Following allegations that a Jewish school in London showed pupils anti-gay material, a Jewish forum has provided a free training course for community members to support LGBT inclusion in the faith.
One participant in the training was Alma Smith, former head girl at JFS. When she heard reports of events at the school, she approached Keshet UK, an umbrella organisation for LGBT organisations in the UK, to run diversity training in the school, and at the same time wrote to the head teacher asking for Keshet UK to be invited in.
Although the school did not take up Smith’s request, Keshet UK decided to act to deliver this sort of training. Support came from philanthropist Alex Greenbaum, former Hasmonean pupil, now living in Israel.
Mr Greenbaum said: “The JFS story really touched a nerve for me. The school environment I grew up in was unsupportive of LGBT issues and Jewish studies teachers often promoted homophobic views. This made life very difficult for me as a young person.
“Having since lived in the USA, I had seen the good work of organisations like Keshet there, reaching out to mainstream Jewish communities and helping them find ways to welcome and include LGBT people.”
Through his financial support, Keshet UK was able to arrange for Dr Andrea Jacobs, Director of Education for Keshet (USA) in Boston, to spend a week with the Jewish community in London. As well as delivering diversity facilitator training to 12 volunteers, she held meetings with a number of Jewish community organisations. Her activities included two flagship events at the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues and an “Out in the Community” event with the JCC.
Stonewall’s recent School Report found that over half of lesbian and gay children had been bullied, and over a third feel unable to speak out. Students in faith schools were less likely to report that their schools say homophobic bullying is wrong than their peers in non-faith schools, and a third of students in faith schools reported that teachers who hear homophobic language never challenge it, compared to a quarter in non-faith schools.
Keshet UK co-convener Dave Shaw said: “These figures are frightening, especially when we find out from the report that nearly one in four lesbian, gay and bisexual young people have tried to take their own life at some point, and over half have deliberately harmed themselves. We have no data to suggest that this is any different in the Jewish community.
“Put simply, young people’s health and lives are at risk, and we cannot stand by and do nothing. We wanted to create a training and education programme that was rooted in Jewish values, and Dr Jacobs’s visit is enabling us to do exactly that.”
Ben Summerskill, Chief Executive of Stonewall said: “‘At Stonewall we believe that every child in Britain should be able to grow up to secure every ounce of their potential, regardless of birth or background. The successful launch of this programme by Keshet UK is one important step towards making that vision a reality.’
Keshet UK said it would be eager to hear from organisations in the Jewish community that want to find out more.