The education director of an American organisation working for the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews held anti-homophobia training courses in the UK last week.
Keshet’s Dr Andrea Jacobs arranged the visit in the wake of the controversy earlier this year over a Jewish studies class at JFS being told about an organisation offering therapy to overcome same-sex attractions.
Her trip was funded by former Hasmonean High pupil Alex Greenbaum, who said “the JFS story really touched a nerve for me”. He had grown up in a school environment “unsupportive of LGBT issues”.
Having lived in America before going to Israel, Mr Greenbaum 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”.
Dr Jacobs ran training sessions for a dozen volunteers and held meetings with several Jewish organisations including the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues.
One participant in the training was former JFS head girl Alma Smith, who after the incident at the school unsuccessfully tried to persuade it to invite a representative of Keshet’s British counterpart, Keshet UK.
According to human rights organisation Stonewall, over half of gay and lesbian people say they were bullied at school in the UK.
“These figures are frightening,” said Keshet UK co-convenor Dave Shaw, “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.”
Given the figures,“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 enabled us to do exactly that.”