In an effort to reach out to Jews who may not easily find their place in conventional congregations, Jewish Federation of Monmouth County has announced the first Jersey Shore Shabbat LGBT Meetup.
“You are invited if you are Jewish, gay, straight, affiliated, unaffiliated, interfaith, single, coupled, divorced, married,” said Rabbi Michelle Pearlman, the federation’s chaplain and director of community engagement.
The event, to be held Friday evening, March 28, at Hotel Tides in Asbury Park, is part of the federation’s “larger engagement strategy,” said Pearlman.
The federation’s aim, she said, is to “take a look at the Jewish community and see where people are well connected and where there are opportunities for new ways of reaching out.”
Pearlman said the idea for the function grew out conversations with Jews in Asbury Park who are looking to make stronger Jewish connections closer to home.
This inaugural get-together will help the federation “to gauge interest and share ideas for future ways to connect,” she explained.
Danny Weiss, 49, a resident of Asbury Park who practices law in Freehold, is a member of the group who approached federation with a proposal for the meetup.
“I have been a member of a synagogue my whole life,” Weiss told NJJN in a phone conversation. “When I was young, my family attended Congregation Agudath Achim in Freehold. Later, we switched to Temple Shaari Emeth in Manalapan. In college, I attended Hillel.”
As a gay adult, Weiss said, he tried several different congregations, including some while he was living in Bergen County. “For a time, I also lived in Manhattan and attended Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, which also is known as the LGBTQ synagogue,” said Weiss. On occasion, he also attended services at Congregation Beth Ahavah in Philadelphia, another gay-friendly synagogue.
“I found that I was more comfortable in those settings,” he said. “But it isn’t convenient for people living in Monmouth County — about halfway between New York and Philadelphia — to regularly go to services in either location.”
According to Weiss, Monmouth County is thought to have the largest number of gay and lesbian people in the state, many of them concentrated in eastern Monmouth County, in Asbury Park, Long Branch, and Ocean Grove.
“A few friends and I thought it would be a good idea to reach out to those seeking more involvement in Jewish life,” said Weiss.
Within this group, Weiss said, Harriet Bernstein and Louisa Pastor, a couple active in an Ocean Grove havura, have been particularly instrumental in organizing the event.
He also thanked the board and staff of the federation, and especially Pearlman, for their ready acceptance and eager participation in putting the idea into action.
Weiss said Hotel Tides, which has a “huge lobby and a very large covered front porch,” is well suited for the function. He also noted that there is a restaurant for those seeking something more substantial than the complimentary hors d’oeuvres, hallah, and wine that will be served at the meetup.
The turnout for the event promises to be strong, Weiss said. “I personally know or have heard about 35 to 40 people who have said they’ll be there.”
Pearlman hoped the LGBT Meetup will be a success. “As people get together and talk about their shared interests and ideas, who knows what they will decide to create? Perhaps it will be something in the way of future cultural or social events. Perhaps folks will create a havura or join the synagogues that may reach out proactively,” she said.
“Federation’s only aim is to provide a forum for people to find one another,” Pearlman explained. “What develops organically from there will be up to the people who accept our invitation, sharing their interests and energy to create new Jewish connections.”