Queer Shabbaton will add urban vibe to LGBT dialogue

This isn’t your typical Shabbaton.

Instead of communing in a natural setting, participants in the upcoming Queer Shabbaton will gather in San Francisco’s Mission District. Instead of singing songs around the dinner table, they’ll sip cocktails.

“Being in an urban city lends itself to accessibility,” said Sasha T. Goldberg, the event’s director. “If we were in the woods, we’d have a hike on Shabbat. Instead, we’re hosting a mimosa brunch on Sunday. Our programming is more plugged in to urban culture, with an intellectual slant.”

There is no specific theme for the Shabbaton, a weekend of cutting-edge Jewish thought for the LGBT community. “We have presenters who are LGBT and have something to say about Jewish culture,” Goldberg said. “We have Jews who have something to say about LGBT culture and non-Jews who have something to say about Jews and LGBT culture.”  

Goldberg anticipates roughly 100 people will attend the Queer Shabbaton, to be held Jan. 28 to 30 at the Women’s Building.

Queer Shabbaton 2009 at the JCC in Manhattan photo/courtesy of sasha t. goldberg

Nehirim, a national organization that builds community for LGBT Jews and their partners and allies, has planned the event, held previously in Washington, D.C., New York and Amsterdam.

Co-sponsors are Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco, the Progressive Jewish Alliance and the LGBT Alliance of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

“It’s exciting to showcase our community,” said Lisa Finkelstein, director of the LGBT Alliance. “There are 36,000 LGBT Jews already living in the Bay Area, with San Francisco as the hub for such action. There’s a lot of fun to be had.”

Goldberg likened the weekend to an “urban retreat” that will likely attract participants who already frequent Dolores Park, the Mission and Castro districts and other nearby spots. She expects out-of-towners, too.

LGBT Jewish teachers, rabbis, scholars, lay leaders and community organizers are slated to lead an array of workshops and classes, ranging from a roundtable discussion with Nehirim executive director Michael Hopkins, to text studies and worship.

Julie Seltzer, the scribe-in-residence at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum, will speak about her project “As It Is Written.” Ali Cannon, a leader in the transgender community and chair of the LGBT Alliance’s Trans Task Force, will speak on LGBT Jewish parenting. And Sarah Lefton, founder of G-dcast.com, will speak during the weekend at an evening focused on Jewish media.

For those new to the concept of Torah study, Goldberg will dissect a secular text in her class, “An Exploration of ‘Dykes to Watch Out For.’ ”

“I am a great fan of drawing in the uninitiated,” explained Goldberg, who holds a master’s degree in Judaism from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. “It’s about taking urban culture that people are familiar with and introducing Torah study through that.”

In addition, participants will have the chance to be filmed for the Strength Through Community Project, a collection of Jewish-themed online videos that responds to the widely publicized bullying and suicides in the LGBT community.

The project aims to show the stories of individuals, in addition to the power and support of the Jewish community as a whole, to those in crisis. Nehirim spearheaded the project along with Keshet, a Boston-based organization that works for the inclusion of LGBT Jews, and LGBT Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York.

In between the learning opportunities, attendees will have a chance to mingle at Shabbat dinner, sip cocktails, relax and connect.

Said Finkelstein, “It will be an incredible experience of sharing, learning and creating community with each other.”

The Nehirim Queer Shabbaton is Jan. 28-30 at the Women’s Building, 3543 18th St., S.F. Financial aid is available. For registration or more information, visit www.nehirim.org/qssf.