Teaneck shul looks at NY’s LGBT community

Teaneck shul looks at NY’s LGBT community

Dr. Karen Rappaport
Dr. Karen Rappaport

This is a hard time for any group — Jewish or non-Jewish, nonprofit or for profit, formal or informal — to figure out how to provide programs for its members, who are stuck at home in this covid life, waiting for something to do.

The Viewpoints committee at Temple Emeth in Teaneck is — just by virtue of its being a group trying to function in the year 2021 — facing those problems.

The committee’s purpose is to “celebrate the rich diversity of the Jewish community. Viewpoints presents a wide variety of programs that help the congregation grow and learn together about different segments of our family, especially the interfaith, Jews of color, and the LGBTQ communities.”

That sounds great, but it usually implies speakers and in-person programs. It had planned to present films at the of-course-canceled-as-planned Teaneck Film Festival, but its organizers have learned, through experience, that many people, no matter how well-intentioned, no longer can sit through hours of movie-watching, followed by discussion, online.

“We try to look for programs that talk about different under-represented groups in the Jewish community, but it has been a challenge to find things that will work on Zoom,” one of the committee’s members, Karen Rappaport of Wood-Ridge, said. “People can’t watch for more than an hour. They’ve been Zoomed out.”

Instead, she’s been looking for content from other organizations; from 20 to 60 minutes of prefilmed material, which can be followed by a live discussion.

On Tuesday, January 12, the committee will present a webinar called “Exploring New York’s LGBT History”; it was created for the Museum of Jewish Heritage and features three architectural historians who will talk about “the intersection of Jewish and LGBT life,” Dr. Rappaport said.

The webinar includes photographs and discussion about the places in New York that shaped and were shaped by such luminaries as Leonard Bernstein; Allen Ginsberg; the activist and writer Larry Kramer, who died in May, and Edie Windsor, whose groundbreaking lawsuit led to the Supreme Court decision that affirmed the right to same-sex marriage across the United States.

“They have stories about many of the people involved in ‘West Side Story,’” Dr. Rappaport said; that of course included Bernstein but also Arthur Laurents, Jerome Robbins, and Stephen Sondheim. “They go back to Lillian Wald and the Henry Street Settlements, where they are talking about the homosocial environment that Wald created. They talk about the Eve Adams Tearoom,” a club in the Village run by a Polish Jew whose name was spelled many ways, including, in its most English-friendly version, Eva Kotchever. That teahouse was closed when the neighbors objected, and Ms. Kotchever was deported.

“The film is about an hour long,” Dr. Rappaport said. “It has slides; it wasn’t a walking tour because it was filmed in June.” It couldn’t have been.

After the webinar is screened, the Zoom will be open for discussion.

Dr. Rappaport selects programs for Viewpoints, but “I am a mathematician by trade,” she said; she teaches at NJIT. “I am interested in films and in the city,” she said. “And I’ve written about the history of women in mathematics. I have an interest in history.”

So far during the pandemic, Viewpoints has streamed a video that the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey created about unconscious bias, and it’s shown some Israeli short films.

“We’re planning something that is not a movie or a program,” Dr. Rappaport said. “We are working on diversity equity inclusion groups. We hope to start it in the spring — it will be small consciousness-raising groups. We will start it whether or not we’re still inside, because we decided that we have to move on. We can’t just sit around.

“We also think that it might even be a little safer on Zoom, because you can walk away from the screen if you have to.”

Most of the people who participate in the Zoom programs are Emeth members, but some are not. “Depending on the topic, we have a significant number of people who come from outside,” Dr. Rappaport said. “Some of the topics — interfaith, Jews by choice, attract other people.

“Everything that the group offers appeals to someone.”

Who: Temple Emeth’s Viewpoints committee

What: Offers a webinar called “Exploring New York’s LGBT History,” made by the Museum of Jewish Heritage; a discussion will follow.

Where: On Zoom

When: On Tuesday, January 12, at 7:30 p.m.

How: Call Temple Emeth’s office at (201) 833-1322 or email SuzannahMercado@emeth.org.

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