The festive gala featured a performance by Orthodox transgender comedian Dana Friedman and the unveiling of the organization’s new name —JPride. By all accounts, JPride, with its redesigned website and new rainbow-hued logo, appeared to be doing quite well. In recent months, JPride even co-sponsored a Purim celebration and held its annual Passover seder.
But in reality, the organization was grappling with the impending departure of its longtime catalyst and lay leader, Mindy Dickler; the fact that no one on JPride’s 11-member board was willing to succeed Dickler; and funding and supervisory constraints preventing the group from hiring a professional to helm the group and take it to the next level.
As a result, JPride recently held a “sunsetting” gathering for its supporters, and Dickler said the group will enter a period of “hibernation” for the foreseeable future.
“Over the past year, we came to the decision that the organization could no longer function as a lay-run group,” said Dickler, who founded JPride in 2012 with the late Neely Tal Snyder. “We needed to raise funds to get a professional — part-time or full-time — to lead the organization. At the same time, the board was dealing with the fact that I was going to be stepping down. Our attempts at fundraising weren’t successful, and we came to the realization that even if we did get the funding needed, we didn’t have a person on the board to whom that professional would be accountable.”
While not a membership-based group, JPride has more than 600 Facebook followers and 250-plus subscribers to its monthly newsletter, which is now also on hiatus.
As part of efforts to attempt to keep JPride afloat, Dickler said the board approached other organizations in the organized Jewish community, with the hope that JPride might become part of an existing program or agency.
“It would make so much sense to have one of the institutions in our community absorb the mission of JPride,” she said. “There are organizations that already have the infrastructure and wherewithal to do this, but they just lack the funding.”
Dickler noted that “almost every major metropolitan Jewish community funds some sort of [local] LGBTQ program.”
The board also considered asking a local synagogue or temple to take on the mission of JPride, said Dickler.
“The downside of that plan was that, if [for example] a Reform synagogue took us on, the greater community would be under the impression that this issue only affects Reform Jews,” said Dickler, a member of the Orthodox community. “And that is so untrue and would undo so much of the progress JPride has made.”
The decision to go on hiatus was a difficult one for the board. Chana Englander, a board member and active participant, said she feels “horrible” about JPride’s tentative status.
“It feels like an enormous erasure,” she said. “LGBTQ people make up 10 percent of the national population. That means they’re also about 10 percent of the Jewish population, and JPride is the only organization in the Baltimore area that caters specifically to the needs of LGBTQ Jews.
“To deny that this is a subset of Judaism that experiences Judaism in a different way and has different needs and challenges from hetero-normative Jews is doing us a huge disservice,” Englander said. “I feel that I’ve been demoted in terms of the community’s larger group.”
JPride board member Rachel Moses called the situation “sad and devastating. … Jewish LGBTQ people in the Baltimore area need a place where they feel comfortable and safe, being both Jewish and gay. Without JPride, where are they going to go? I would feel sad if the marginalized population we worked so hard to bring out in the open went back into the closet.
“Maybe this will be the catalyst we need to find a miracle donor in the community to step in and keep JPride going.”
Liz Minkin Friedman, a JPride board member who held the recent “sunsetting” event at her Pikesville residence, characterized the organization’s open-ended status as “heartbreaking. [The board members] are all so well-meaning, but we all have other jobs. We need someone to be inspired and come forward. We’ve done our best, explored different options. … We’re at a moment in time when we need community support.
“It would be great if someone hears about this and says, ‘I could be the next leader’ or ‘I could give money.’ “
Dickler said JPride still has funds in its treasury. Friedman said she hopes those funds can be used for micro-grants for programming that supports JPride’s community and mission.
At this point, she said, “We have money to do programs, but not the bandwidth to execute them.”
Despite concerns about the group’s future. Dickler said she is immensely proud of what JPride has achieved over the past seven years. She noted that the national organization Eshel, which provides programming for LGBTQ Jews, will continue to offer support groups for local LGBTQ Jews and their parents.
“The board will persevere,” Dickler said of JPride. “I pray that new opportunities that we can’t even envision will arise, so that our mission can be carried on in the community.”
For information about JPride, visit jpridebaltimore.org.