Include Me Out of This Jewish Community

Great That LGBT People Are Allowed To Join — But Join What?

All In the Family: The Jewish community has largely embraced the new strides made in gay rights.
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All In the Family: The Jewish community has largely embraced the new strides made in gay rights.

By Jay Michaelson

Published June 10, 2014, issue of June 13, 2014.
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Let me start with gratitude. As a gay Jewish man, I am profoundly humbled by the strides the Jewish community has taken over the last several years. Among almost all denominations, in all geographical areas, Jewish institutions have become more inclusive of LGBT people, and, I think, have been enriched as a result.

But “inclusion” has also become a cul-de-sac. I wonder if it was the right thing to be fighting for in the past — and I’m pretty sure it isn’t now.

Large federations and Jewish organizations — the ones with familiar acronyms — now have “inclusion” initiatives within them. In part, these are motivated by the sincere desire to make Jewish spaces “houses for all people.” In part, though, they are motivated by the prospect of gay dollars swelling federation and organizational coffers.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course; both my partner and I have long worked for not-for-profits. Development is part of the job. And if there’s a hitherto-overlooked demographic to tap, then by all means, development teams should stop overlooking.

But this kind of inclusion is really rather limited — and limiting. Here’s who doesn’t get included: Jews who support BDS (or perhaps even J Street); people with multiple religious traditions; Jews with strong critiques of the 1%-fueled, $30 billion Jewish establishment, especially the federation system; Jews with more radical critiques of Jewish culture or tradition; Jews who don’t “pass” as middle or upper class; queer Jews who don’t pass as “normal” because of their gender presentation, or tattoos, or clothing.

Once again, none of this is LGBT-specific, necessarily; all communities have standards, explicit and implicit, for belonging. Only, my own queer identity has something to do with solidarity with those who are marginalized, Other, different, weird — not just people who happen to be gay. And because it does, I’m unlikely to be interested in a community that constitutes itself in part by adherence to conventional, often conservative, norms of how to live and what to think.


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