Engagement: The Jewish Way

Lane Levine, 29, has been involved with JQ Baltimore, which serves the Jewish LGBT community, since it began in 2012.

“It’s important to me to know other queer Jews because I want to share a space where people have similar heritage and experiences,” said Lane. “I personally am partnered with another Jewish person, and it means a lot to me, but it’s never felt like a requirement.”

Like other organizations, JQ Baltimore’s programming is driven by its members. Upcoming events include a queer Shabbat hosted by a member and a queer seder for Passover. Lane is hosting a karaoke night too.

“We don’t really do Hebrew songs,” said Lane, “but we do a lot of Fiddler on the Roof.”

Etz Chaim, The Center for Jewish Living and Learning perhaps cuts to the heart of why so many are concerned about the Jewish engagement of young adults.

“I think there’s space for [having purely social parties],” said Rabbi Nitzan Bergman, 44, executive director of Etz Chaim,. “A lot of them want to meet other Jewish people. They want to marry Jewish. But they also want to know why.”

The WOW! Program at Etz Chaim focuses primarily on teaching young adults about the “why.” Rivkah Malka Perlman ran WOW!, aimed at 21 to 35 year olds, for two years. She recently left in order to be more present for her family but still works independently to engage young Jews, a role she describes as her passion.

Perlman said that WOW! is based on the idea that in order to care about something you need to understand it. Participants enroll in a six-week program meeting once a week, with many often staying on longer. The average class is about 40 participants. After a shared dinner, study commences one on one, with both learning from the other on the given topic for that week.

Orthodox and non-Orthodox young adults participate, and the take-away can be surprising, explained Berg-man. Not only do participants learn about their Judaism more deeply, they learn about each other. Barriers are broken down, and strong bonds are formed. While marriage is not the goal of WOW!, it can be a result. There were four engagements during the time Perlman was involved with the program.

“If you have a serious Jewish identity, intermarriage is the furthest thing on your radar,” said Perlman. “When you touch real Judaism, intermarriage is not a question because you start to understand soul language.

“When you understand what Jewish beliefs are about heaven, eternity, reason, purpose, mission,” everything else falls in place, she continued. “So yes, it is a byproduct. As someone’s Jewish identity emerges, they care more and more about marrying Jewish.”


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