Rabbi Gil Steinlauf was the senior rabbi of Adas Israel Congregation, a flagship American congregation in the Conservative Movement of Judaism. Rabbi Steinlauf came out as gay to his congregation in October of 2014, and his revelation was met with an outpouring of love and support from the synagogue members and much of the Jewish world. His story is an example that demonstrates how far certain parts of the progressive Jewish world has come in being truly welcoming and inclusive of LGBTQ Jews in their midst.
However, as time went by, Rabbi Steinlauf began to notice something: even with all the love, acceptance, and welcome he received, there was still a tremendous amount of work to be done in Jewish life. He discovered that, in addition to Jewish-LGBTQ inclusion, we also need strong efforts on behalf of Jewish-LGBTQ integration. LGBTQ people like him were now present in the Jewish world in unprecedented ways--particularly as Jewish professionals and clergy. But in the realm of lay leadership--in synagogues, JCCs, Jewish day schools, Federations, and in organizations large and small--LGBTQ Jews were still vastly underrepresented.
Rabbi Steinlauf had long understood that some of his greatest strengths as a leader in the Jewish community came from his personal experience of being gay. Because of his closeted sexuality, Steinlauf had long felt that he walked through the world with one foot in, and one foot out of mainstream society. In navigating the tensions between these simultaneous paths, he naturally began to ask questions that others did not ask about his Jewish community. Moreover, he was always willing to question convention, and to creatively disrupt and innovate in his congregation.
In his spiritual life and rabbinate, Steinlauf began to understand that the Jewish people similarly walked through history with one foot in, and one foot out of mainstream society, and from this place of tension and dynamism, the Jewish people, like LGBTQ people, have been at the forefront of creative and innovative movements through the generations.
Steinlauf realized that the Jewish community needs more LGBTQ people engaged and creatively leading the community. Jewish people in America are rapidly losing their sense of difference and uniqueness. LGBTQ people, by virtue of their sexuality and gender expression, never lose this sense. By empowering more LGBTQ Jews to participate in all walks of Jewish life as contributors, influencers, leaders and change-agents, both groups stand to be enriched.
From this vital insight, the idea of Hineni was born.