by Michael Saxe-Taller, Executive Director
Inclusion is one of our community’s central values. The latest opportunity that we have to live out our values is connected to our bathrooms.
Having a broad reach in our inclusion efforts often means addressing a variety of people’s needs at the same time. When it comes to bathrooms, we are thinking about the following needs:
- Physical Access – do we have facilities that are accessible to people with a variety of abilities?
- Gender Diversity – do we have facilities that meet the needs of people with a range of gender identities?
- Gender Specific Safe Space – do we have a place where people of all genders can feel safe?
- Infant Changing – Have we setup our bathrooms so that every caretaker can have a place where they change a baby’s diaper?
Addressing and meeting all of these needs at the same time is a challenge for us, particularly because of the physical limitations of our building. We expect that there will come a time we have remodeled our building and anyone who has difficulty with stairs can easily move between our two main floors, and when all of our bathrooms are wheelchair accessible. Unfortunately, that time has not come yet. Therefore, we must face complex issues and find creative solutions.
Our building has four bathrooms, two on the main floor and two on the lower floor. Originally, each floor had a women’s room with one or more stalls, and a men’s room with stalls and urinals. Because of their designs, only the two original women’s rooms are accessible to people in wheelchairs.
Several years ago, Kehilla turned the upstairs men’s room into an all-gender, single-stall bathroom. We also put a diaper-changing station in both the upstairs and downstairs women’s rooms, but soon had to remove the downstairs changing station because it interfered with wheelchair access to the stall.
We were still left with two problems, we didn’t have a diaper changing station that could be accessed by people of all genders and we didn’t have a wheelchair accessible bathroom on either floor that could be used by people of all genders. In an attempt to address these issues, the staff recently decided to make all of the bathrooms into all-gender bathrooms. We changed the signage to reflect what was in the bathroom (stalls/urinals/changing table/single stall/multiple stall) rather than who should use the bathroom.
We soon learned that our latest solution wasn’t sufficient either. We were approached by a number of women who spoke clearly about the importance to them of a women’s-only bathroom. Their main concerns were (1) that women-only bathrooms are an important safe space in a society where gender-based violence and vulnerability are so pervasive; and (2) having people of multiple genders simultaneously using a bathroom that has both urinals and stalls can be uncomfortable for many people.
As you can see, this situation calls for creative thinking, and we believe we have come up with a workable (though maybe not ideal) solution that addresses all of the four needs I listed above.
- Both upstairs bathrooms will be all-gender. Anyone wanting full privacy can use the single-stall bathroom.
- What was formerly the downstairs men’s bathroom room will be converted to a women’s room. The urinals will be covered up.
- The other downstairs bathroom will become an all-gender bathroom.
- All bathrooms will have clear signage.
We hope to implement these changes by the end of August. Please contact me if you have questions or concerns. Getting used to the new configuration may take everyone some time to adjust. In the meantime, I invite us all to use our trips to the bathroom as an opportunity to practice the living of our values in the most physical of ways.
Additional Building Updates
We have several other exciting things happening to our building this summer:
- Construction is going to begin in mid-August on a new bathroom, including a shower and bathtub. The bathroom will be located off of Miriam’s Well, a small room near the foosball table in the Social Hall. Miriam’s Well and the new bathroom will be available as a residence for any potential refugees or immigrants who need to take up sanctuary here at Kehilla. This project has been in the works for months and we are finally ready to break ground. Many thanks to Kehilla’s own Michael Butler, who has shepherded the whole process.
- After many years, our friends at St. Mikael’s Ethiopian Orthodox Church have purchased their own building and are no longer renting from us on Sunday mornings. We are taking this opportunity to do a thorough cleaning of our sanctuary. From August 4-14, we will be closing down the sanctuary to clean the rafters, carpets, walls, chairs and pews. We are hoping that this cleaning, along with our new air conditioner, will make our sanctuary a more accessible and welcoming place for everyone.
- You may have noticed already, but we are sprucing up our building. By the end of the summer, we will have painted the social hall and all of our classrooms, as well as our hallways and bathrooms. We are also hoping to give the outside of the building a wash before the High Holy Days. Many thanks to our custodians Josef Straub and Fred Williamson for doing the painting and the heavy lifting, and to Lisa Korwin, Ruth Koch and Lynn Lazarus for choosing the colors.
- We recently replaced the door to our accessible entrance on Fairview Avenue and added a key fob system that allows people to enter on their own. This will make it easier for our members who regularly use the entrance to get in the building. If you would like to have a key fob, please contact Dee Ward in our main office.