Last summer, I met a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Jewish teens at a Shabbaton for LGBTQ youth. Each teen described the experience as “the first place I’ve felt like I could be both queer and Jewish, like it was a normal thing.” I will never forget their expressions of joy and profound relief at finding a community where they could just be.
The teens shared a sense of wonder at how good it feels to be fully seen and understood. When you can be your full self in a community, they reflected, you do not notice that you are being welcomed and included; you simply feel like you are a part of things.
Their desire for an unselfconscious, easy embrace by their communities encapsulates for me what makes building a welcoming community much more than a system or set of procedures. Surely, there are steps that every community must take to become inclusive of LGBTQ people, people of color, people with disabilities, poor and working class people, and others who experience oppression. But once we change policies and implement programs, the process of change must become an art: imaginative, inspired, idiosyncratic, and organic.
No one wants to feel the labor of being welcomed. As the teens put it, we all want to feel normal and effortlessly understood. For me, true inclusion runs so deep that no one can imagine the world any other way.
Idit Klein is the Executive Director of Keshet, an organization promoting advocacy for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Jews. www.keshetonline.org