Bet Mishpachah Celebrates Diversity and Inclusion

A Friends and Family Shabbat at Bet Mishpachah. Photo credit: Joshua Maxey

When Bet Mishpachah was founded in Washington, D.C., in 1975 as a Jewish space for people of the LGBTQ community, there existed little if any representation for members of the broader LGBTQ community, and there were likely even less spaces in religious institutions.

Now, almost 50 years later, the synagogue remains a strong religious institution devoted to inclusiveness and celebrating identity, which will be highlighted in an upcoming event where it will host a Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31.

“We typically have two major days in the calendar to celebrate transgender rights and recognize transgender rights. Transgender Day of Visibility is one,” Bet Mishpachah Executive Director Joshua Maxey said. “I challenge my community all the time. I’m like, let’s really celebrate life. And so, this is an opportunity for us to celebrate trans lives.”

The event will feature a bagel brunch and a guest speaker, Admiral Rachel Levine, Assistant Secretary for Health and the first openly transgender four-star officer in any of the United States uniformed services, according to Bet Mishpachah’s website.

Levine, who is also the first female four-star admiral in the Commissioned Corp, will be part of a Q&A session with the congregation after her presentation that will be moderated by Bet Mishpachah’s Rabbi Jake Singer Beilin.

Maxey said that the congregation partnered with several other local Jewish organizations for this event, including the Edlavitch DCJCC, Hill Havurah, Fabrangen and an LGBTQ organization called A Wider Bridge.

“It’s our hope that for that Sunday morning, the D.C. Jewish community is exposed a little bit more as to what it means to be trans in today’s society, and as an LGBTQ congregation, we feel like it’s our responsibility to talk about those issues,” Maxey said.

Maxey added that historically there’s been trans erasure in the LGBTQ movement and community, which makes this event so important, as they’re able to recognize the work that trans people have done to further the fight for equal rights and some struggles they may face in their lives.

Maxey said that the synagogue has trans members and trans people that show up for Shabbat and other services, and this event is a step to bringing some positive recognition
to them.

“When we talk about our community and constantly creating places of belonging for our community, I think this is just another step in that and recognizing that as Jews we come in all different colors and shades, life experiences and gender identities, and it’s important for us to highlight that,” Maxey said.

Maxey added that they’re able to tie in Jewish values to their programming with their strong recognition that we are all made in the image of God and events like this give them an opportunity to “practice what we preach.”

And having these values allows for the synagogue to be champions of diversity and inclusion for underrepresented groups.

Maxey described a personal experience as being Black and Jewish, which can sometimes lead to a feeling of isolation in circumstances when entering a space with little to no representation.

“We’re trying to make sure that anyone who walks into our synagogue, whether they be LGBTQ+ or even a straight ally, that they feel welcome, they feel embraced and that they see themselves amongst the people,” Maxey said.

And this event is part of a continued effort to live up to that promise, as the synagogue has been working for over a year on incorporating some new content for its members and increasing participation in its programs.

Maxey said that they’ve been working on having speakers from partner LGBTQ organizations come in and address the congregation, noting that they have an event coming up in May with the U.S. envoy in combating homophobia.

Maxey added that they’re working on ways to provide programming that’s of interest to a wide range of people, as not everyone joins the synagogue purely for religious aspects.

“We’ve been hoping to plan these programs and events that are interesting to people that’s not necessarily always centered around Shabbat because we know that not everyone connects to Judaism or connects to our community in one way. Some people joined for that religious experience, some people joined just because they want community,” Maxey said.

The synagogue’s adapting work is also reflective of the ideals set out by its founders almost 50 years ago as it approaches that milestone.

Maxey said that they’re proud to still be standing for LGBTQ people and creating a space for them to be themselves while adding a religious and community component that spreads positivity and acceptance.

“As long as there’s LGBTQ Jews, that there’s a need for an LGBTQ synagogue, our mission is not up and we want to be that safe space for all LGBTQ Jews and for the wider LGBTQ community as a whole,” Maxey said.

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