All across the city, many different faith communities are making efforts to become welcoming places for LGBTQ Houstonians. Even though LGBTQ Jews have more options than ever before when it comes to practicing their faith as synagogues extend open arms to them, queer Jews must decide how their gender, sexual, and religious identities should coalesce as they experiment and reconnect with their heritage.
Keshet Houston, a nonprofit group founded in 2011, seeks to connect queer Jews with various communities and events citywide so that they can experiment with their spirituality in safe and friendly spaces. Keshet gathers at a different congregation—usually in the reform or conservative realm—every Friday for services. Keshet’s president, Michael Moore, says the organization has reached out to every temple in Houston, and that the responses were generally positive, even from the more dogmatically strict communities. “We got very good feedback from the reform and conservative synagogues,” Moore says. “All of them have been very welcoming and open. A couple of orthodox synagogues responded and said that we were very welcome to attend, but that they couldn’t promote our organization because of their position on homosexuality.”
Besides acting as a gateway to spiritual institutions in the city, Keshet offers its own events, including weekend trips to Galveston, interactions with LGBT synagogues from other cities, and evening outings around Houston. “We have two demographics,” Moore says. “The ones who are interested in the religious activities, and those interested in social activities who are not particularly religious or observant. We really try to focus on providing both of those activities so there is something for everybody.”
But for many younger LGBTQ Jews who have grown up in a less ghettoized climate, the quest for a spiritual home is less about being surrounded by queer peers and more about finding an experience that differs from what they grew up with. Some younger communities, believing that sexual orientation shouldn’t even matter, are choosing to ignore demographic identities to ensure that all visitors feel special, and that nobody feels like they have been pointed out. “The reality is that the LGBTQ community doesn’t hold the monopoly on Jews feeling disengaged or disenfranchised from the Jewish community,” says Rabbi Hausman-Weiss, who has designed Shma Koleinu to be “the most inclusive synagogue in town.” With free membership, current and contemporary sermons, and pre-service schmoozing, Shma Koleinu seeks to create a new space for Jews who want to escape the stuffiness they grew up with. Shma Koleinu is on Keshet’s list of regular hosts.
Many LGBTQ Jews in Houston seek to commune with like-minded queer peers who are looking for communities that welcome all kinds of Jews. Others demand spaces where LGBTQ identity is no longer a factor within the community. Luckily, Houston has options for everyone.
The Jewish High Holy Days begin September 26. Many congregations offer free entrance to some of their services. To learn about options for services and community events, visit keshethouston.org.
David Goldberg also writes about the Mankind Project in this issue of OutSmart.