Tag Archives: Tikkun Olam

Gay Ugandan refugee finds home in Jewish Bay Area

Avi Rose

Yasher Koach and Todah Rabah to Avi Rose & Jewish Family and Children Services of the East Bay as well as all of those that were involved.

Do you remember when a few Americans got involved in launching a political movement to eliminate homosexuality in Uganda? How about when The Rachel Maddow Show covered this anti-gay hysteria with the catchy title, “Uganda Be Kidding Me“? Do you remember learning about the murder of David Kato after a Ugandan media outlet published his name and photograph along with 99 additional Ugandan leaders with the corresponding title, “Top 100 Homosexuals – Hang Them”? (read more)

It was within this mishigas that Bay Area LGBT Jewish community leader, Avi Rose with Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay (JFCS) began to take action. Now, Danny Dyson, a Ugandan refugee who gained asylum status based on all of this anti-gay persecution, is living here in the Bay Area.

What’s next? Gay refugees settling in our community from Iran? Yes! I understand more LGBT folks will be joining us from both Iran and Uganda soon thanks again to Avi Rose, JFCS, a few philanthropists and the Direction of Neil Grungras with the Organization for Refuge Asylum and Migration (ORAM). These amazing leaders and advocates truly help make our Jewish community shine…


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Yasher Koach: Paul E. Singer, Steven A. Cohen and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg!

My mother called me this morning to tell me how wonderful it is that such generous and usually conservative leaning people are giving to marriage equality in New York. Sounds to me like the core Jewish values of Tikkun Olam  (Hebrew: תיקון עולם‎ meaning to Repair the World) has influenced a few incredibly powerful figures in New York and I hope it continues. The donors both Jewish (and not Jewish) represent some of New York’s wealthiest and most politically active figures like Steven A. Cohen and Paul E. Singer, a hedge fund manager, top-tier Republican donor and father to a gay son. Even Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is giving speeches and fundraising parties for Marriage Equality. According to the NYT article Mr. Cohen, who runs SAC Capital Advisers and has become an increasingly active Republican fundraiser described his views simply: ‘We believe in social justice for all Americans.'” Well, Yasher Koach! (a customary way of congratulating those who do an honorable job directly meaning from Hebrew “יישר” “כוח” “may your strength be firm.”). 

Mr. Steven Cohen

See why diverse groups of people in our Jewish community give.


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remembering our cancelled chanukah celebration for marriage equality

The Introduction of this blog post was written by Margee Churchon, Jewish Community Liaison for Marriage Equality USA and Program Associate for the Jewish Community Relations Council

As of this afternoon President Obama, in a major legal policy shift, has directed the US Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act against lawsuits challenging it as unconstitutional. This is the act from 1996 that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

Of course before this incredible decision was made by The Obama Administration a lot of work was done in the grassroots to help create the understanding for a decision to be made in the defense of same-sex couples.  

An amazing Jewish hero and the much discussed father of Community Organizing, Saul Alinsky once said, “Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.”

This movement and change however it is played out can be witnessed by our children. The speech below, written by 13 year-old Sydney an 8th grader at Brandeis Hillel Day School speaks to this movement. As we celebrate as a community that the Defense of Marriage Act is now considered by the Obama Administration impossible to keep defending as constitutional let us honor the multiple paths it took to create this change…. Lisa Finkelstein

Marriage: Not  just for straight Maccabees Anymore

The rain was pouring the afternoon before the Ninth Circuit Court’s Prop 8 trial on Sunday, December 5, 2010. Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and its partners had organized a family-friendly Chanukah celebration for marriage equality, Marriage: Not just for straight Maccabees anymore, but the rain just kept coming, the hot chocolate we brought was turning quickly into cold chocolate, and my phone was ringing again and again from people who called to say they weren’t coming.

The Jewish community is overwhelmingly supportive of marriage equality – approximately 80 percent voted against Prop 8 – and this was going to an awe-inspiring family event. Suffice it to say, I was sad that I had to cancel the day. Our microphone and speakers couldn’t get wet. But out of that day there is still inspiration to share. Sydney, an eighth grader at Brandeis Hillel Day School, prepared amazing and touching remarks about growing up in a loving family with two mothers, and the effect that Prop 8 had on her own life. Since Sydney was not able to share them with you the day before the trial, Lisa has them here for you to read. I hope you find the same encouragement, insight, and hope in her words that I do.

