Over the past few months a group called JQ Baltimore has made significant progress in knocking down some barriers that had existed between those of the Jewish faith and the LGBTQ community. Orthodox Judaism has historically struggled with acceptance and inclusion of LGBT Jews. But inroads are gradually being made, and JQ Baltimore, which was founded last June, has clearly been a factor.
There is a concern that teens acknowledging their sexuality or gender identity would relinquish their identification with Judaism. Neely Snyder, 34, who has worked with teenagers for the past 15 years and currently serves as director of teen engagement at the Macks Center for Jewish Education, has seen many teens abandon their Jewish identities while struggling with their sexuality. She has been involved with JQ Baltimore since its inception.
“Most teens feel it’s easier to disengage from Judaism if they feel excluded,” Snyder told the Blade. “I’ve seen many students, as well as friends, struggle with the relationship between their sexual identities and their Jewish identities. Between what I’ve experienced professionally and personally as an ally, I’ve been inspired to make change in the local community.”
The education part of the group’s mission is critical. “JQ Baltimore strives to educate Baltimore’s Jewish community and the community as a whole about LGBTQ issues, which is extremely important because there has been a silence around these issues for many years,” says Chase Hiller, 22, a recent Brandeis University graduate and a member of the group.
Hiller sees the significance of this outreach effort. “The formation and activities of JQ Baltimore are very important to me personally, both as a gay person and as someone who is culturally Jewish, because the aim of the group is to provide programming and resources for LGBTQ people, their allies, their friends, and their families in Baltimore’s Jewish community.”
JQ Baltimore recently helped promote the screening of the film “Mom and Dad, I Have Something to Tell You” at Beth Tfiloh, a Modern Orthodox community school and synagogue located in Pikesville. The documentary by Israeli film director Yair Qedar describes the process Israeli parents go through when their children come out. About 200 attended the screening.
Prior to the establishment of JQ Baltimore, there have been other efforts to reach out to LGBT Jews. There are several local synagogues with an active LGBT membership and inclusive culture. One such synagogue is the Bolton Street Synagogue, which is located on W. Cold Spring Lane in Baltimore. According to Rabbi John Franken, that synagogue has a history of welcoming interfaith couples, people of color as well as LGBT Jews.
Monthly meetings with programs and discussions take place at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills Jewish Community Center and are facilitated by Melissa Berman, the JCC’s assistant director of arts and culture.