2016-01-06 / Voice at the Shore

Federation reaches out to gay community, offering event Jan. 21 and Israel Mission

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore correspondent


Doug Winkelstein the Federation’s new LGBTQ committee, which holds its first event at Bocca January 21. Doug Winkelstein the Federation’s new LGBTQ committee, which holds its first event at Bocca January 21. The Jewish Federation of North America is now recruiting participants for its latest mission to Israel specifically tailored to Jewish people who are gay— or “LGBTQ” (a more inclusive acronym preferred by the gay community that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and questioning or queer).

In an effort to reach out to local Jewish community members who are gay and to encourage them to take part in the upcoming mission, which takes place this spring, the Jewish Federation of Atlantic and Cape May Counties has started an LGBTQ committee that will hold its first event at Bocca restaurant in Margate on January 21, from 6-8 p.m.

The free event is open to all Jewish community members— both members of the LGBTQ committee and others who would like to show their support, said Doug

Winkelstein, who chairs the LGBTQ committee.

“I am the only gay person on the committee; everyone else is straight,” said Winkelstein, who was approached by Federation to chair the committee partly because of his ease and openness with LGBTQ issues. “It’s my first time being involved with Federation, so I’m excited about it,” said Winkelstein, a teacher in Egg Harbor Township who is also the director of The Margate Players, a well-known community theater group.

Although the upcoming mission was one reason for forming the local LGBTQ committee, it wasn’t the only reason, said Federation executive director Kirk Wisemayer. National Federation leaders have been encouraging local leaders to better connect with the gay community for several years, he noted.

“According to national statistics, gay people are not active in their Jewish communities to the level that they could be or want to be,” said Wisemayer.

Winkelstein said that he had not personally experienced that problem in our community. While he is not a member of a particular synagogue, he said he has always felt welcome at all local synagogues he has attended, and that he has not found participating Jewishly to be an issue here for gay people. He hopes that his committee will be able to work with schools to foster greater acceptance of LGBTQ students, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

Yet it’s hard to know whether Winkelstein’s experience is universal. According to Wisemayer, the Federation does not know how many local Jewish community members are gay or whether Jewish involvement is problematic for them, because not all gay people choose to be open. What Federation does know is that there are at least a handful of local Jewish community members who have children living elsewhere who are gay and who may be interested in the LGBTQ Committee’s activities.

He noted that a small number of community members had raised objections to the Federation’s establishment of an LGBTQ Committee. “Most people are very supportive, but a few are not. There are those who think we shouldn’t be bothering with gay Jews. That’s why we need to be doing this more than ever,” he stressed.

The establishment of the Federation’s upcoming LGBTQ mission was prompted in part by a horrific incidence of intolerance. Last summer, an ultra- Orthodox man who claimed to be motivated by his religious beliefs attacked marchers in the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade. Seventeen-year-old Shira Banki died as a result of the attack.

“Part of the reason for the mission is to show solidarity with Israel’s gay community,” said Wisemayer, particularly in Jerusalem, where the powerful Orthodox community is not always accepting of gays. Yet outside of Jerusalem, Israelis are generally extremely accepting of those living an LGBTQ lifestyle. “Gay people in Israel have equal rights and live openly as gay people—more openly than in the U.S.,” he noted.

The LGBTQ Mission seeks to build unity between North American Jewish leaders and their change-making peers in Israel. Like most Federation Israel trips, the LGBTQ mission will expose participants to the best of Israeli culture, cuisine and history. But it will also allow participants to bond with Israeli LGBTQ politicians, business leaders and advocates. “It’s a great combination,” noted Winkelstein, who will be attending the mission. He and his fellow travelers will also have the opportunity to attend Tel Aviv’s Gay Pride Parade, which takes place June 3, the day after the mission ends.

For more information on the LGBTQ Mission, May 26 – June 2, or on the Federation LGBTQ committee and its upcoming event at Bocca on January 21, contact the Federation at (609) 822- 4404. The Mission is actually the second catering to LGBTQ interests.  A 2005 trip was scheduled to coincide with World Pride in Jerusalem that year. Although the Pride celebration was canceled because of the Israeli government’s concerns over rising tensions resulting from the Gaza Disengagement, the mission continued. It was attended by approximately 60 members from North America. It was chaired by Stuart Kurlander, who is the mission chair for the 2016 trip, accoring to Paul Causman, marketing director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Toledo, a particant in that trip.
 

Return to top