Last night, my synagogue celebrated Pride Shabbat with a special service. We raised the Pride flag on the pole outside, and the cantor sang “I Am What I Am” and led us in “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in addition to L’cha Dodi and Oseh Shalom. Members of the congregation spoke about their experiences as LGBT+ Jews, and the d’var torah talked about Stonewall as well as about the way the American Jewish community (specifically the URJ) has responded to the gay liberation movement over the last fifty years.
I cried a lot.
It was lovely, and it was the very first time that our congregation has held a Pride Shabbat—a service that focused on the special blessing of human diversity of gender presentation and identification, of sexual orientation and romantic situation, of all the colors of the rainbow.
My children have never attended a shul or a school with a policy of excluding gay people or trans people. I’m not saying everything is solved, and both shuls and schools have failed at their aspirational inclusiveness again and again, but they aspire to inclusion. That was not my experience.
I am not quite fifty years old. The police occupied the Stonewall and started a riot some nine weeks or so before I was born. I grew up in a deeply homophobic world. Now, I’m a cis heterosexual man, and I didn’t understand how deeply homophobic that world was. I didn’t understand it in school, and I didn’t understand it in shul. But LGBT+ people were not welcome to be there openly. Not when I was a kid, and not when I was a teenager.
When I was twenty-two and going to Rosh Hashanah services at Sha’ar Zahav, the LGBT+ shul in San Francisco, I was exhilarated that a LGBT+ congregation could exist. But it existed because most of the members didn’t feel welcome—weren’t welcome—in all the rest of the congregations around. My children know that happened, but they never experienced it.
This is all so new. Fifty years! Not even a lifetime. It’s so new. And took so long. And it’s still so vulnerable. Fragile. I mean, I hope this celebration lasts, I hope it expands and solidifies and becomes something people just take for granted. Whether it does or not, though, we raised a rainbow flag with the mogen david and held a Pride Shabbat service in 2019, with flamboyant gay men and non-binary teenagers, short-haired butch women and their short-haired butch wives, grey-haired dudes who remember Christopher Street before the riot, leather yarmulkes on rainbow hairdye, and singing right along with them were the same Phyllises and Sols that come to services every week.
I remain terrified about all our futures. But this was a night for us all to put in our pockets and keep. We can keep having those nights.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,