Rabbi Sandra Lawson: Jewish LGBTQ hero, and Elon Hillel’s rabbi

Rabbi Lawson was named a Jewish LGBTQ hero by Keshet, a nonprofit that works for full equality

On Elon’s campus, Rabbi Sandra Lawson, the Hillel rabbi and associate chaplain for Jewish life, is known for her listening ear, warm hugs, and innovative and musical Jewish services, but outside Elon, Rabbi Lawson was just recognized as a LGBTQ hero by Keshet, the leading Jewish nonprofit working for full equality of all LGBTQ Jews and families.

Lawson joined the Elon Hillel in the summer of 2018 with an established reputation as a pioneer championing welcoming, diverse, and equitable communities.  As one of the first queer women rabbis of color, Lawson is comfortable breaking down barriers and encouraging all Elon’s students to feel comfortable with their own Judaism, no matter how they choose to express it.

And Lawson was honored and humbled to be named as one of Keshet’s LGBTQ heroes, hoping that her poster will inspire others.

“We talk a lot about the diversity of our communities and often don’t have images that highlight that diversity,” Lawson explained. “One of the reasons I became a rabbi was so that others could see that one could be Black, Queer, and be a Jewish leader. I love that synagogues, Jewish Community Centers, Hillels, and other Jewish spaces will now have images that truly reflect the diversity of the Jewish people and young Jews of color, and LGBTQ Jews can see themselves represented in our communities.”

Keshet’s LGBTQ Jewish Heroes poster series was created to celebrate LGBTQ Jews who have transformed the world through their words and lives. They are the only organization in the U.S. that works for LGBTQ equality in all facets of Jewish life — synagogues, Hebrew schools, day schools, youth groups, summer camps, social-service organizations and other communal agencies.

According to the nonprofit’s Chief Development & Communications Officer, James Cohen, Lawson was one of the top nominees in the national vote. “Rabbi Lawson demonstrates in her work her commitment to building inclusive, equitable communities. We are honored to call her a hero.”

Her hero poster will be hung in Jewish communal spaces all across the country, and her image shared across the internet, but on Elon’s campus, Lawson is focused on the day-to-day work of creating a judgment-free community where all Jewish students feel welcomed and comfortable.

The campus rabbi works to design musical pluralistic prayer services, offers pastoral counseling to students from all backgrounds and identities, and is currently working on the launch of Elon’s Jewish Learning Fellowship, a Hillel International program that encourages students to ask big questions in a space dedicated to students’ exploration of Judaism on their own terms.

And it is Rabbi Lawson’s willingness to always ask those big questions that led to her selection for Keshet’s poster series.

As Keshet’s James Cohen said, “Keshet’s LGBTQ Jewish Heroes poster series was created to celebrate LGBTQ Jews who have transformed the world through their words and lives. We are proud that hundreds of synagogues, Jewish day schools, JCCs, and other Jewish institutions across the United States display our posters on their walls to demonstrate their commitment to LGBTQ equality and visibility.”