Celebrating LGBT Voices

Reference: Jewish Mosaic

“Who is honored and respected?
One who honors and respects others.”
(Pirkey Avot  4:1)

The Jewish Welcome Network would like to thank Jewish Mosaic and the individuals who generously shared their stories with us…we bring you voices from the Bay Area gay and lesbian community who have found inclusion and comfort in synagogue life.

Kenny Altman
San Francisco, CA

The former president of Congregation Beth Sholom (and that congregation’s first openly gay president), Kenny started Keshet, a gay and lesbian chavurah and outreach program of Congregation Beth Sholom in 1997. Kenny came back to Judaism in mid-life, looking for support while caring for a friend with AIDS dementia. Always comfortable with Conservative Judaism, he wanted to join Beth Sholom, but did not want to “edit” himself. He found the congregation and Rabbi Alan Lew z’l” to be very open to listening and to change.

Kenny has been the Director of Operations for Parents Place, a program of Jewish Family and Children’s Services, since 1995. He spends evenings and weekends performing stand-up comedy and teaching Torah rope to both children and adults. “I realize how incredibly lucky I am. I decided I wanted to join a Conservative Synagogue and I just ended up in the right place. I found community in my job and in my synagogue. I want people who are struggling with their identities to know that there are many places where they can belong as Jews.”

When you go to a new synagogue, what do you look for to feel welcome?

“I make sure there is a gay and lesbian presence by talking to the leadership, the clergy and looking through the marketing materials. Especially in Conservative congregations, it’s not only saying you have LGBT members, but having a special outreach program. It should be clear that anyone who wants Conservative Judaism is welcome here, not only at Congregation Beth Sholom, but at Conservative synagogues in general in San Francisco and the Bay Area.”

Noach Dzmura
Berkeley, CA

“If you met me at Kiddush, you would see a chubby young man with a beard that hasn’t grown in yet. But I have 35 years of experience living as a woman, and eleven as a man. The challenge then, is how much of that complicated past can I tell you before you choke on your challah?” Noach feels most welcome in a Jewish classroom, where students are expected to express diverse opinions, secure in the knowledge that their words will be valued by teacher and peers. A Jew by Choice, Noach had a Reform conversion, but feels very comfortable in Conservative and Renewal communities.

Noach was granted the Haas/Koshland Memorial Award in 2006, an annual grant that funds a year of study and personal development in Israel.

When you go to a new synagogue, what do you look for to feel welcome?

“I look for educational opportunities, not just those taught by rabbis but also by members of the synagogue. I look for diversity in the regular services because diversity in services means diversity in the welcoming of different people. And I look for who’s there: does even one person in the congregation look like me?”

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