At This Congregation’s Core: Inclusion

Kol Ami Camp
Hannukah celebration. Photo courtesy of Kol Ami

Thirty or 40 people gathered in a bungalow in Midtown Kansas City one recent Friday to begin the Sabbath’s intimate evening service. Attendees sat in easy chairs or on the floor. The rabbi sat among them as he led the traditional services, Kabbalat Shabbat (which means Welcoming the Sabbath) and Ma’ariv. Members of the congregation enthusiastically introduced themselves to newcomers with warm “Shabbat Shalom” greetings, handshakes and hugs.

At Congregation Kol Ami, being welcoming to all people is a fundamental principle, not an eventual goal.

Since its creation roughly four years ago, Kol Ami has been an intentionally non-affiliated Jewish congregation. “Non-affiliated” means the congregation does not conform to traditional Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox synagogue rituals and practices. Instead, the congregation focuses primarily on the principles of inclusion, respect, and celebration of different identities. Social justice and tikkun olam, the Hebrew term for repairing the world, are central to Kol Ami’s role as an urban synagogue in Kansas City.

One way that Kol Ami stands out as one of the more welcoming and progressive religious congregations in the Kansas City area is in its dedication to the LGBT community. Rabbi Doug Alpert, the leader and founder of Kol Ami, works to ensure that queer, gay, lesbian and trans individuals are welcome and active in the community, and he believes they are crucial to the congregation’s success.

“We don’t just welcome the queer community because we’re doing them a favor,” Alpert said. “We think they make our community better.”

In addition to operating Kol Ami as an inclusive and welcoming space, Alpert emphasizes the importance of playing an active role supporting the LGBT community outside of the congregation.

To reach out to LGBT communities outside of the Jewish faith, Alpert was a speaker at the Kansas City rally after the Orlando attacks on the Pulse nightclub, and he’s been the Jewish speaker at KC Pride events for several years.

Alpert recognizes that LGBT individuals often face intolerance in Jewish and other religious communities. Although many congregations boast of being welcoming to all, few synagogues take the necessary steps to ensure the safety and inclusion of queer congregants. The people of Kol Ami make it their mission to be accountable and responsible for the comfort of the congregants.

“We don’t see being welcoming as something that you proxy out to a committee,” Alpert said. “It’s something that’s ingrained in everybody in the congregation.”

Alpert feels strongly that members of the LGBT community in Kansas City and surrounding areas are aware that Kol Ami provides a welcoming space in which to explore Judaism, form relationships, and express oneself freely.

“It’s not just that we welcome you, it’s we want you,” Alpert said.

Congregation Kol Ami generally meets for Shabbat services on Friday evenings in Conover Auditorium at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, 4501 Walnut St. Other locations, such as a community garden and Rabbi Alpert’s home, are sometimes used for services.

Visit Kol Ami’s website for more information: http://kolamikc.com/index.html