Synagogue Reaches Out to GLBT Community

February 21, 2008

By Susan Jacobs, Jewish Journal staff

The Jewish Journal: Boston North

Barbara and Alan Sidman of Salem are the proud parents of a gay son who lives in New York. They hope some day that Michael will return to the North Shore and make it his home, but they believe that the chances are slim. One of the problems, in their opinion, is that the North Shore Jewish community is not particularly welcoming to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) singles and families.

To create a more friendly environment, the Sidmans have founded a task force through their synagogue, Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott. The group, which they say has the full support of Rabbi Baruch HaLevi, will do outreach and programming targeted specifically at the GLBT community.

The first event, scheduled for Sunday, March 16, is a screening of the film “Hineini” followed by a discussion.

Future events may include a GLBT sponsored kiddish, a barbecue on the beach, and a group presence at the annual Gay Pride March in Boston.

“Part of being Jewish is being a part of a community. As Jews, we should include everyone. My dream is that we would have a synagogue and a community with representation from all kinds of families including single-parent and interfaith couples, as well as same-sex couples and their children,” Barbara Sidman said.

Keshet, a Boston-based organization, offers a wide range of social and cultural events for GLBT Jews, however most of its events take place in Boston. Sidman has contacted Keshet about initiating programming on the North Shore.

Andrea Jacobs is Keshet’s director of education. She has met with the rabbi and temple administrators to discuss ways to create a more inclusive and welcoming space at Congregation Shirat Hayam. She has tried to interest the temple in joining the Massachusetts Jewish Safe Schools & Supportive Communities Network, a new Keshet initiative that offers tools, support and specialized training on Jewish identity and the GLBT community.

Becoming a network partner involves considerable time and expense, and Shirat Hayam has not yet made a formal commitment to the process. Jacobs is hopeful, however, that it will.

“I think the North Shore community and Congregation Shirat Hayam in particular is very ready and interested in engaging in these issues,” she said.

She believes Hebrew School teachers must be sensitized to curriculum that may not accurately reflect the lives of some of their students.

“Honor thy mother and father is one of the Ten Commandments, but what about kids with gay parents?” she asks. She also thinks Hebrew School teachers must be prepared to honestly answer questions students might ask about David’s reported relationship with Jonathan in the Bible.

Sidman, who is a Jewish educator, hopes that the temple will join the network. At the very least, she’d like to bring Keshet in to lead some workshops for Shirat Hayam staff. In the meanwhile, she invites the GLBT community to experience Shirat Hayam.

“I hope to target any GLBT individual, couple, or family who is looking for a welcoming community where they can come on Shabbat, or any time of the week or year, and not feel as if they are on the fringe,” she said.