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Toronto’s largest Jewish LGBTQ group takes new form

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The Kulanu contingent takes part in the Toronto Pride Parade in 2017. (Courtesy Kulanu Toronto)

On Sept. 16, Toronto’s largest Jewish LGBTQ organization will shut down, after 18 years in operation.

When it started in 2000, Kulanu was seen as somewhat revolutionary, even though Jewish LGBTQ groups had existed in some form or another since 1975. Now, its leaders have decided that it is time to close up shop in order to make way for the next stage of Toronto’s organized Jewish LGBTQ community: the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre LGBTQ Initiative. It’s set to take over from Kulanu as Toronto’s largest Jewish LGBTQ organization, after Kulanu approached the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre (MNJCC) about making the transition earlier this year.

The full name is a bit of a mouthful, but it may change. Finding a permanent name will likely be one of the first tasks taken up by the initiative’s programming committee. Cara Gold, the manager of Jewish life at the MNJCC, expects the committee members to be announced sometime in late October.

In the meantime, there’s a transition team in place to help select the members of the programming committee.

One of the members of the transition team is Sheri Krell, the current executive director of Kulanu Toronto. She says that Kulanu has long been aware of the need to find more support for the community it represents and the timing was finally right to make this change.

“Kulanu can’t exist as a 100 per cent volunteer-run organization. It’s just not sustainable based on the community’s needs and based on our growing membership,” she said, adding that its Facebook group has over 600 members. “It’s great that now LGBTQ Jewish programming is being brought more into the mainstream Jewish community.”

Gold says the MCJCC’s LGBTQ initiative will still be volunteer run for the first year, but they hope to find a source of funding after that. And even without funding, the MNJCC can provide resources for its LGBTQ initiative that were never available to Kulanu.

“We would offer opportunities like marketing support, fundraising support, some of my staff time. So I will be a liaison to the committee and be present and around to make sure it’s set up for success,” she said. “Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and then the MNJCC audience that we already have captured, which will just be kind of a bonus.”

Gold said the way the new committee will operate is not set in stone yet, because they want to leave that up to the members to decide once they’re selected. But there are potential models for what it might look like, such as holding monthly meetings in which committee members bring forth programming ideas that they’d like to see put into practice.

Gold also stresses that everyone is invited to contribute.

“Even if you’re not on the programming committee, there’s still lots of opportunity for leadership. We really want people to step up and tell us what they want to do and we want to find a way to support that,” she said.

Krell is very optimistic about where this new initiative can lead, but she’s decided to take a step back once her role on the transition team is complete.

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Even though Krell recognizes that it’s time to move on, she still appreciates everything Kulanu did.

“Kulanu was great and really put LGBTQ+ Jews on the map. I think it really brought attention that we exist as a community. I think that since 2000, there’s been a great evolution in programming for queer Jews,” Krell said. “Kulanu is just the last one in a long evolution.… We’re not saying goodbye to Kulanu, we’re just saying hello to a new committee to take LGBTQ+ Jews even further to have a seat at the table.”