LGBTIQ* Inclusion is a Jewish Value: Building Queer Jewish Life in Germany

What makes LGBTIQ* inclusion a Jewish value? Dalia Grinfeld, a leading advocate for LGBTIQ* Jews in Germany, has the answer.

By Dalia Grinfeld - Co-Founder, Keshet | June 25, 2021

Keshet members march together in a Pride parade.

LGBTIQ* Inclusion is a Jewish Value: Building Queer Jewish Life in Germany

What makes LGBTIQ* inclusion a Jewish value? What does it mean to be both Jewish and LGBTIQ*? Dalia Grinfeld is a leading advocate for LGBTIQ* Jews in Germany. The founder of Keshet, which brings Jewish and LGBTIQ* communities together, Grinfeld works to make Jewish communities more inclusive. In this reflection, Grinfeld thinks about LGBTIQ* advocacy and discusses why it’s important for Jewish communities everywhere to open their doors to queer Jews.

I was born and raised in Germany and had a thoroughly Jewish upbringing. I went to a Jewish kindergarten, Jewish primary school, and Jewish high school, not to mention Jewish summer camp. I have a positive outlook on my Jewish identity; Judaism is a fundamental pillar of my life.

When queer Jews enter a synagogue, they often face a number of issues. It can be uncomfortable to attend shul with a same-sex partner, to come out as trans, or even to express any thoughts about sexual and gender identity. In my experience, many Jewish communities are uncomfortable with these questions

Dalia, left, poses for a photo with members of Keshet.

But I have another pillar, too — LGBTIQ* advocacy — and I’ve tried to combine this with my Judaism. After college, I co-founded Germany’s Jewish Student Union (JSUD) and was its first elected president. My vision was to establish a young Jewish political voice. Within that, it was very important to me to address issues that Jewish communities often ignore, like women’s empowerment and LGBTIQ* inclusion.

In Jewish spaces, you can be Jewish; in queer spaces, queer. But many queer people leave their Jewish communities, go to queer spaces, and cut ties with the Jewish community. It’s uncomfortable to be misgendered or receive weird looks as a Jewish woman who shows up with another woman and a child.

Luckily, queer Jews have the broader queer community, where it’s absolutely normal to ask for pronouns or for someone to have children with a same-sex partner. But we also know that there are other people who don’t think this way, and that there is a role for us to play and a value that we bring to engaging with the larger Jewish community.

For us, it’s unacceptable for a trans person to enter a synagogue and have to choose between the male and female sections. Often, these binary choices mean that they don’t come to synagogue at all. It isn’t hard to set up some extra chairs.

Now, during Pride Month, it shouldn’t be hard for rabbis to speak about LGBTIQ* issues. Raising this topic is an easy way to open your doors to queer members. 

By uplifting queer members of our community, we inevitably support Jewish life: Queer inclusion is a Jewish value.

It’s important for Jewish leaders to open these doors and condemn prejudice. Hate speech and mobbing are not Jewish values. As Jews, we know that we shouldn’t speak badly about other people. We know that we must support and protect our fellow Jews and others. We also know that, based on statistics, queer people self-harm much more than those in general society. By uplifting queer members of our community, we inevitably support Jewish life.

Queer inclusion is a Jewish value. 

That’s why I co-founded Keshet Germany— to bring these communities together. Through workshops, advocacy, and LGBTIQ*-inclusive rituals and events, Keshet strives to create a much-needed space for queer Jews in Germany.

Before then, many Jewish people here were out and proud, but they were alienated from Jewish community. There was no space for queer Jewish people to come together, celebrate, and discuss common problems or share joy. Our Keshet community has grown a lot. We have about 130 members and even more people join our events without formally becoming members.

Dalia poses for a photo with a rainbow Israeli flag.

There’s a need for Keshet, and other groups like it. It doesn’t matter if it’s an orthodox, liberal, or progressive community. There’s always room to be more inclusive towards LGBTIQ* Jews. 

To this end, Keshet organizes workshops for Jewish institutions, leaders, and community members. We educate them on how to be more inclusive, a process that goes beyond merely embracing queer identity. Sometimes it means putting a ramp in front of the synagogue for people with disabilities. It also means thinking about how we can educate our community on gender and sexuality, so that same-sex partners can attend services without getting weird looks.

One of my favorite Jewish values is our love for debate. In Jewish communities across the world, there are always different opinions. If dissenting ideas are not heard, if problems are not heard, that’s not real Jewish life. Real Jewish life gives space to minorities and embraces all Jews.

That’s what Keshet does. Part of our vision is to make queer Jewish life visible. One way we do this is by hosting services for queer Jews. 

We held our first queer Shabbat right after we founded Keshet Germany, in 2018. We were told we wouldn’t need so many chairs. They were wrong. People sat on the floor and on top of each other. People were waiting outside. The room was packed with people who are queer and Jewish, people who hadn’t been to synagogue in many years, who hadn’t been comfortable — until we extended the invitation and carved out a new space

We did the Shabbat service, which usually takes an hour. But there was so much joy and singing that it took over two hours. And it was beautiful to hear all these voices. So many people said, “I haven’t been in a synagogue for 10 years. Now I want to come back every week.” And it was deeply meaningful for me, too — it was the first time that I felt comfortable being queer in a Jewish space, being out, and not being judged

Keshet is growing each day. Queer Jews crave spaces where they can feel fully seen. We started in Berlin, but now we have branches in Munich, Frankfurt, and Cologne. And there are more on the way.

Dalia Grinfeld

None of this would have been possible without JDC. From the moment we founded Keshet, JDC was right by our side, asking us about our needs and how to turn our values into action. We never had to explain to JDC why LGBTIQ* inclusion was important. To me, that was one of the greatest feelings

Junction — the pan-European partnership between JDC, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, and YESOD — has also been a vital source of support. At Junction Annual, a large gathering of young Jewish leaders, people come together to exchange ideas and build community. I’ve received a lot of valuable training from Junction, and they have taught me a lot about time management, communication, and organizational strategy. Every time I leave a Junction event, I feel inspired to do more. The financial support Keshet has received through Junction grants is also an invaluable source of support and trust in our organization

Keshet has so many plans for the coming years. Right now, we’re celebrating 1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany, and that’s a huge celebration. We’re putting together a publication of queer Jewish voices, and organizing a mobile workshop that will go around to different cities and talk about how queer Jews are part of Germany’s story.

I know, too, that we will shape its future. 

Dalia Grinfeld is a board member of Keshet (Rainbow) Germany, Germany’s first LGBTIQ*-Jewish organization, of which she is also a founding member. Keshet Germany envisions full LGBTIQ* equality and visibility in all Jewish communities throughout Germany and the world. Grinfeld has dedicated her career to fighting for justice and equality on a global and national scale.

LGBTIQ* denotes every identity category not encompassed within heterosexuality. This acronym is sometimes lengthened to “LGBTTTQQIAA” or “LGBTQ2+.”

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