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Jewish gay and lesbian speed dating not only fills a social gap in the North American Jewish community, but it can also be a great fund-raiser.

This was one of several program ideas shared at yesterday's session on "Bridging the Gap: Jewish Leadership and the GLBT Community" by Idit Klein of the Boston-based Keshet organization, which campaigns for the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews.

Klein, who was born in Israel but grew up in the U.S., called on Jewish leaders to be more proactive in their efforts to welcome GLBT Jews into their communities.

She said she had asked rabbis who presented their congregations as non-homophobic whether their membership forms had sections for "husband" and "wife," whether lesbian couples were both called to the Torah when celebrating the birth of their new child in synagogue and whether their youth leaders were trained to challenge homophobic comments - all gestures which she described as "clear signals" as to whether gay and lesbian Jews were welcome.

Klein said that the current failure to reach out to many gay Jews has resulted in an "enormous loss" to both Jewish communities and individual gays and lesbians. She also described the "painful disjuncture" that many GLBT Jews feel, when they find the safe and comfortable Jewish community they grew up in to be unwelcoming to them because of their identity as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

Panel participant Conservative Rabbi Brad Artson said that Jews who believe that every word of the Torah is God-given should view homosexuality in the same way as they view lighting a flame on the Sabbath. He also told a story about his secular Israeli cousin, who had condemned gays and lesbians because "they go against the Torah," at the same time as eating a ham sandwich.

Alon Strikovsky, chairman of the Israeli Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Association, known as the Agudah, spoke to the 150-plus gathering about recent incidences of police brutality against gay men in Israel, while Tel Aviv lawyer Einav Zilber of the Community of Lesbian Feminists in Israel talked about the support her organization offers to lesbian mothers and mothers-to-be. Zilber also called for support for gay and lesbians by their families, as the problem of individuals being rejected by their families remains a key issue.

Panelists differed in their response to a question from the floor about North American Jewish groups aligning themselves with rightist Christian Zionist groups which are explicitly homophobic. Moderator Bruce Lederman of Chicago said he "swallowed" his opinions about the Christian groups' view on homosexuality and accepted their support in order "to create an environment in which support for Israel is unconditional." But Idit Klein countered that she felt ashamed that the Jewish community was so ready to form alliances with groups which "support bigotry and hatred."