Prop 8 Speech for Sunday, December 5,2010 steps of 9th District Court

Hi, my name is Sydney. I am 13 years old, and an 8th grader at Brandeis Hillel Day School. When I was asked to speak about my family, I didn’t know what I would say. Having two moms has become matter of fact for me. But, then I thought about Prop 8, and how it has influenced my life. And that is what I’m here to tell you today.

It was a few days before the election when voters would decide whether lesbian and gay couples could be married. We were all very excited, and hopeful that Prop 8 wouldn’t succeed. One night, my family decided to go out to dinner. We had to drive separately. Benji and my mom, Dawn, drove in one car. My other mom, Tracy, and I drove in another car. As we drove out of our community, we noticed, yet again, a bunch of signs supporting Prop 8 in one area. Every time we drove out of our home, we were reminded that our family was not accepted. It was so hurtful that we felt compelled to do something about it. We hopped out of the car and started taking the plastic signs off of the poles in the ground. As I started down the hill for more signs, three big white trucks zoomed towards me.

I was already running to the car as my mom yelled, “Get into the car.

Men in the trucks were yelling and racing towards us. My mom raced around them, towards the restaurant. The truck followed us, racing alongside our seemingly small car, and flashing lights at us. I couldn’t help but let tears fall down my cheeks; I was scared.

After what seemed like hours of the truck chasing us, my mom stopped the car, slid down the window, and yelled, “Stop! Would you please stop? You’re scaring my daughter!”

You should have thought of that before,” the man yelled back.

My mom tried again, ”’You’re scaring my daughter!” Hesitation. The window of their truck was pulled up and I watched his truck disappear down the road.

I was raised around diversity and the idea that everyone is equal. There were always people who would question the ability to have two moms, and those who weren’t willing to understand. However, the many communities that I feel a part of have protected me from bullying and feeling alone.

These communities, Temple Emanuel, Brandeis, and Camp Tawonga all have goals to make everyone feel at home, so I never experienced a deep and hurtful level of discrimination, before the night we were chased.

That night, my eyes were fully opened. I realized that beyond my life, there was a high level of intolerance and hatred. It had never occurred to me that those intolerant people could be in my backyard. As I continued to think past my
life and what causes people to be hateful, I realized it was most likely because they did not grow up around differences. They came to believe that diversity and difference threatens them and their families, and that difference is immoral, (whether it’s somebody crossing a border, an African-American man running for president, or a girl facing deportation because her parents came here illegally).

In one night, I realized the degree of discrimination still going on in the world today and how it can influence someone’s life. Additionally, I realized my responsibility in reaching out to others to make them feel the acceptance and belonging I have felt. When I help a homeless person, work with autistic kids, or even help a friend who is getting teased, I know that I am helping people to feel good about themselves, just as my family has done for me.

Let me tell you something about my family. My family might be considered different, but they’re just as good as any other family. My two moms are extremely supportive of all my interests, whether it be volleyball, art, guitar, or even looking at different high schools. Benji is more than just a brother to me, but also a friend. I am extremely close to all of my friends, love hanging out with them, and know I can trust them with anything.

My school, Brandeis Hillel Day School, celebrates everyone’s differences and the teachers get to know each students very well. I enjoy going to an assortment of camps every summer, and next year I am looking forward to high school. If you asked any kid in my class, I think they would tell you about the same thing.

However, there is one thing that is different about my parents than many of the other parents in my class: While they were one of the lucky 18,000 who were married, the federal government still doesn’t recognize them as a married couple. In addition, they live under the fear that Prop 8 could be reinstated and their marriage taken away. No couple deserves to live under that fear. And, no child deserves to have to worry about their family in this way. My worries have become more mature as I’ve matured, but the irrational worries of a younger child could even include that their parents will be split up or taken away. When a child knows that their parents aren’t treated equally, then how can that child feel secure and safe? And, to think that these worries are caused by an unreasonable fear of difference, otherwise known as Prop 8.

My parents, who have been together almost 22 years, still aren’t fully recognized for their commitment to each other. And there are still many couples who aren’t recognized at all, because they can’t get married due to Prop 8. Prop 8 has negatively affected many lives, and at some point that has to stop. In the end, we are all people who just want to be loved and treated equally. Thank you.

I am Queer. I am Jewish. I want Equality.

