Interview with Keshet UK

Why does KeshetUK exist?


KeshetUK exists because we believe in a world where no one has to choose between their LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans) and Jewish identity. We believe that Jewish communities should be nurturing, warm and welcoming places and they haven't always been for LGBT+ Jewish people.


There is often a lack of understanding about the problems LGBT+ can face. For example, nearly half (45 per cent) of LGBT+ pupils - including 64 per cent of trans pupils - are bullied for being LGBT+ in Britain's schools*. Those working in Jewish schools must be prepared with the tools and skills to ensure that LGBT+ Jewish young people are kept safe and feel valued as members of their community.


There are so many people in our communities who are dedicated to ensuring LGBT+ inclusion. However, in my experience the two biggest things that prevent people working on LGBT+ inclusion are fear (either of doing the wrong thing or others judging them for wanting to support LGBT+ Jewish community) or complacency (believing they already do enough or don’t have any issues). KeshetUK exists to help all people overcome their fear, and if necessary to challenge complacency, so people can make real change in their communities.


When was KeshetUK founded?


Since 2013, KeshetUK has been working within UK Jewish communities, supporting them to be more inclusive of LGBT+ people and their families. KeshetUK was established by a group of LGBT+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Jewish people who felt that there was a lack of explicit recognition of the existence and needs of LGBT+ people within the Jewish community In 2015 we became a registered charity, and our activities have grown substantially since then as UK Jewish communities have come to value LGBT+ inclusion and our role in supporting them to achieve it.


We currently have 3 paid staff -  me (Executive Director), Neil Levitan (our Director of Programmes who works part time) and our newest member of staff Kelly Waldorf (our Programme and Volunteer officer who started in January 2019), 5 wonderful trustees and a dozen very hard-working volunteers.

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Danielle Bett: Senior Faith in Leadership

The Senior Faith in Leadership Program (SFLP) aims to facilitate meaningful encounters between people serving different faith communities in different leadership roles – both lay and clerical. It consists of three modules, each of which is three days long.

I was lucky enough to be offered a place on the 2019 SFLP program - I applied after a friend told me of her incredible experience on the 2018 course.

The first module took place in January. As my role as the JLC regional manager in Scotland involves some interfaith and inter-communal work, I was keen to gain a greater insight into different faiths as well as develop my skills when it comes to working across communities and faith groups. 

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Miki Vyse: February is LGBT history month

By Miki Vyse, Yorkshire & East Coast Regional Manager, JLC

February is LGBT history month.

Last summer, the JLC participated in inclusivity training ran by Keshet UK.

The session started by setting some ground rules for the day, something that I feel is incredibly important in any training session. Setting ground rules helps people to understand what they can get out of the session, but also allows for the space to ask questions.

Keshet UK use an important rule in all their training sessions: assume every question is asked from a good place. That rule has now changed the way I interact in debates, since it is so easy to assume that people are trying to play a contentious character when asking difficult questions, or that they are being intentionally offensive. This guideline, however, helped us all to be honest and accepting of every question asked.

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Simon Johnson: Executive Summary - February 2019

The January Blues


The early days of January are generally thought to be the most depressing of the whole year.  We go to work in the dark and come home from work in the dark. The days seem shorter and more bleak and the weather seems that little bit more gloomy and cold.

With the month of January so generally depressing, I have always thought it strange that it is the month when we try new programmes and initiatives.  Ever since I have started working, January has been the month to launch new initiatives and fresh new projects. It seems to be our way of escaping from the gloom.

At the JLC, in this month of January, it has been both a month of new and exciting initiatives, but also a month that has been drearily repetitive, as many of the same old issues have come back round.

Our new initiatives have been exciting, and have the potential to have a beneficial long term effect on the community.

On 22nd January, the JLC held the first major Residential Elderly Care Conference for the Jewish Community. 35 representatives from 20 Jewish residential care home providers came together at the NEC in Birmingham to discuss the future of Jewish residential elderly care in the UK. There were representatives of the Jewish homes in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Glasgow and Birmingham from the areas that read the Jewish Telegraph.

The aim of the JLC’s Elderly Care Conference was to begin to find a way of resolving some of the issues they face so that our community’s elderly care provision is sustainable. This is the first time that such senior representatives from the Jewish elderly care sector have joined together to develop an outline plan for the sustainability of the sector.

There was an evident sense of openness and collaboration amongst the attendees.

The conference focused on how organisations working with elderly care provision in the Jewish community might join together to take collective action to address the challenges

It was an important step in an ongoing process of bringing our care homes together and working collaboratively to provide the innovative solutions necessary for our elderly care provision in the long term.  I aim now to take forward the conclusions from the Conference.

And, in January, five Wellbeing Practitioners stated work in the five Jewish pilot schools, with a brief to work on mental wellbeing within our schools. Their work will be monitored and coordinated. This is an exciting initiative.

But on the other hand, not much has changed. In fact, somethings have stayed the same and others have got worse.

On the Government and political front, it seems like the political system has ground to a halt. There is nothing else being done amongst Government, Parliament and Whitehall than Brexit. Very little else is going through Parliament. Meetings are being cancelled. Initiatives are being delayed. Decisions and responses are harder to come by. 

With no end to the Brexit stalemate in sight, it seems as though this state of stagnation will continue. And we should not think that, as soon as the current impasse is broken, the political system will open up and things can return to normal. I foresee this continuing for many months yet. Parliament and Government will either have to implement whatever deal is agreed, or legislate to implement No Deal, or prepare the ground for another Referendum. Of course, it is also likely that there will be an extension to Article 50, and we can expect the same level of paralysis.

