Suburban synagogue hosts conference on gender inclusion

A Montgomery County synagogue wants to help Jewish spaces become more gender-inclusive.

Congregation Kol Ami, in partnership with J.Proud at Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia, will host a conference with workshops offering tips for Jewish organizations to support their transgender and gender-nonconforming participants.

Kindness Counts (Bet): Moving Beyond the Gender Boxes takes place from 1-5:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at Kol Ami, 8201 High School Road in Cheltenham. It’s free for people under 18, $10 for people between the ages of 19 and 25 or 65 and over, and $25 for any other attendees. The prices increase to $12 for young adults and seniors, or $30 for other attendees, if registration is purchased the day of the conference.

“Over the last two years in working with institutions, what I’m discovering [is] a lot of leadership at Jewish organizations feel comfortable working with LGB individuals,” said Phoenix Schneider, director of LGBTQ initiatives at JFCS of Greater Philadelphia. “But when it comes to working with trans folks, people are really asking for more information.”

The conference will include 10 workshops touching on topics from teens to elders and synagogues to summer camps. Each will be offered twice throughout the day.

Rabbi Isaac Saposnik, executive director of Camp JRF in Cheltenham Township, will lead a workshop on inclusion in informal Jewish education as seen in camping and youth groups.

“At the very underlying level we want to move from the idea of welcoming to celebratory,” Saposnik said. “Some of it, we’ve learned over years, is about language.”

He said he wants to share the experiences from Camp JRF so that other organizations can walk away with practical ways to update their operations.

The Hebrew language uses gendered nouns and most verbs and pronouns also have grammatical gender. This summer, seven Habonim Dror camps across North America pioneered a gender-neutral form of Hebrew, according to The Washington Post.

Saposnik said Camp JRF has tried to make thoughtful decisions when it comes to planning living arrangements and activities. He said it’s important for staff to receive training and young people to be able to define themselves.

“To talk about a camper with only one part of their identity misses the point,” Saposnik said.

Schneider said, so far, many synagogue leaders have registered for the conference. He encouraged teens and parents to attend as well. He said he wants everyone to feel more comfortable discussing gender.

“It’s important for people to really increase their knowledge around the broad spectrum of gender,” Schneider said.

For more information, call Congregation Kol Ami at 215-635-3110.