Developing Leaders in the LGBTQ Jewish Community

By Paul Cohen


Coming out in the late 70's, I was exploring what it meant to be a gay man in society.  I already had two strong identities: American and Jewish.  Each had been nurtured by family, school and community, but now I had the opportunity and responsibility to develop this additional identity.  How much a part of my life would it play?

I discovered the uniqueness of the Bay Area as I was able to be out at work and in my volunteer activities, and was fortunate to become part of a synagogue in which my gayness was part of the mainstream of that community.

The Jewish community became the focus of the integration of my identities.  I brought my skills and passion to the boards of the Jewish Community Center, San Francisco Hillel, the Bureau of Jewish Education, and the Jewish Community Federation.  I was not necessarily the first gay man on these boards, but was able to teach an understanding of the needs of the gay and lesbian community.  The results were that the Jewish community was a strong partner in the fight against the Briggs amendment, the AIDS crisis, and more recently, marriage equality.

I want to share the success of my experiences integrating my identities and the LGBTQ Pathways to Leadership program that the JCF offers, in partnership with Keshet and the LGBT Alliance, provides me that opportunity. The program is an incredible vehicle for learning new skills, but most importantly, for meeting and being mentored by the pioneers of the LGBT Jewish leadership.  I believe it does take "a village" to develop competent, healthy and well-integrated adults.  We who have traveled the road are proud of creating new paths in which younger members of the LGBT community can have the opportunity to become leaders in the many agencies serving the Jewish community.

As Jews and as LGBT folks, we understand the importance of standing up, being counted, and giving back.  We learned during the height of the AIDS epidemic that allies in the general, and most specifically the Jewish community, made a difference for hundreds of men and their families.  The individuals and couples who volunteered for such programs as "Chicken Soupers" had recognized our common humanity and they stood up for us.

Our organizations, both those serving the LGBT community and the Jewish community, need trained and skilled volunteers.  This is your chance to gain those strengths.  Through the Pathways to Leadership program you will learn, develop new skills, and the quality of your life will be enhanced. The Bay Area is special and the commitment by the Jewish Community Federation to provide opportunities for us is an incredibly valuable gift.  I urge you to take advantage and sign up to participate.

Paul Cohen is currently President of the board of Menorah Park in San Francisco.  He is the director of the Congregation Sha'ar Zahav Journey to Judaism program, and a board member of He is a past board member of the Jewish Community Federation, the Bureau of Jewish Education, San Francisco Hillel and the San Francisco Jewish Community Center.

For more information about the Pathways to Jewish Leadership Program, contact Katherine Tick at or 415.512.6265.
Categories: Community, Leadership, LGBT


June 03, 2013


The Federation