Gay pride topped the agenda for three Montclair-area synagogues as they held two joint events coinciding with Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.
The events kicked off with a family seder held at the Reconstructionist Bnai Keshet in Montclair on Friday, June 11, followed by a Shabbat dinner and Shabbat services.
Almost a week later, Temple Ner Tamid, a Reform synagogue in Bloomfield, held a “Chag Ha’avah,” literally “Pride Holiday,” a Ma’ariv service on June 17 featuring readings, musical interpretations, and reflections on what it means to be gay and Jewish.
The event was modeled on a service that has been held at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, New York City’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered) synagogue for 37 years.
The Montclair service featured remarks by Joan Garry, former executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and a Ner Tamid member.
The events — sponsored also by the Conservative Congregation Shomrei Emunah of Montclair — built upon a “pride” seder Bnai Keshet has held for about six years for LGBT families and supporters.
“This expanded event gave members of the synagogues an opportunity to meet each other in a different way and acknowledge each other as supporters of the [LGBT] community and issues,” said Rabbi Darby Leigh of Bnai Keshet. “It’s the first time we’ve gotten lay members together in this explicit context. In addition to the camaraderie and connection it fosters, it’s also a reminder that we have allies, that it’s not just our insular community trying to change the world, but — ‘Oh, yeah, it’s you guys too.’”
Ner Tamid’s Cantor Meredith Greenberg spearheaded the planning committees from Bnai Keshet and Ner Tamid (Shomrei Emunah joined later). Although she first spoke with Leigh about making the seder a joint program last summer, she told NJJN she was particularly inspired while lobbying in Trenton together with Rabbi David Greenstein of Shomrei Emunah and Leigh to pass legislation approving gay marriage in New Jersey. (The legislation ultimately failed.)
The three synagogues’ “differences in Jewish observance and practice only added to the intensity of our collective understanding of our obligation as Jews to stand together in the face of injustice,” Greenberg said.
She hopes the events will galvanize the community to continue to speak out, and she viewed the gathering as an opportunity “to confront those myths we secretly harbor — for instance, the myth that by celebrating and embracing what is new and different to us, we are sacrificing the traditional values of Judaism.
“Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Rhea Stadtmauer, a member of Bnai Keshet who has attended the LGBT seder there since its inception, attended both events this year with her partner and one of their two children. “It’s important for the Jewish LGBT community to be part of synagogue life — it’s important that we’re noticed. It’s of great benefit to the Jewish community to realize we’re a diverse community, and we’re all stronger for it.”