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Posted by on February 23, 2011 in Hyperlocal


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david kato

david kato’s murder last wednesday comes subsequently after a ugandan media outlet published his name and photograph along with 99 additional ugandan leaders with the corresponding title, “top 100 homosexuals – hang them.” it is in grief for the loss of yet another human rights defender that we as jews part of the larger jewish community join together to demand justice and protection for all human rights defenders. i have signed onto a statement prepared by american jewish world service (ajws) to express my jewish solidarity with lgbti ugandans.

please consider adding your name or the name to the statement located here. read rabbi denise eger’s statement about mourning the loss of david kato as a great hero here. may the memory of david kato be for a blessing.

David Kato was found with serious wounds to his head at his home on Wednesday. Kato and two other gay activists sued a newspaper over claims that it had violated their constitutional rights to privacy and won the case earlier this month

David Kato z"l

Activists were outraged over the death of David Kato, an advocacy officer for the gay rights group Sexual Minorities Uganda. His slaying comes after a year of stepped up threats against gays in Uganda, where a controversial bill has proposed the death penalty for some homosexual acts.

Mourners carry the coffin of David Kato, a prominent Ugandan gay rights activist who was murdered in his home this week.

It was reported by CNN that a pastor rebuked homosexuals at David Kato's funeral, prompting chaos as sympathizers stormed the pulpit and grabbed his microphone away.

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Posted by on January 31, 2011 in Jewish Bay Area


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The pain of concealing one’s identity is something that we understand as out LGBT identified Jews. We are grateful for the privilege of being out and open in our communities, but in so many places the struggle to be our full complete selves continues.

This past weekend at the San Francisco Queer Shabbaton, Lisa Finkelstein had the opportunity to attend as well as faciliate a discussion on the how the intersection of intimacy and boundries can build a diverse Jewish community. The previous weekend Arthur had the opportunity to attend an East Coast Orthodox-based Shabbaton with 140 other LGBT Jews. Many of the participants said to Arthur with great emotion that they had dreamed all their lives of a community where they could be their authentic LGBT Jewish selves. As each community event, party, concert, discussion or fundraiser presents opportunities to connect all of our LGBT Jewish lives together we hope that you will too choose to join us out in the community.  


From the expansion of visitation rights at hospitals, the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and now the unbarred travel to the U.S. for people living with HIV/AIDS, our community has cause for celebration, yet there is much more work ahead. See our upcoming events and read an elaboration on these topics written by our newest Federation team member, Max Kopeikin.


Arthur Slepian, Chair & Lisa Finkelstein, Director of the LGBT Alliance of the Jewish Community Federation co-wrote this piece in hopes to seeing all of our readers OUT in the community


Congregation Sha’ar Zahav and Stanford Hillel
Feb 25, 26 & 27   

The Taube Center for Jewish Studies at Stanford hosts a weekend of Shabbat connections, Discussion & Learning
Power of One
Feb 07 5:00pm – Feb 07 8:30pm
 A celebration of Jewish women & men who inspire each & every one of us to make a difference.
Israeli Photographer Adi Nes
JCCSF – Feb 01 7:00pm – 8:00pm
Hillel at Stanford – Feb 02 12:30pm – 2:00pm 

Palo Alto JCC – Feb 02 7:30pm – 9:30pm

Internationally acclaimed Israeli artist about his Israeli homo-erotic soldiers’ Last Supper, homeless Bible Stories and much more 

Celebration of The Robert Giard Exhibibition
Feb 09 7:30pm – 9:00pm

Particular Voices: Portraits of Jewish Gay and Lesbian Writers featuring poets Teya Schafferm & Elana Dykewomon
Just Because It’s Not Wrong Doesn’t Make It Right
Feb 09 7:00pm – 9:00pm

From toddlers to teens, teaching children to think and act ethically with author expert Barbara Coloroso


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Posted by on January 31, 2011 in LGBT Alliance


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waiting for my bus on my morning comute i could not help but pick up today’s sfweekly. an image of a tattered rainbow hovering over a persons head with tears streaming from their face with the cover story, wounded pride, it’s not so fabulous to be gay in san francisco – if you’re a teen by lauren smiley corresponded.

while the article insinuated that many local kids have parents from cultural traditions that openly scorn lgbt identity (making life difficult even among a seemingly lgbt normative community) i became more keenly aware to the findings she covered from a school climate survey commissioned with etr associates, in 2007.

