They affectionately and jokingly call themselves the “five families” or “Kosher Nostra,” despite having no connections to the Jewish mafia or organized crime at all. In fact, the “five families,” consisting of Nice Jewish Girls, Nice Jewish Boys, Gayyim, Bet Mishpachah, and GLOE-Kurlander Program for GLBT Outreach & Engagement work independently and in unison to create a supportive, caring, fun and unique Jewish LGBT community in Greater Washington.
Founded in November 2004 by Denise Gold, Nice Jewish Girls is a social group for Jewish lesbians 21 and over in D.C. With an active listserv and Facebook group, Nice Jewish Girls hosts a variety of social events ranging from karaoke nights to happy hours, allowing attendees to have fun and meet other Jewish lesbians in the area.
“We’re a social community of lesbians in D.C. who meet to date each other, socialize, network and make friends,” said A.J. Campbell, director of Nice Jewish Girls. “No matter how far away we get from our mothers, we still want to find a partner who is Jewish and to find a ‘nice Jewish girl.’ Where else can I find them but at social events for Jewish lesbians? It’s just a really fun way to do things and create community and meet people.”
With more than 23 social events a year, Nice Jewish Girls has facilitated the marriage of 15 couples who met while attending its events over the years.
“I really see the upcoming years as being extremely positive for us, and hopefully we can double our membership. I know there are more of us out there,” said Campbell.
A counterpart to Nice Jewish Girls, Nice Jewish Boys was created 10 years ago and hosts a number of events, including happy hours, a quarterly Shabbat dinner entitled “Challah Atcha Boy,” and a social sports kickball team named “The Matzah Balls.”
Lead by primary coordinator, Jonathan Gilad, Nice Jewish Boys is increasing in popularity, and recently hosted its own “Mr. Nice Jewish Boy Washington, D.C.” pageant which attracted more than 200 people.
While social activities are the main focus of the group, Gilad explained that the group has started to create religious and cultural programming as well.
“D.C. is the only city that I’m aware of that has a Nice Jewish Boy model,” he said. “It’s just a great way for people to meet friends and to interact with the gay Jewish community. People come from all different backgrounds, and we all come together and are supportive of one another. It’s really great to have this camaraderie in the city.”
Gilad added that his goals for the next five years include the continued growth of the group, both in its social and educational programming, and to ensure the longevity of the group.
“I really want to make sure that this group is around for years to come so that others can have the same experience that I had and have a close-knit community.”
Similar to Nice Jewish Boys is Gayyim, an online group for Jewish gay men to learn about upcoming social events in the D.C. area. Gayyim also works with the other LGBT groups in the area to inform the larger Jewish LGBT community of programs and events.
“Even though we’re not as active as the other groups since we’re pretty much solely online now, we still support the other groups by announcing and attending their events,” said website moderator David Taube. “We’re still out and still active.”
As the only LGBT synagogue in the Greater Washington area, Bet Mishpachah provides a religious and cultural outlet for its members, many of whom are active participants in the other four groups.
“We’re all very much our own entities,” Sharon Greenbaum, program coordinator at Bet Mishpachah, said of the five groups. “But when we come together as a larger Jewish queer community that has social, cultural and spiritual aspects, we really fit nicely together because each group brings something different to the table.”
Rounding out the “five families” is GLOE-Kurlander Program for GLBT Outreach & Engagement based out of the Washington DC Jewish Community Center. Having recently just celebrated its 7th anniversary in May, GLOE provides substantive and unique programming for the D.C. community and is the only full time LGBT program located at any Jewish Community Center anywhere.
With more than 40 programs a year that range from community service to social justice to the arts, GLOE reached about 2,500 people this year during its Capital Pride events alone, and reaches another 2,500 at events throughout the rest of the year.
“People come to GLOE programs because we’re saying that there’s not just one way to be both LGBT and Jewish,” said Halley Cohen, director of GLOE. “We’re honored that to be that resource in the Jewish community.”
Cohen added that the five groups allow the LGBT community in D.C. to thrive and grow together, with each group focusing on its own areas, but coming together to build a greater Jewish community.
“Here are all sorts of people, ranging from those who only identify as socially or culturally Jewish all the way to Orthodox queer Jews, and all these different ways that you can be involved in the LGBT Jewish community – as fully as you want to be and in any way you want to be,” Cohen concluded. “Your Jewishness may look like our drag ball at Purim, or it might be an LGBT Shabbat dinner. B’tselem Elohim means that we’re all made in the image of God. To be able to show that by bringing all of these groups together is what’s so moving and is what has made an impact on peoples’ lives.”