Starting A Conversation On a Trans-Inclusive Jewish Community

For many of us, the commitment to create a Jewish LGBTQ inclusive community is a given. We want to be supportive, but we may not know how. We want to be inclusive, but we may not understand what that means. We want to talk about the issue openly, but we don’t have the words. The act of becoming a truly welcoming the community can be complicated. What does action look like?

This Tuesday, March 13, J-Pride, in partnership with the Sabes JCC and St. Paul JCC, will present a program entitled, “Opening the Conversation: Cultivating a Transgender Inclusive Jewish Community.”

“It’s called ‘opening the conversation’ because it’s not a one-time deal,” said Heather Renetzky, J-Pride Program Coordinator at JFCS Minneapolis. “The commitment of folks to show up, to bring back, and continue to have these conversations in their organizations is key.”

Last year, J-Pride held a Community Summit which brought together LGBTQ and allied teens and adults to connect and gain tools around self-advocacy and to engage in difficult conversations. “Our Summit showed there was a hunger for more information,” Renetzky said. “We need to continue to connect, practice, learn and engage.”

Anthony Neuman, a teacher in the Sabes JCC Early Childhood Center, was on a panel at the Summit and jumped at the chance to participate at this event. Neuman has been facilitating trainings in the transgender community for seven years. Also presenting will be Katie Burgess, an artist and activist living in South Minneapolis. She is currently running a small theatre, named Open Flame, which is entirely made up of trans and queer artists.

Renetzky said that one of the organizations that reached out to J-Pride was Herzl Camp. Camp Director Drea Lear said the camp wants to be part of cultivating this conversation.

“We work with kids in a really immersive environment that is both uniquely Jewish and uniquely exploratory in terms of identity,” Lear said. “Being a part of the conversation that thinks about how we cultivate the community in the Twin Cities, and mirroring that at camp, will give kids and families a sense of continuity. Having a safe and welcoming place in summer is just as important as here in the cities.”

The Opening the Conversation event on Tuesday will also be the kickoff of a Keshet leadership project that will help organizations create a long-term plan for creating an inclusive community.

“We have more than 70 participants coming to the training,” said Neuman.” That alone is evidence that there is a desire to learn and change how things are going. People are showing up. The synagogues and other organizations are stepping up and bringing that sense of community. If we’re really one community, starting on the same page feels important. The Jewish community is ready for a shift.”

Robyn Awend, Director of Jewish Cultural Arts for the JCCs added, “We hope that this is just the beginning of conversations around mindfulness and inclusion and what it really means. Each day, thousands of visitors come to our JCCs with an expectation that they will be welcomed and included on their own terms. We are proud to be partnering with J-Pride on this meaningful event and we hope that we can play a pivotal role in helping our community go beyond words and delve into action.”