this survey found that of the 13,000 san francisco unified school district students in 5-12 grades who participated that derogatory remarks based on sexual orientation and gender identity are made frequently in schools citywide, regardless of neighborhood and that teachers and staff often do not intervene when such comments are made.

throughout the day i began to think that although i cannot articulate the explicit qualitative and quantitative differences between the cultural communities that smiley’s article focused on and the implicit demographic diversity of the bay area jewish community, some experiences are universal. for example, reading about the covert means to feel normal with other self-identifed lgbt young people at a night club reminded me vividly of my own early 1990’s teenage experiences. i began thinking that if 34% of lesbian, gay, or bisexual middle schoolers reported attempting suicide in the san francisco survey that other schools in communities from san mateo, to santa rosa, to stockton would show little variation on these alarming san francisco school district numbers. so i continued thinking that the same jewish students that attend these schools also attend our jewish religious schools. and that without a doubt if 56% of transgender students reported playing hooky because of a “lack of safety” in san francisco these same experiences could disquietingly appear in our jewish day schools… do they already?

while our 2010 lgbt alliance study shows that lgbt jewish adults do not report significant levels of homophobia or transphobia in the bay area jewish community, we do not have corresponding data about lgbt young people in the bay area jewish community. what we do have is our collective undocumented universal based assumptions on what potential barriers are for lgbtq young jewish people that could prevent interest or involvement in not only the jewish community but more distressingly, their own families and their own lives.

kevin gogin, who works in support services for lgbtq youth for the san francisco district’s school health programs department, suggested in an article a few years back that the nuances of anti-lgbt bullying found in schools is based on the subtle messages depicted in our daily lives that relegate lgbt individuals and families to second-class citizenship.

as i finished reading lauren smiley’s poignant article today my usual positive bubble-like feeling popped a little. wanting to believe that because the jewish community is so well-organized that we can be immune to such sad statistics did not seem possible.  reading that lgbt students are much more likely to smoke, use drugs, drink alcohol, or sniff inhalants than that of their heterosexual counterparts made me sink deeper into the bus bench. is the outcome for communities, even our implicitly lgbt-normative san francisco bay area community with a required district-wide diversity educational curriculum, even a bit more bleak? can change this bleak inevitability with creative solutions and positive focused intentions?

so i ask, please get involved and do what you can to make change locally. we don’t need to have a bleak future when we already have the best of intentions…


you can find more on lgbtq vocabulary terms, statistics, curriculum as well as training dates for san francisco public school staff available on the san francisco district’s lgbt-focused website. you can also find a few more suggestions on things to do to strengthen your jewish community here.

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Posted by on November 4, 2010 in Hyperlocal, LGBT Alliance


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a bus ride

We left Jerusalem down the road that according to our bus guide serves as part of a green line since 1967. Our entire journey down the country towards Sderot we pass beautiful fields of agriculture. A few fighter jets happen to fly back and forth over the fields. As I speak for hours off and on with my new friend Alana about her life in South Africa I realize that one of the most extraordinary gifts of this MFA program is a new global network of Jewish friends.

Born in Zimbabwe, Alana and her family moved to South Africa when she was younger but her Uncle, a civil rights attorney, remains as one of the 200 Jews remaining in Zimbabwe (since a peak of 7,500 Jewish residents in the 1970’s). Alana has grown up in mostly Post-Apartheid South Africa and now works with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.

We had a lot to talk about while we passed by the infamous security fence as we share the experience of so many people in both of our communities using the rhetoric often associated with Apartheid to describe their experience of Israel. We were able to really talk about what this means to us personally and professionally.  As I have never been to South Africa this conversation with Alana, a self-described Religious woman that is so focused on Tikkun Olam within her everyday life, was incredibly rewarding to me. We spoke about how we see this tour, how we understand Zionism and how we feel about the security fence we were passing all from this complicated lens. I hope that this conversation between us will continue after the tour because I know at least for me that it will take a few lifetimes to try and reconcile my experiences and feelings on these subjects.

Take a look at the rest of the groups photos of Day Four on the Israel Foreign Ministry Diplomatic Seminar that includes updated photos of our visit with President Shimon Peres, our meeting and tour with the Mayor of Sderot, Mr. David Buskila, lunch with Bahatzer Shel Ora on the 50-year-old Moshav Kfar Maimon and our overnight stay at Kibbutz Yahel via Sde Boker.


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