Ma'avarim demonstration in Tel Aviv to protest stabbing of an Israeli Arab trans woman, 2018.
Ma'avarim demonstration in Tel Aviv to protest stabbing of an Israeli Arab trans woman, 2018.

New Jewish Pride Fund grants give agencies hope

Four years ago, Sam Goldman, a development professional in San Francisco who serves on the boards of some big-name Jewish agencies, made a decision to give back to his LGBTQ community in a way that would empower members of that community to directly support one another.

Goldman had just returned from an eye-opening trip to Israel with Jewish Federations of North America.

“They were able to visit a lot of organizations in Israel that support LGBTQ communities. It was powerful,” said Danielle Meshorer of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, where she manages venture philanthropy and giving circles. “Sam felt he and his friends who were in positions of privilege should give back.”

And so the Jewish Pride Fund Giving Circle was formed.

According to its mission statement, it supports “the intersecting needs, values and interests of the LGBTQ and Jewish communities in the Bay Area, nationally and in Israel.”

Meshorer said the fund/giving circle also came into being in response to individuals who identify as both LGBTQ and Jewish, but who feel uncomfortable showing up as “their whole self” even in progressive spaces.

“That’s how we came up with the name,” she explained. “It says, ‘I am proud to be Jewish and I am proud to be LGBTQ.’”

David Rak, current chair of the fund, was also on that 2016 JFNA trip.

“When I think about my identity, two of the most significant aspects are being Jewish and gay,” he said. “I am wanting to give back to those communities where we can have the intersection of Jewish values and life and the LGBTQ community.”

The fund is now in its third year, and the 15-member giving circle recently announced grant awards of $7,000 each to four LGBTQ organizations, two in Israel and two in the United States.

The Israel recipients are Ma’avarim, which advocates, educates and provides information about the trans community, and Beit Dror, a shelter that supports teens who have been alienated because of their sexual orientation.

The U.S. recipients are San Francisco Congregation Sha’ar Zahav and N.Y.-based Eshel (which works closely with Orthodox synagogues, mostly in the Northeastern U.S., as part of the Welcoming Shuls project).

Sha’ar Zahav, founded as an LGBTQ-normative synagogue in 1977, counts among its 350 families (and its greater community of some 2,500 people) many who are vulnerable to Covid-19, and, as such, the synagogue has been addressing the impact of the virus on these populations.

The grant from the Jewish Pride Fund Giving Circle will allow the continuation of programs that began prior to and as a response to Covid-19 and shelter-in-place restrictions.

These include the Hineni Calling Project, which looks out for those in the community who are elderly, immune compromised, newly unemployed, living with AIDS/HIV or otherwise vulnerable. Hineni means “I am present.” Synagogue members have been providing assistance with technology, grocery shopping, picking up medications, or simply offering friendship and connection.

Another Sha’ar Zahav program that will benefit from the funding is Adult Orphans, which reaches out to isolated individuals and those who might be estranged from their families. It has now stepped up efforts to meet virtually.

Rabbi Mychal Copeland said the support from the Jewish Pride Fund is especially meaningful in June, which is Pride Month.

“Many synagogues do a Pride Shabbat, but for us it’s all year long,” she said.

Ma’avarim was founded in Israel six years ago with the belief, according to co-founder Elisha Alexander, that “supporting the trans community benefits the entire society by breaking gender stereotypes and bringing acceptance for LGBTQ women and men.”

These days, Alexander said, Ma’avarim is the biggest knowledge center in Israel for the trans community, which traditionally had always been “last on the list,” even within LGBTQ organizations.

Alexander said Israel’s estimated trans population of 150,000 is likely higher than that because many trans people are still in the closet. Also, he added, there’s a large population of sex workers in Israel who have been hit hard by Covid-19 both economically and physically.

“There are many [employment] programs [in Israel] for Haredim, Arabs, Bedouins and Ethiopians, but one-third of trans are unemployed,” Alexander said. “And 68 percent of those employed face discrimination.”

The Jewish Pride Fund is providing one of the few opportunities to support Israel’s trans community, Alexander said, which is especially impactful during the global pandemic.

“It’s nice to know people who live far from you care about you,” Alexander said. “It gives us hope that change is possible.”

Elissa Einhorn
Elissa Einhorn

Elissa Einhorn began her writing career in the Bronx at the age of 8. She earned a master’s degree in communications and journalism 20 years later. While Elissa worked for non-profits her entire career, including as a Jewish communal professional, she now enjoys working for herself as a freelance writer. Still, her most treasured role is that of ima (mom) to twin daughters who she is (finally) happy to count among her friends.