About 15 Jewish clergy were among 300 religious leaders from every state in the nation who came to Washington this week for the Human Rights Campaign’s Clergy Call for Justice & Equality.
The group spent Tuesday on Capitol Hill lobbying for hate-crimes legislation that would expand the federal definition of such crimes to include those motivated by sexual orientation and gender disability and other legislation outlawing employment discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Some of the most vocal critics of such legislation come from the religious community, said Woodland Hills, Calif. Rabbi Steve Jacobs, and "we’re here to challenge that notion" and show that there are clergy from churches, synagogues and mosques who welcome and support the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) community.
Noting that he had recently observed a clergy-organized demonstration in Washington, D.C. against city legislation to recognize out-of-state gay marriages (which also passed Tuesday), Rabbi Bob Saks, the retiring leader of D.C. gay and lesbian synagogue Bet Mishpachah, said it was "heartening at this conference to be with so many clergy who are so committed to equal rights and support" of the community.
"Clearly the issue is of critical importance to members of my new congregation," said Toby Manewith, who will take over for Saks this summer. "It should be of critical importance to every self respecting" Jew who cares about social justice, she added.
All the Jewish clergy in the nation’s capital for the event got a chance to meet each other and commiserate on Monday evening at a special reception sponsored by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
Lynn Schusterman said the reception was part of her foundation’s increasing support for initiatives over the last dozen years to both welcome the GLBT community into the wider Jewish community and create space within the Jewish community for separate GLBT initiatives.
"With education comes understanding," said Schusterman. She said that outreach to the GLBT community is "not as fast as I would like it but it is improving."