Almost one year ago, during Sukkot, the Congregation celebrated the Sukkah of Shalom. It was an evening devoted to outreach to the LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, and Intersex) Community; the Gay Community for simplicity purposes. It was an opportunity for members like myself who is Gay and members with Lesbian or Gay children to share experiences about growing up Gay in the Jewish Community. The discussion that followed was meaningful and the follow-up questions were thoughtful.
An outgrowth of the Sukkah of Shalom was the formation of the Keshet (Rainbow) Committee. Arnold Drake and I co-chair the committee. The first event the committee organized is participation in the Sonoma County Gay Pride Parade in Guerneville. About 25 Beth Ami Members and Friends joined in the festivities.
At the Sukkah of Shalom, I spoke about the need for Beth Ami to Come Out. Our community is accepting, open and welcoming to members of the Gay community. However, a newcomer, especially someone who is Gay or Lesbian would not know that. There is nothing overt to make a newcomer aware of that.
Coming Out for an individual or for an organization is an evolutionary process. I can speak from first-hand experience. It doesn’t generally happen overnight and is something that occurs deliberately and with much thought.
The next event in Beth Ami’s evolution is that we will be celebrating a Rainbow Shabbat on Saturday, December 3. We remain committed to a conservative service with some modifications. We will supplement the traditional service with readings that are gender neutral and speak more to the Gay and Lesbian Community. We plan to introduce some contemporary songs.
I am pleased to announce that Reb Irwin Keller from Congregation Ner Shalom has agreed to deliver the Devar Torah. Reb Irwin authored Chicago’s Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Ordinance which was passed into law in 1989; he later served as staff attorney and executive director of the AIDS Legal Referral Panel of the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014 he retired after 21 years as a comedian-actor-singer-writer with the acclaimed Kinsey Sicks, known as America’s Favorite Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet. His interest in making Jewish experience welcoming for everyone (including himself) has at times resulted in his wearing a skirt to shul.
Following services, we will have our usual potluck lunch including some Rainbow Sherbet for dessert. There will be more singing and the opportunity to continue any discussions of interest.
The Rainbow Shabbat is directed towards to the Gay Community, but ultimately the desire is for Beth Ami to be open to everyone who walks through our doors and make them feel welcome. Our diversity makes us a stronger community.
I hope that you will join us for all or part of this Rainbow Shabbat.
—-Henry Cohn, Past President of Congregtion Beth Ami