Congregation Beit Simchat Torah opens new home to ‘community’s most vulnerable.’
Hannah Simpson, 31, a transgender woman, waits at the entrance of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), New York’s oldest gay congregation, on Sunday afternoons and Thursday evenings, prepared to greet teen visitors with a smile and words of encouragement.
She’s a volunteer at the newly opened JQY Drop-In Center, a resource and counseling facility for Orthodox LGBT youth.
“It can be intimidating to come into a space that otherwise functions as a synagogue,” said Simpson. “A smiling face immediately makes things easier.”
The drop-in center, modeled after similar centers around New York City that serve at-risk teenagers, is intended to reach “those most at risk,” through such programs as support groups and suicide intervention, said JQY executive director Mordechai Levovitz —JQY is an nonprofit organization that supports Orthodox LGBT Jews and their families.
The center, made possible by a $12,000 pilot grant from the Natan Fund, became a reality when CBST moved into their first permanent home in February, located at 130 West 30th Street. JQY immediately approached the congregation with the initiative. (The seed funding for the project is projected to last through the summer, after which JQY aims to raise funding to continue.) The congregation, which has been in a succession of temporary spaces since its founding in 1977, agreed to host the project.