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Reflections on Pride Week

06/16/2011 12:02:12 PM


Rabbi George Gittleman

I think it was the Fall of 1998 that Eve (I have since forgotten her last name) suggested that we (Shomrei Torah) should march in the Sonoma County Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade.  “After all”, she pointed out, “the church (Christ Church United Methodist who we shared space with for over 30 years) does.  Why don’t we? “Why not?”  I replied, calling Stephen Harper a few minutes later to see if he and “Social Action” were up for getting things organized.  Without hesitation, Stephen took on the task with his usual moxie, persistence and talent; the first year we marched with the church, and by the third year we had the largest group of any religious organization represented, an intergenerational group of over 50 people.

In my mind, those early marches marked the beginning of over a decade of advocacy for GLBT folk on a number of fronts.

When we were struggling with worshipping at the LDS church for Holy Days after the passage of Prop 8, a lesbian member of the congregation asked me why I cared so much about “their” issues. “Do you have a sister who is Gay?” She asked.  I winced at first -does one have to either be Gay or related to someone who is Gay to care about Gay Rights?  Later I realized that even though I did not have a Gay sibling, my family, especially my mother, had really informed the way I felt about homosexuality.

My mother was a teacher of Modern Dance and involved in Interior Design, and from an early age there were “out” Gay men in my life; even before I could really understand the issue, I was taught that “Gay people were just people like anyone else.”  Now almost four decades later, I realize how important those early years were in forming my moral and ethical foundation when it comes to Gay Rights and many other issues as well: thanks Mom!

Beyond my personal background lies the ground of progressive Jewish thought, especially the notion that we are all, all of us–male, female, black, white, straight, gay, young, old, single or married etc.–B’tzelem Elohim/created in God’s image.  Yes, there are other religious concerns like the heterosexual understanding of marriage in our Tradition as well as the biblical and then later rabbinic prohibition against “Lying with a man like one lays with a woman”, but (without going into all the arguments) the essence for me is our equality before God.

In truth, I have never put much thought into being inclusive of and welcoming to all kinds of Jews and their families; I was raised to make few distinctions and that is how I see the world.  That other people don’t see things the same way has been my real challenge and what has motivated me to march, and when I can, speak-out for a more inclusive Jewish Community and a more just secular society.

Last Sunday in celebration of Pride Week, Shomrei Torah hosted “The Sonoma County Interfaith Pride Service.”  We’ve been holding these services for a number of years, but this was the first time Shomrei Torah was the host congregation.  I sat on the bima with Reb Irwin from Ner Shalom in Cotati and 11 ministers from various churches in the area. As I welcomed the 150+ people in attendance I had to fight back tears; our original vision for Shomrei Torah “on the hill” at 2600 Bennett Valley Rd., was that we would be not just a center for progressive Jewish life but a focal point for the progressive religious community of Sonoma County as well.

Last Sunday’s service was not the first time in our 4+ years of occupancy here that we’ve lived up to that early vision, but it sure felt good, like a long-held, hard-won dream coming true before my very eyes.  It might not seem like much to some but to me, it is part of what makes life meaningful and Shomrei Torah such a blessing. 

Wed, August 4 2021 26 Av 5781