ LGBTQ Initative, which began organizing a consortium of different Jewish organizations to march together in the Philly Pride Parade in 2014, said Phoenix Schneider, the Initiative director.
That first year, he said, was particularly exciting, as people in the crowd were excited to see Jewish representation and some even joined the group from the sidelines.
“It was really quite incredible to hear the crowd,” Schneider recalled. “When we would pass through, our group, the crowd would really cheer us on, and they were thrilled to see that there was a Jewish group marching and to see that there was representation and to learn more about the resources available for the Jewish community.”
Besides organizing a consortium to march in the parade, JFCS’ LGBTQ Initiative offers different services, including counseling and support groups for LGBTQ individuals and their families and training for clergy, educators and other professionals.
Over the years, Schneider said, the challenges and needs that LGBTQ Jews face have changed. When he first started at JFCS, the need was to create opportunities for LGBTQ people to connect. The focus has since shifted to training and workshops because of the increase in children coming out and the subsequent need for families, educators and other community members to learn how best to support them.
Schneider said anyone looking for that kind of training and support can reach him at email@example.com.
“It’s really critical that we meet LGBTQ folks and communities where they’re at, and Pride is absolutely the place to be and to stand together collectively to say that we’re here for you,” Schneider said.