Welcoming Interfaith LGBT Couples

by Rabbi Robin Nafshi

Serving as the rabbi in the small community of Concord, NH, I receive so many emails and calls from people exploring Judaism, those who are nominally Jewish or estranged from Judaism, and more. For each email and call there is a story – usually compelling in some way – and an excited or anxious person who owns the story.

A few weeks ago, such an email came my way, with the subject line, “Reestablishing.” The writer began, “I am very interested in rediscovering my Jewish faith. My dad was Jewish and my mom was Protestant. I was raised in both traditions. My dad passed away last week. Prior to his passing, he met with a cantor and requested that his memorial service be in the Jewish tradition. I was unaware that his faith was so important to him. It has become important to me.”

This email, to some degree representative of those who reach out, continued with a twist. He added, “I do have one concern. I am gay, and my partner wishes to convert to Judaism. I am looking for a congregation that will be accepting of us as we are.”

I wrote back, offering my condolences and assuring him that he and his partner would be welcome in our synagogue. I let him know that we have members who identify as part of the LGBT community. I also told him that I, the rabbi, am a lesbian, and my partner serves as our part-time cantor. The end result is that I’ll be meeting with him and his partner soon.

Welcoming interfaith LGBT couples into our congregations is in some ways no different than welcoming anyone else – and in other ways is profoundly different. For everyone, we must be welcoming in every way they might interact with us. Does the person who answers the phone or records the phone message have a warm and welcoming tone of voice? Is our website easy to navigate, informational, and inviting? Do we have greeters at services? Do we avoid using “insider language” in our bulletins, our online media, and from the bimah? Do we avoid assuming that everyone in the room is Jewish or Jewishly knowledgeable, noting the non-Jewish members of our families? If we do all this and more, we will be experienced as a welcoming community to both Jews and interfaith.

For LGBT individuals and families, we are most welcoming when we are sensitive and avoid making assumptions. Do our membership materials refer to “adult 1/adult 2” rather than “male/female” or “husband/wife?” Do our religious school registration forms ask for “parent 1/parent 2,” not “mother/father?” Do our religious school educators note the broad breadth of what constitutes a family? Do we include same-sex couples when we celebrate anniversaries? Are our “singles” events welcoming to all singles, not just heterosexual ones? Do we not try to fix up single men or women with members of the opposite sex?

With a little effort and a lot of care, we can do much to ensure that our congregations welcome LGBT interfaith couples.

Rabbi Robin Nafshi serves Temple Beth-El in Concord, NH.