The first event of its kind, an LGBTQI Jewish Clergy Retreat is bringing together more than 60 clergy members and students Sunday through Wednesday in San Francisco. Participants represent different branches of Judaism as well as various ages and experience levels, and they hail from four different countries: Germany, Israel, Canada and the U.S.
“This is such an historic event,” said Rabbi Debra Kolodny, who said the last time LGBT Jewish clergy gathered it was a small group, not necessarily a formal conference — and it took place years, if not decades ago. “For me, it’s just like getting together this brilliant heart, mind, soul trust. … It came from my desire to create the opportunity for all of us to be together.”
Kolodny is the executive director of the LGBT Jewish organization Nehirim, which is hosting the event. She said that with the “dominoes falling” in the culture wars, there is an opportunity to move beyond playing defense on anti-LGBT sentiment and to have deeper theological discussions about LGBT people. For instance, a transgender rabbi will talk about creating liturgy for transgender people, and there will be a discussion about gender in Kabbalah.
“At the very basic level, I’m hoping that [guests] leave with a tool kit — of new ways to look at Torah, of rituals that they can deploy with their congregants … with more sensitivity around the needs of LGBT congregants,” Kolodny said, “so that we leave professionally so much better resourced than we arrived.”
She also hopes to see an ongoing support/peer network grow out of the event, and she’s excited that the conference will include “some deep visioning around what comes next.”
Kolodny has penned an Advocate.com op-ed about her own experiences as a bisexual rabbi, published today.