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Jami's Head On Shabbat

JLC CEO Simon Johnson writes about Jami's Mental Health Awareness Shabbat this week.

This article first appeared in the Jewish Telegraph 4/01/19


Jami's Head On Shabbat

For this first column of 2019, I want to look ahead to next Shabbos, Parshas Bo, on 12th January 2019, which is Mental Health Awareness Shabbat, promoted by our member organisation, JAMI. It has the working title of “Head On” and, as in previous years, it will hope to make congregants in the hundreds of shuls, which are participating, more aware of issues of Mental wellbeing.

It seems that 2018 was dominated by stories about antisemitism in politics. Certainly, that was the major theme of my columns in 2018.

But, whilst all those issues were being dealt with, the overall work of the JLC continued, but perhaps without any similar fanfare.

The subject of mental wellbeing, especially among young people has been a major thread of the JLC’s work with our members in 2018.  We have tried to make this a priority for our work.

Adolescence and the early years of adulthood are a time of life when many changes occur, for example changing schools, leaving home, and starting university or a new job. For many, these are exciting times. They can also be times of stress and apprehension.

The expanding use of online technologies, while undoubtedly bringing many benefits, can also bring additional pressures, as connectivity to virtual networks at any time of the day and night grows.

Half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds.

Fortunately, there is a growing recognition of the importance of helping young people build mental resilience.

Evidence is growing that promoting and protecting adolescent health brings benefits not just to adolescents’ health, both in the short- and the long-term, but also to economies and society. 

Prevention begins with being aware of and understanding the early warning signs and symptoms of mental illness.

It is this belief in wellbeing, resilience and prevention, which has lain behind much of the work that we and our members have focussed on through the year.

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Chanukah on the Square Photos


Simon Johnson: Executive Summary - December 2018

I made my debut on CNN recently. I had been asked on to respond to a CNN survey on antisemitism published at the end of November.

The subject had rightly been off the agenda for a couple of months as the political establishment and media focussed exclusively on Brexit. And we were doing nothing to bring it to the centre of the Agenda. That is, until the CNN survey came along.

7,000 adults across Europe were interviewed as part of the investigation.

And what a surprising and profoundly depressing set of findings it produced.  

Among the key headlines were findings that more than a quarter of Europeans believe Jews have “too much influence” in business and finance; one in five says that Jews have “too much influence in the media” and too much influence in politics”.


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Let’s unite under the lights at Chanukah in the Square!

This post first appeared in the Jewish News:

Let’s unite under the lights at Chanukah in the Square!

London Mayor Sadiq Khan takes a selfie at Chanukah in the Square Credit Marc Morris Photography
London Mayor Sadiq Khan takes a selfie at Chanukah in the Square Credit Marc Morris Photography

This time – more than any other time- this time. We’re gonna find a way..”

These words, from the chorus of the England World Cup Song of 1982, keep popping into my head as I think about Chanukah in the Square this year.

Because, this year, more than any other year, after the community has been in the news or all the wrong reasons, we can unite proudly under the lights of the Menorah in Trafalgar Square and celebrate Chanukah, on Wednesday 5th December, the 4th night of Chanukah.

We are giving the chance to thousands of people to come out for the right reasons – not to protest, but to celebrate; not to wave placards, but to eat doughnuts; not to shout “enough is enough”, but to sing Jewish songs and dance to Jewish music in the middle of the UK’s capital city.

Jews are commanded to place our own menorahs in a window, facing the outside world. Thanks to Chabad, the London Jewish Forum and the Mayor of London, we are able to place a communal Menorah right in the heart of Central London, in Trafalgar Square.

We are able to hold a ceremony to celebrate Chanukah in the centre of London’s rush hour. We will light the four candles (No Two Ronnies Jokes please) as people rush home from work. Our Chazzanim will chant the blessings in the tunes we remember from childhood as people go out to the theatre. We will sing “Moaz Tzur” in front of Londoners and tourists. We will dance, sing and eat doughnuts as London’s night begins.

And we can do all of this with our head held high, in safety, with our friends, colleagues and our kehillah. I never cease to be amazed that we live in a city, in a country, which allows us to do this- to celebrate our joyous festival in one of our country’s best known places, underneath one of the UK’s foremost tourist attractions.

The Chanukah Lights are a symbol against religious oppression. They symbolize religious freedom. The original Chanukah miracle saw the light burn against the forces of religious persecution.  It was part of Hashem’s plan to liberate the Jewish people from the murderous tyranny of the Greeks.

The Chanukah lights have burned in confrontation against all the historical persecutions over the years.

Thank Hashem that we live in a country of liberty, where we are free to practise religion freely, where laws are in place to protect our religious rights, where the Prime Minister and the Mayor of our capital allow us freely to celebrate our festivals and where we can walk tall and proud as Jews.

What is not to celebrate about that?

So, we have gathered renowned Chazzanim to light the Menorah and beautifully sing the berachot. We have the privilege to be hosted by Rachel Creeger, one of our community’s foremost and talented comedians. We have the Mayor of London and the Chief Rabbi speaking to us. We have doughnuts, we have music from two bands including Israel’s The Solomon Brothers.

From 5.30pm on Wednesday 5th December, we can be loud and proud as Jews.

So, wrap up warm. Put on two pairs of socks. Come to Trafalgar Square and prepare to sing, dance, eat and unite under the Chanukah lights in our capital city.

“This time…more than any other time…”

See you there.


Simon Johnson on CNN discussing their report on the rise of European antisemitism




JLC Chief Executive Simon Johnson at Brent Cross interviewing Jewish Women's Aid Co-Chairs Liz Gould and Hilda Worth