JFSA LGBT Group: Beyond Inclusion

The Jewish Federation of Arizona named its LGBT outreach force JFSA Pride.

JFSA

Ten years ago, the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona became one of the first federations in North America to reach out to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jewish community by creating an LGBT Jewish Inclusion Project. On June 26, 2015, when a Supreme Court decision extended marriage rights to gay people across the United States, the Federation celebrated in an email that announced the project was changing its name to JFSA Pride.

“When the LGBT Jewish Inclusion Project originally began in 2005, it was a different world and the goal was to increase the awareness and acceptance and to create a welcoming community for LGBT Jews,” says Ed Leven, who was the group’s first coordinator 10 years ago and returned to the role in the summer of 2014.

“The primary focus was working with the synagogues and Jewish communal organizations to help them create a more welcoming environment for LGBT people. That goal has largely been accomplished,” says Leven.

JFSA Pride will be a task force within the Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council and will work on planning large, collaborative events like last year’s talks by Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen, explains Stuart Mellan, JFSA president and CEO. Holiday-oriented events, such as Passover seders and Yom Kippur break fasts, will be led by volunteers.

JFSA’s 2002 Jewish population survey made Federation leaders “aware that so much of our population was not connected,” says Mellan. In 2004, an informal LGBT Jewish network called the Gertrude Stein Salon organized a forum to connect local synagogues with the gay and lesbian community, which “led us to think that as part of our outreach efforts into the community, and as part of our efforts to celebrate diversity and be welcoming, that there was a place for what we created, which was the JFSA LGBT Jewish Inclusion Project.”

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