By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — In roughly two weeks, members of Congregation Beth El Binah will conduct a special Erev Shabbat service to celebrate LGBT pride.
Rabbi Steve Fisch of Congregation Beth El Binah said people from all backgrounds are welcome to attend this interfaith gathering of religion leaders supporting the LGBT community.
This service takes place at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 24 in Room 239 at Beth El Binah’s new home since late last summer — Northaven United Methodist Church, 11211 Preston Road.
Beth El Binah Board President Josh Manes said the service — which he refers to as the “Family and Friends” ceremony — holds great significance for the synagogue’s congregants.
“What makes it so extra-special is that we have two people who have been part of our synagogue for some time — who have gone through the formal conversion process to Judaism,” Manes said. “They will read from the Torah and have a very special place in this service. It just adds one more layer.”
The date of this ceremony is designed to sync with June’s Pride Month. This month annually commemorates when patrons of a gay bar — the Stonewall Inn — fought back against frequent harassment by the New York City police department.
The bar and its uprising became an iconic flashpoint that led to the June 28, 1969, Stonewall Riots in New York City and sparked the modern LGBT rights movement.
Manes said much in that same spirit, Congregation Beth El Binah initially started as “Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender with nowhere to go.” Members regarded this period as a time to educate people about homosexuality and invite those willing to worship with them to come aboard, the board president said.
“Many of our members did not feel comfortable in traditional synagogues once they were outed,” Manes said. “We had one member, for instance, who tried to get his partner acknowledged as being part of his household rather than the two of them paying single memberships. But that synagogue would not acknowledge them.”
In addition to congregants, the ceremony also means quite a bit to ceremony participants — all of whom are considered dear friends of the congregation.
Cantor Sheri Allen, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Shalom in Arlington, long feared the danger an unaccepting world might present to her children Jeremy and Rebekah, who are both gay.
Cantor Allen was relieved when the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country June 26, 2015.
As a result of this shift in the legal paradigm, Cantor Allen’s son was able to be married.
“Very low-key and under the radar, but married nonetheless,” she said.
Bradley Laye, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, said the Erev Shabbat service is a time of reflection.
“Every Shabbat at Beth El Binah is prideful, and yet, there is something special noting the month when the LGBT equality movement started in the aftermath of the Stonewall Riots,” Laye said.
According to the Union For Reform Judaism, one of the cornerstones of Jewish tradition is the belief that all human beings are created b’tzelem Elohim, or in the Divine image (Genesis 1:27).
“While we take steps throughout the year to advocate for equality and inclusion of LGBT people in our communities, it is important that we take time during June to join the LGBT community in celebrating Pride Month, and commit ourselves to be even more inclusive and embracing in the year ahead,” a URJ statement reads.
Reverend Eric Folkert, senior pastor at Northaven United Methodist Church, said he will participate in the Erev Shabbat ceremony and hopes members of his congregation will attend.
“I was part of it last year,” Rev. Folkert explained. “It’s an honor to be asked to participate.”
Rev. Folkert said the Erev Shabbat service has a counterpart ceremony in the Christian faith — one he has practiced at his church. It is called “Reconciling Congregations.”
“Our ceremony is open to LGBT people and we generally do it once a year — although that date floats around,” he said. “Ours is a special service that recognizes and celebrates LGBT friends and history.”
Like Rev. Folkert, Cantor Allen said she participated in this acceptance service last year and looks forward to doing so again.
“There can be no better argument for the positive power of prayer and community than when leaders of all faiths come together to celebrate and affirm each individual’s sacredness in the eyes of God,” Cantor Allen said. “We shared stories and prayer (last year), and stood together in support of our differences, as well as our similarities, and created sacred space together.”
Rabbi Jordan Parr of Temple Beth El in Odessa, another ceremony participant, said the larger issue here is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” He is an adjunct professor at North Texas State University.
“We are all created in the Divine image so every man and woman has the right to live as the Almighty has directed him or her,” Rabbi Parr said. “It will also be a chance for all Jews, straight or gay, to come together as one, to commemorate an important event in American history and to work toward the day when, to paraphrase Dr. King (the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.), we will not be judged by the color of our skin — or by the desires of our heart — but by the content of our character.”
Participant Rev. Neil Cazares-Thomas, senior pastor of Cathedral of Hope of Dallas, said standing together as people of faith is a wonderful example of the best that faith leaders can do in pluralistic, interfaith and multifaith partnerships.
“I sincerely hope that we use this opportunity to remind the LGBT community that God loves everyone and that God does not make mistakes,” Rev. Cazares-Thomas said.
Rev. Cazares-Thomas said he hopes “LBGT people — and specifically our transgender sisters and brothers — hear loud and clear that people of faith are there to support and demonstrate God’s love for them.”
Other participants in the service include:
- Cantor Don Croll, cantor emeritus of Temple Shalom; and
- Dr. Steve Sprinkle, professor of practical theology and director of Field Education and Supervised Ministry at Texas Christian University.
- Rabbi Fisch said he is extremely proud to be an ally of the many compassionate, caring, and welcoming people he has met in the Beth El Binah congregation.
“I am also honored to share the lives of members of the community I have learned to know and love because of my association with Beth El Binah,” he said.
Incidentally, the Union For Reform Judaism suggests four ways to honor and celebrate LGBT rights during the month of June:
Host a Pride Shabbat.
- Advocate for LGBT rights in the community.
- Join the community’s Pride events.
- Join the new Active Learning Network on Transgender Inclusion. (http://www.rac.org/lgbt-rights)