Why we must go beyond welcoming

January 18, 2024

By Rabbi Micah Buck-Yael

How do we go beyond welcoming to creating belonging?

This question has driven months of our learning and work with Temple Isaiah in Lexington, MA. There is a fundamental difference between “welcoming” and “belonging” in a space. A guest can and should be “welcomed.” But LGBTQ+ members are not “guests;” we are community members who deserve to feel like we belong.

With this critical distinction in mind, Temple Isaiah’s leadership embarked on this work with Keshet last year: a focus on going beyond “welcoming” their LGBTQ+ members to building a community in which LGBTQ+ members feel a true sense of home.

Temple Isaiah has been a part of the CJP Boston cohort of Shivyon: Keshet’s Equality Project. With our support, they formed a core team to conduct a comprehensive self-assessment, learn about LGBTQ+ identity and belonging, and craft an action plan to improve their policy, programs, and culture. Working with expert coach Hannah “Hensch” Henschel, Keshet’s Associate Director of Cohort Learning, they receive ongoing support and feedback as they made their action plan a reality.

Today, this work is more critical than ever. Polls consistently show more LGBTQ+ Americans finding the language and courage to express their identities – and are doing so at younger and younger ages. At the same time, LGBTQ+ rights are increasingly under attack, with 2024 shaping up to be yet another year of unprecedented anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and rhetoric. Against this backdrop, it is critical that our synagogues, schools, summer camps, service agencies, federations – all of our Jewish communities – be places of true belonging and celebration for the LGBTQ+ community.

Keshet worked with Temple Isaiah to train their entire staff, including clergy, educators, and professionals. Rabbi Jodi Seewald Smith, Director of Congregational Engagement, shared: 

The goal of full inclusion of all individuals in our sacred community is clear, but without continual education and examination of both our successes and failures, we will stagnate. As a greater societal understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion is developed, our team needs to further learn and challenge their assumptions. If Isaiah is going to be a place of belonging, we need to understand the evolving world of LGBTQ+ identities, sensitivities, and language.

Temple Isaiah is one of 60 Jewish organizations, nationwide, currently participating in a year-long Shivyon cohort with Keshet. This work has included updated policies for LGBTQ+ equality and belonging, auditing and redesigning curricula and websites, training staff, celebrating Pride and other days of LGBTQ+ significance, developing equitable HR and data collection practices, ritual celebrations of LGBTQ+ milestone moments, and much more work towards cultural change! 

Make a difference in your community through Shivyon: Keshet’s Equality Project. We are opening new cohorts this Spring in New York and the San Francisco Bay Area, and will soon be announcing national learning cohorts for later in the year. Check back for updates! Organizational leaders can learn more and apply their organizations for Shivyon here.

Please reach out at [email protected] for any questions or more information about our Shivyon Cohorts.

Thank you for being a part of the work to make all our Jewish communities places of LGBTQ+ belonging.