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Jewish LGBT Group Nehirim Will Shut Down

Community programming for LGBT Jews is on the rise, and non-profits are struggling to keep up

Rachel Delia Benaim
May 20, 2015


Nehirim, an organization that provides programming and support for the Jewish LGBTQ community, announced in a May 4 newsletter that the company will be shutting its doors by the end of the year. Nehirim Chair Corey Friedlander wrote, “After months of consulting with organizational development professionals, we concluded that while Nehirim programming has a strong future, Nehirim as an organization is no longer necessary.”

The decision to close Nehirim highlights a significant shift in the American Jewish LGBT landscape. “11 years ago the world was a very different place for LGBTQ Jews,” said Rabbi Debra Kolodny, Nehirim’s Executive Director. “There weren’t programs.” Now, however, some form of an LGBT support system has become commonplace in Jewish communities across the U.S.

“When Nehirim began in 2004, there were a handful of LGBT synagogues, and only a few truly welcoming congregations outside major metropolitan areas,” said Jay Michaelson, a Jewish writer and activist who founded Nehirim. “[Nehirim] met a pressing need for a place for LGBT Jews to build spiritual community together. In 2015, that need is no longer present outside the Orthodox community.”

As a result, other Jewish LGBT groups have quietly closed down over the last year as well. GLYDSA, which started in the 1990s as an anonymous resource for Orthodox alumni of yeshiva schools, shut down its monthly meetings this past winter. Keshet, the Jewish LGBT advocacy group, also just closed its Denver office for good at the end of 2014. And LIGALY, a Long Island based LGBT resource for Jews, shut down last year as well, after receiving significant funding from the UJA over the last two years.

Since 2004, Nehirim has served the Jewish LGBT community with programming that includes Camp Nehirim, a summer program for queer Jewish adults; a women’s retreat at the Isabella Friedman Center in Connecticut; and a queer clergy program. Some of Nehirim’s most successful programs will outlive the organization, and will be taken over by other groups that will continue Nehirim’s mission.

Noam Parness, a queer Orthodox Jew who participated in Nehirim events, was saddened by the announcement. “I think the organization has provided really beautiful and explorative spiritual space for queer Jews, so that loss might be felt,” Parness said. “Eshel serves much of the function that I desired to find in Nehirim, though in some ways I found Nehirim more accommodating to my queerness and my Judaism.”

The fact that Nehirim is closing is a cautionary tale for similar LGBT organizations, such as Jewish Queer Youth. “This may serve as a wake-up call to both funders and organizations working with the LGBT Jewish population,” said JQY’s founder and director Mordechai Levovitz. “Ideas are great, capacity is great, and development is great…but if there isn’t a consistent buy-in from the community, then you run the risk of making an organization for the organization’s sake. And this is not sustainable.”

Michaelson, Nehirim’s founder, said that the decision to close his organization could be a model for other non-profit organizations. “I think this is what nonprofits should do: when their core mission is accomplished, they should transition or close.”

Rachel Delia Benaim is a freelance religion reporter. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, and The Diplomat, among others. Follow her on Twitter @rdbenaim.

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