City of Brotherly Love — and Sisterly Affection — yes, indeed.
The World Congress of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Jews held its eastern regional conference in Philadelphia last weekend — the group's first conference since 2006.
"The main reason we chose Philadelphia this time around was that if you look at our numbers, the bulk of our member organizations tend to be up and down the East Coast, not to slight L.A. and other areas," said Howard Solomon, president of the World Congress.
Philly also proved central for the high number of attendees coming in from New York and Washington, he added.
The goal behind this year's meeting was twofold, said Solomon: "Social interaction and camaraderie between GLBT Jews, and to re-invigorate the conferences and the congress. When most people think about what the world congress does for them, the conferences are usually the first thing they think about."
The conference was attended by about 60 people, including many from Washington, D.C., New York, and even a pair from as far away as Mexico City. The events included Shabbat services, as well as an awards dinner Saturday and a performance by comedian Eddie Sarfaty.
The centerpiece of this year's conference was the seminars, which took place Saturday at the William Way Community Center in Philadelphia, and on Sunday morning at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote.
"We don't do workshops, because of Shabbat — we do seminars," said Scott Gansi, a past president of the congress.
The Saturday seminars included topics such as "Queering Jewish American Culture" and "Twice Blessed: 100 Years of Queer Jewish History." Seminars were led by a number of activists and academics, many with local ties, including David Brodsky of RRC and Temple University professor Rebecca Alpert.
Their seminars — "The Jewish Law of Same-Sex Intercourse" and "Whose Torah?: Why Understanding Sexuality Is Key to a Progressive Judaism," respectively — took place Sunday at RRC.
What the Rabbis say
Brodsky's session examined the laws of same-sex intercourse (mostly between men) through the lens of rabbinic Judaism, starting with specific Bible verses forbidding it (including passages from Leviticus and Deuteronomy).
"We have a stake in this, let's be honest," Brodsky said, stressing throughout that the Bible speaks less about sexual orientation than about sexual acts. But, he said, the Bible warrants the death penalty for certain acts.
He said the Bible was the "foundational text for [the idea that] anal intercourse between men is forbidden," but that that was later twisted to mean all same-sex relationships were forbidden. "Nothing here says two men can't have a committed, loving relationship."
He lead the group through different interpretations of Biblical and Rabbinic law, but said that in the end "all of us today have major differences from rabbinic and Biblical concepts of what's acceptable sex."
Alpert's presentation coincided with her new book, Whose Torah?, which includes a chapter on sexuality in Judaism. While the discussion was certainly centered on that issue, it also covered issues of sexuality in today's society, Jewish and otherwise.
Alpert said the Jewish community was very welcoming to "gay and lesbian people who look like everyone else," but still had some work to do in terms of being all-inclusive. "We welcome the Gs and the Ls, but not the Bs and the Ts," she said.
Alpert summed up the Jewish community's evolving position on gay issues: "Things do change, but not all by themselves. We have work we have to do."