Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
by Jessica Carreras
In the vein of the many events centered on Christianity and LGBT issues, the Jewish Gay Network of Michigan is hosting a weekend of educational opportunities for LGBTs and allies of Jewish and all other faiths from metro Detroit.
The weekend of events, which begins today, March 5, and runs through Sunday, March 8, will offer opportunities for all different groups to become involved in learning about being Jewish and LGBT. Joining JGN for all the events will be the world’s first openly gay Orthodox Rabbi, Steven Greenberg.
Last year, JGN of Michigan hired its first full-time director, Kim Phillips-Knope, after receiving a generous grant from the national LGBT Jewish Keshet Foundation. Since then, they have been focusing on educating the Jewish community – from schools to congregations – on how to be more accepting of LGBT Jews. This upcoming education weekend – the first of its kind in Michigan – is their biggest educational endeavor thus far. “The main program that we have right now is this Hineini Education Project, which is really focused on training Jewish educators to make sure that the learning environment and classroom environments are safe and welcoming and inclusive for LGBT and questioning youth as well as their families, friends and staff,” Phillips-Knope explained. “So, because that’s such a strong part of what our work is, we felt that this was something that would be great to take to the larger community and build a weekend of events around it.”
The weekend of events begins at 7 p.m. March 5 with an invitation-only dinner for larger donors to JGN. The evening, held at a private home, will include a personal visit with the weekend’s guest of honor, Rabbi Greenberg.
On March 6, youth will have their chance to get involved and be educated about Jewish LGBT issues with a discussion called “Gay? Jewish? Orthodox? All of the Above.” The event, held 3-5 p.m. at the Beverly Prentice Wagner Teen Center, is a teens-only conversation with Rabbi Greenberg about the struggle between Jewish faith and sexuality.
Later that night is the JGN Shabbat Dinner. Held at a private home in West Bloomfield, Rabbi Greenberg will lead the meal with songs and words from the Torah. The dinner is $18 and reservations are required.
On Saturday, March 7, the weekend of events will come to a head with the Michigan premier of “And Thou Shalt Love,” a short film about a yeshiva student who falls in love with his study partner. Held at Affirmations in Ferndale, the film will conclude with a community discussion led by Rabbi Greenberg and Keshet director Idit Klein. The film and discussion is JGN and Affirmations first large co-sponsored event. “We feel like it’s a great opportunity to make sure we are connecting with the LGBT community as well as the Jewish community,” Phillips-Knope said of the pairing. “We’re really fortunate that it came together great. This is the first larger-scale event where we have partnered with Affirmations.”
Tickets for Saturday’s event are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Proceeds will benefit both JGN and Affirmations.
On Sunday, JGN will host three more events centered on awareness and education in hopes of helping LGBT Jewish youth and adults in Michigan to round out the weekend.
A text study will take place in the morning, followed by an intensive day of training as part of the Hineini Education Project. Held at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield, participants will learn how to facilitate Keshet’s Jewish Safe Schools and Supportive Communities initiatives. Directed at both educators and religious leaders, Phillips-Knope says the session is the first of many that JGN hopes will result in safer schools and synagogues for LGBT Jewish youth in Michigan. “We’re trying to establish a cadre of trainers who can go into Jewish educational institutions and provide the kind of resources and training and support that come with this Hineini Education Project curriculum,” she elaborated.
Phillips-Knope went on to explain that the trainings are crucial to making sure that LGBT youth are welcomed into all facets of the Jewish community, from their schools to their homes to their places of worship. “People who identify as both LGBT and as Jewish can have these sort of conflicts in terms of integrating both of their identities…,” she said. “They may feel at different times like they need to choose between one side of themselves versus another. It’s really important for us to make sure that LGBT Jews feel like they’re welcome, they’re included, they’re celebrated within the Jewish community.
“They don’t feel like they have to leave their Jewish identity in order to be out and comfortable being LGBT.”
Rabbi Greenberg’s role in the weekend of events is integral to that message, Phillips-Knope stressed. To end the weekend, he will be speaking to a wide audience at the University of Michigan’s Palmer Commons at 6:30 p.m. March 8 about his personal story of being the first gay Orthodox Rabbi. Though there are other openly gay Rabbis, the Orthodox faction of Judaism is known for being stricter than others, and for openly preaching against homosexuality.
“Having a religious leader from the Orthodox community speaking about (being LGBT) carries a lot of weight…in terms of recognizing that the whole Jewish community is impacted by this and we’re all sort of touched by the LGBT community even within the Jewish community,” Phillips-Knope said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from. We all are impacted and to have a religious leader in the Orthodox community say ‘we accept you for who you are and there’s a place for you here,’ it carries so much weight.”
For more information about the Jewish Gay Network of Michigan and upcoming events, visit http://www.jgnmi.org or call 248-432-5661.