By Jeremy Grossman, Staff Writer
MANALAPAN — In Daniel Bahner’s experience, the Jewish community has always been one of inclusion and acceptance. But when it comes to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community, Jewish congregations may still be taking steps toward learning how to fully embrace members of that community.
“Most of the people I have been interacting with are very receptive and open to integrating LGBTQ individuals into the Jewish community,” Bahner said. “It’s just a matter of not necessarily having the tools or maybe knowing how to do that — but they want to do that.”
On Jan. 16 at 8 p.m., Bahner will be a guest speaker at Temple Shaari Emeth, Craig Road, a Reform congregation, where he will share his story of growing up as a gay Jew. The event is open to all.
Bahner is the national manager of education and training at Keshet, an organization that works for the full inclusion and equality of LGBTQ Jews and Jewish life.
“By doing the kind of work that Keshet does and going into these Jewish spaces and talking about being gay in a Jewish setting, I think that is how change happens and I think that is how places become more inclusive,” he said.
According to Temple Shaari Emeth Senior Rabbi Melinda Panken, the work of Keshet is something she was eager to share with her congregation.
“I think the role of a synagogue is to welcome people in and to help Jews find expression for their Judaism and find meaning in their Judaism … so I think the work Keshet is doing to create a vibrant, meaningful Jewish community for the [LGBTQ] community is important,” Panken said.
Bahner said he is going to talk about what it was like struggling with his identity while attending a conservative synagogue in southwest Ohio, which, he said, never created a space to discuss LGBTQ issues.
“I’m hoping [Temple Shaari Emeth] can understand the importance of and maybe relate to my experience and why it is important to build inclusive communities, and to build an inclusive Jewish community for young people,” he said.
“It is so critical to, really, the mental, emotional and physical well-being of members of any community — but particularly a Jewish community which oftentimes, especially where I grew up, is a small one.
“I hope in sharing my story, for people listening to my story, to be able to connect with me and my experience, and through that, to understand why it is important to be inclusive and how we can build an inclusive Jewish community,” he said.