Celebrating Diversity

group of people stand on a rainbow-decorated bima

The Success Story of WHC’s LGBTQ+ Affinity Group

By Allie Heiman & Rick Woler

After participating in Washington Hebrew’s very first SEA Change cohort in the fall of 2019, we saw the need for more intentional visibility in our WHC community.  Together with a number of other initiatives to come from SEA Change, we embarked on a journey that would help change the landscape of Washington Hebrew.

Recognizing the need for action within the congregation, we co-founded the WHC LGBTQ+ Affinity Group. Our mission was clear: create a space where queer Jewish individuals not only felt accepted but truly embraced by their Jewish community and to make sure that space was not only present, but readily accessible to anyone searching for a new Jewish home.

In its early stages, the group faced the challenges of launching amid a global pandemic. However, over the past year, it has blossomed into a thriving community. One of the standout events organized by the group was the 2023 Pride Shabbat, drawing over 300 participants to celebrate diversity and love. The special service featured guest speakers from within the congregation, marking a pivotal moment in WHC’s ongoing commitment to inclusivity.

Pride Shabbat will return this year on the first Friday of June, promising another joyous celebration. The success of this event, coupled with an unconditionally warm team of weekly Shabbat greeters led by Laura Loeb, WHC’s adoption of the practice of including a space for pronouns on nametags, and other poignant changes, has significantly contributed to fostering an atmosphere of love and acceptance within the community for our LGBTQ+ congregants and prospective members.

Beyond this flagship event, the LGBTQ+ Group has pioneered smaller, yet equally impactful gatherings. Rabbi Fischel has warmly welcomed the group into her sukkah for the past two years, creating a cherished space for celebrating the holiday and fostering connections among its attendees. The annual LGBTQ+ Game Night held in December has become a beloved tradition, featuring laughter, games, Hanukkah treats, and shared moments of joy.

As the LGBTQ+ Group continues to grow and thrive, so does the Washington Hebrew community. Our concerted efforts, as well as those of our entire LGBTQ+ community, SEA Change, and our membership as a whole, have built on an already sturdy foundation of diversity to transform WHC into a beacon of inclusivity. For many LGBTQ+ Jews in the DMV, WHC has become the place of interest and intrigue, a testament to the power of community-driven initiatives.

The story of the WHC LGBTQ+ Affinity Group is evidence of the positive impact that a dedicated community can have when striving for inclusivity and acceptance. Through events, gatherings, and a shared commitment to fostering connections, the LGBTQ+ Group has not only enriched the lives of its members but has also contributed to the overall vibrancy and diversity of the Washington Hebrew community.

Will we see you at this year’s Pride Shabbat?

To learn more about upcoming events, email Allie and Rick at lgbtq@whctemple.org and follow @WHC_LGBTQ on Instagram.