By Karen Newman
I joined the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group (now Jewish LGBT+ Group) in 1999. I was reasonably secure in both identities, although I had never felt the need to manifest both in the same nano-second – I joined together with my partner primarily in order to find the person who is now my daughter’s dad. I was, therefore, totally unprepared for how moving I found the revelation that it was possible to be lesbian/gay and Jewish, and to enjoy and celebrate both as well as each identity. It proved to be the vehicle to reconnect me meaningfully with my Jewish heritage, as it led directly, via Rainbow Rabbi Mark Solomon, to my joining the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, which I now represent as a Deputy.
Rainbow Pilgrims is building on other projects supported by Liberal Judaism; Rainbow Jews – the first project to celebrate LGBT Jewish history and heritage in the UK – is now an online exhibition including personal testimonies, education and other resources. It was spearheaded by Surat-Shaan Knan, who won lottery funding for the project, and who is now leading Rainbow Pilgrims. Shaan also led Twilight People, a pioneering project celebrates the hidden history of transgender and gender-variant people of faith in the UK past and present.
Such projects have attracted stellar support; Joanna Lumley has given Rainbow Pilgrims the thumbs up, while Stephen Fry stepped in to save Rainbow Jews and ensure its legacy at the end of the funded project.
It’s been a good February for Jews wanting to join in with the LGBT History month 2018 celebrations. The Liberal Judaism-supported Rainbow Pilgrims project, launched at a VIP reception in the Weiner Library on February 15, staged a successful conference, museum exhibition launch and also created and hosts an online exhibition. Rainbow Pilgrims is a landmark project that discovers the hidden history of LGBTQI migrants in the UK past and present. The project covers the period from the first Jewish Kindertransports to Britain (1938-1940) to today. Supported by The National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and hosted by Liberal Judaism (LJ), Rainbow Pilgrims explores narratives around ‘rites and passages’, documenting the interconnection between faith, sexuality, gender and ethnicity by using oral history, film and photography. Rainbow Pilgrims culminates in a touring exhibition with pop-up events, a symposium, cutting-edge learning tools and an archive collection.
If you’re still reading, and would like to learn more about Jewish LGBTQ+ events, groups and resources, below are some links to get you started. Don’t forget you can march in London’s Gay Pride March with Jewish LGBT+ groups; one of my favourite moments from marching under the JGLG banner several years ago was the smile of a man marching with the gay group in front of us, who beamed at our banner, and told us he was a former student at JFS. To get you into the Pride spirit, join the Erev Shabbat Pre-Pride service co-hosted by JGLG and either the LJS or the West London Synagogue; this year the service will be held at West London the night before Pride on Friday July 6.
Jewish LGBT+Group (formerly JLG) http://www.jglg.org.uk/
Rainbow Pilgrims https://www.rainbowpilgrims.com/
LGBT History month http://lgbthistorymonth.org.uk/
Rainbow Jews http://www.rainbowjews.com/
Twilight People http://www.twilightpeople.com/
Karen Newman is Deputy for the Liberal Jewish Synagogue and is on the Board of Deputies Executive Committee