New way to connect for local LGBT Jews

When A Wider Bridge marched down Market Street in last month’s Pride Parade, some people joined the contingent after hearing about it via the Jewish LGBT Network.
And when a monthly social gathering at a San Francisco wine bar grew too large for the space, the Jewish LGBT Network had to move to a nightclub that could handle the crowd.

So what is this network, anyway?

According to its founder, who goes by the single name Dakotta, the Jewish LGBT Network is a portal through which people from one LGBT group can find those in another. Since forming seven months ago, its goal has been to be the fiber that connects all the disparate parts of the local Jewish gay community.

“We target people who are affiliated with only one segment of the [local LGBTQ] community,” Dakotta said.
For example, somebody involved in A Wider Bridger (which aims to increase and strengthen ties between LGBT communities in Israel and the United States) might not know about Be’chol Lashon (a Bay Area–based initiative that promotes expansion of a multicultural and inclusive Jewish community).

Enter the Jewish LGBT Network, which is completely volunteer-driven.

“Each of the different organizations has a special niche,” said Arthur Slepian, executive director of A Wider Bridge. “The network is focused on bringing all these constituencies together, ensuring that everyone knows about all the good work that everyone else is doing.”

Additionally, the network has a strong social aspect — in fact, that is perhaps the organization’s calling card, at least in the public eye. So far, the group has organized and hosted monthly mixers at several San Francisco bars.

“We have outgrown our venue,” Dakotta noted, a bit boastfully, in an e-blast in late May. “Over 40 people attended our last event [at Blush! wine bar] and we are going to a larger spot.”
The next mixer, Wednesday, Aug. 8, is part of an event run by the American Jewish World Service Global Circle. Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, executive director of AJWS grantee partner Equal Ground, will speak about the fight for LGBT rights in Sri Lanka and around the world. There also will be time for shmoozing and socializing.

The mixers are held the second Wednesday of every month. June’s was at the LookOut in the Mission District, and July’s was at Churchill in the Castro.

“I attended the first one with no idea of what to expect,” said Stephanie Golden, who has since become a co-chair of the network. “It was about just being myself and socializing with others to connect with the Jewish LGBT community.”

Dakotta said mixer attendees range from 20-somethings to seniors, although most are in their 20s and 30s. “Probably about half of them attend synagogue on a regular basis, and many of them are involved in activities that support Israel and social justice measures,” he said. One attendee said she enjoyed networking and learning about volunteer opportunities, but also was hoping the mixers might help her meet someone romantically.
The network sponsors other social events, as well. Last month it organized a group that attended a screening at the Castro Theatre. And during Pride weekend, it worked with San Francisco’s Congregation Sha’ar Zehav on a Shabbat dinner at a local restaurant.

Right now, the organization is primarily San Francisco–based, but is in the process of expanding into the East Bay — and eventually beyond.

“We’d also love to be able to reach out to young people at some point,” said A.J. Mizes, the network’s third co-chair, “to be able to connect LGBT youth with working professionals and to provide mentors for them in our community.”

Currently the network lists its primary hub as San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El, and its supporters as the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s LGBT Alliance, AJWS, Keshet, Nehirim, Be’chol Lashon, Sha’ar Zahav and A Wider Bridge. Dakotta said he wants to do more outreach to synagogues.
The network continues to run on a minimal budget with all volunteers; Dakotta, for example, works as a startup consultant, in addition to volunteering at two synagogues and the federation.

Small donations cover the operation’s limited expenses, Dakotta said. But while the finances are small, the impact isn’t.

“I am going to Israel shortly, and I’m now in contact with LGBT Israelis to meet while on my visit,” said mixer attendee Linda Rothfield. “I got to know these folks from meeting various LGBT folks at the mixers.”


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