IN THE NEWS: JFS Event defines LGBTQ needs in South Palm

Randall P. Lieberman

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (subscription required)

Jun 25, 2015

Panel for the recent event addressing LGBTQ needs in South Palm Beach. From left are Rabbis Greg Kanter, Marci Bloch and Dan Levin; Brett Lowenstern; Ashley Giannangeli and Randi Adler.

On Thursday, June 25, Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Services — the Boca Raton-based Jewish social-services agency — sponsored a Community Conversation about creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment in South Palm Beach County for LGBTQ individuals of all ages and their families.

Presenting a Community Conversation was one of the recommendations of a task force established by Jewish Family Services (JFS). Comprised of a diverse group of representatives from the community, the task force's objective is to help identify the unmet needs of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning) individuals and their families and to develop an action plan to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for the LGBTQ community.

A crowd of more than 150 people attended the Community Conversation, which took place at Temple Beth El of Boca Raton in east Boca.

The panel discussion was moderated by Randi Adler, LGBTQ program director for North Miami-based Jewish Community Services of South Florida.

Questions were asked to five panelists and the audience. Panelists included:

  • Rabbi Dan Levin, senior rabbi of Temple Beth El;
  • Rabbi Marci Bloch, Congregation B'nai Israel, Boca Raton;
  • Rabbii Greg Kanter, Temple Sinai of Palm Beach County, Delray Beach;
  • Brett Lowenstern, American Idol Top 24 semifinalist/Boca resident; and
  • Ashley Giannangeli, faculty sponsor of the Gay-Straight Alliance Club, Spanish River High School, Boca Raton.

Danielle Hartman, JFS president and CEO, stated: "We will be taking the valuable information gathered at the Community Conversation and will use it to help us develop a plan for the community. As the evening progressed, it became evident that there is a strong need for more clinical and social programs."

JFS specifically chose to sponsor this event in June to coincide with LGBT Pride Month. Event partners included the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, Jewish Community Services of South Florida, Temple Beth El, Congregation B'nai Israel, Temple Sinai and Spanish River High School.

The panelists were all honored to be part of this trailblazing event.

Kanter, an openly-gay Reform rabbi, said on his Facebook page: "Congrats to Ruth Rales JFS on an amazing event tonight. You touched peoples' lives and helped people who are struggling feel a little more safe and secure. I was honored to be on your panel and help people celebrate who they are and who their children are. And it was just the beginning of a conversation that Boca, Delray and Boynton want to have more of."

Bloch, a Reform rabbi and a straight ally, said: "I thought the LGBTQ Community Conversation was excellent. It gave people in South Palm Beach County a safe place to share their feelings and concerns. As a rabbi in Boca, this dialogue gave me strong hope that our community will make great efforts to make changes to ensure that the LGBT population feels accepted and loved."

Levin, a Reform rabbi and a straight ally, said: "The panel helped participants appreciate what the Jewish community has to offer the LGBTQ community. We want the Jewish community to be a welcoming and safe place irrespective of the sexuality and gender of the person.

"The LGBTQ community still doesn't expect the doors to synagogues to be open to them, as there still is a significant stigma, especially for transgender individuals. However, the Reform movement and Temple Beth El have both been at the forefront in trying to advance civil rights and create an inclusive environment where everybody feels welcome. The synagogue is supposed to be a sanctuary — a safe place for all people to come."

Others in attendance were equally impressed with the event.

Boca Raton Deputy Mayor Robert Weinroth, a straight ally, said: "Much of the resistance to accepting the rights of all individuals, no matter their sexual identity, has been rooted in religious beliefs. For that reason, it was particularly noteworthy that a broad spectrum of Jewish belief was represented in the conversation hosted by Temple Beth El."

Alex Rosenberg, an openly-gay man who lives and works in South Palm Beach County and is a member of the JFS task force, stated:

"I was impressed with the results of the Community Conversation panel discussion held at Temple Beth El last week. A good-sized and diverse crowd came to the event and contributed a wide variety of perspectives and information, some of it very personal. It's exactly the kinds of information that Ruth Rales needs in order to better determine needs in the community.

"We enjoyed great representation from a number of rabbis, but, in order to truly identify and serve the larger LGBTQ community, it will be essential to work across all lines, religious and non-religious. So, I would think that additional discussions are necessary and will need to involve more representatives from the Palm Beach County schools and other organizations already serving the LGBTQ communities."

For more information on LGBTQ programs/services at JFS, contact Cary Scope, JFS vice president of clinical services, at carys@ralesjfs.org or 561-852-3333.

Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Services (JFS) provides help, hope and humanity through a comprehensive range of programs and services which support people of all ages and beliefs. With locations in Boca Raton and Delray Beach, JFS programs and services include food and financial assistance, senior services, vocational training, counseling and mental health services and many volunteer opportunities. Funding is provided by private and corporate support, grants, special events and individuals who reach thousands in need each year. For more information about JFS volunteer opportunities and services for seniors, contact 561-852-3333. Learn more at www.ralesjfs.org.

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