JQ International is a nonprofit organization that fosters the healthy fusion of LGBTQ and Jewish identities founded in 2004. Two years ago, the organization launched the JQ Helpline, which their website bills as the "only resource and social service referral line specifically designed to serve LGBTQ Jews, their families, and allies in the United States."
Initially only a "warm" line that was supported via the part time help of various volunteers, the service quickly indicated that there was a far greater need—and not only for LGBTQ Jews and allies in America, but people from all walks of life, all over the world. Callers (who can use the phone or email to get in contact with the helpline) have reached out from Algeria, Ukraine, Israel, and from all over the United States.
One of the original helpline volunteers, psychotherapist and Rabbi Rachel Bat-Or, soon found that her commitment to this service was growing at an exponential rate. She now focuses full-time on helping those who contact the helpline as its Director, conducting targeted research and referring clients to local resources. While most callers are Jewish, specifically orthodox teens and parents, Bat-Or has received calls from many different types of clients, including a lesbian Muslim woman who was being threatened by her ex-husband. The woman made sure to specifically tell Bat-Or how fortunate she felt to have the helpline as a resource.
But Bat-Or, whose name translates to "daughter of light," feels there is much work that still needs to be done. "People in the middle of the country don't know about us," she said. "People want to connect and get the resources they need to get some help. Everyone in the queer community is reeling after the Orlando massacre," and this only raises the impetus to publicize this supportive resource.
One substantial on-the-ground change that the helpline made happen was the creation of a JQSA (Jewish Queer Straight Alliance) Teen Program in the San Fernando Valley. Bat-Or remembers a wealth of calls a year ago from both teens struggling with coming out, and parents looking for support, and many seemed surprised that there wasn't an alliance already in existence. Through contact with one parent in particular, Bat-Or was able to help secure funding for the program, and plans are currently in motion to launch a second JQSA program in LA's West Side.
Of her contributions to the help line, Rabbi Bat-Or said it has helped her further strengthen and establish her identity as an out and proud Jewish lesbian, something she was not always readily able to claim as she moved through her rabbinical training. In fact, Bat-Or had to go back into the closet during rabbinical school, but then became the first out LGBTQ rabbi to be ordained in the Conservative denomination of Judaism.
"I am more and more 'out' because of the work I do," she said. "It's been a huge blessing not to be in hiding."