Survey: Few synagogues actively welcome gays

"There's a lot of goodwill in the American Jewish community, but there's not a lot of action."

Few synagogues actively welcome gay and lesbian Jews, a new survey finds. The new transdenominational synagogue survey on LGBT inclusion and diversity, which questioned 1,221 North American rabbis, synagogue directors and board presidents, found that 73 percent of respondents believe their congregations do a good or excellent job of welcoming gay and lesbian Jews. Nearly a quarter, mostly Orthodox, said they were minimally welcoming. By contrast, only 33 percent of rabbis said their congregations held programs or events related to gay people. The most popular "program" was marriage equality, eclipsing events like gay pride Shabbat and gay and lesbian havurah groups. "There's a lot of goodwill in the American Jewish community, but there's not a lot of action," said Caryn Aviv, a Jewish studies scholar at the University of Denver and co-author of the study with Dr. Steven Cohen, a research professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. The survey was highlighted at a conference Feb. 22-23 that sought to develop best practices for improving synagogues' reception to sexually diverse congregants. The Welcoming Synagogues Project convened rabbis and activists who shared strategies with the goal of developing a model to be implemented by 10 pilot congregations this summer. "We're trying to come up with a process that's scalable," said Joel Kushner, director of the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation at HUC. "There isn't going to be one size fits all." In fact, the study underscored a sociological shift among congregations, with 47 percent of rabbis saying their views have become more favorable toward gay and lesbian issues compared to 10 years ago. While 73 percent of non-Orthodox congregations had rabbis who officiated at same-sex weddings or commitment ceremonies, the same was not true for interfaith marriages. According to the survey, 40 percent of rabbis of Reform, Renewal, Reconstructionist and unaffiliated congregations do not officiate at interfaith weddings.