Recently launched nonprofit aims to bring LGBT community into Jewish fold.
Diane Werner wants to be sure that no one in the Jewish LGBTQ community ever feels unwelcome in a Westchester Jewish organization. She can’t forget what one of her sons, who is gay, had said to her about his synagogue and day school experience: “I don’t see anyone like me.”
So last year Werner, a White Plains resident, active synagogue member and mother of four sons who sent them to day schools, founded Mosaic of Westchester, a nonprofit designed to help integrate the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community into Westchester Jewish life. Unlike groups tied to specific denominational movement, or individual synagogue efforts, Mosaic “is county and system wide,” said Werner. “It’s about all of us together.”
When Werner led focus groups with members of the LGBTQ community, parents and Jewish professionals, she found that “Jewish professionals would love to be more inclusive. They’re dying to know what to do. We’re not pushing anything on anybody.”
The group, which officially launched a year ago, is emphatically not an advocacy or political organization, said director, Bina Raskin. “It’s about the full integration of this community into Westchester Jewish life,” she said.
That translates into a dedicated outreach effort to synagogue clergy, executive directors and religious school leaders. The message, said Raskin, is, “We are here, let us know what we can do.”
The effort could mean providing Jewish educators with copies of a children’s Purim story, where there happen to be two fathers, or helping them develop more inclusive curriculum. When it comes to working with synagogue executive directors, the help could be something as simple as using the terms “applicant one” and “applicant two” on a membership form, instead of husband and wife. Or it can encompass conversations with clergy members in an effort to help them find resources to counsel a congregational member with a gay child.
One of the issues that families confront is feeling isolated from their synagogue friends and others in the Jewish community. “Only one of my friends is in that situation,” said Dawn Dankner-Rosen, whose son is gay. “You feel very isolated. There’s nobody to share anything with. That’s why [Mosaic] is so wonderful. You need to have shared perspective and experiences. It’s a lifeline.”
In an email message, Pam Goldstein, assistant director of the Westchester Jewish Council, said, “We are enriched by the diversity that exists within our community and we welcome Mosaic as yet another way in which the community can grow stronger through full inclusion of all Jews.”
While Mosaic is about supporting the LGBTQ community, the group is not about creating or maintaining a separate ghetto.
As Werner explained, “We’ve heard that the gay community doesn’t want a gay-specific book club. Many have said, ‘We’re Jews who happen to be gay.’” Inclusion, she said, isn’t necessarily about having an LGBTQ committee at a synagogue, but more about having members of that community feel comfortable enough to step into leadership roles on a board of trustees, or chairing a committee to organize a congregational seder.
Some of Mosaic’s recent efforts have included a session at the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance and a partnership with the American Jewish World Service to sponsor a screening about LGBTQ persecution in Uganda at the Jacob Burns Film Center.
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