Sober reminder of reality amid equality Shabbat

Seven policemen stood in the parking lot of Northaven United Methodist Church on a recent Friday evening, a precaution because Beth El Binah, the Dallas congregation founded years ago by gay and lesbian Jews, was having a special Shabbat service there.
This truly welcoming church has become home to BEB, which outgrew its former space in the Oak Lawn LGBT community center. Its members now include many “straights” as well, and for this Pride Week observance, attendance crowded even this large second-floor room that the host church has dedicated to its guest temple.
The service involved seven clergy, men and women of different faith communities. Officiating was Rabbi Steve Fisch, BEB’s spiritual leader since early 2011. In addition to the traditional Erev Shabbat prayers and personal words from all those participating, there was this: Two members of this congregation, long formally affiliated with the Reform movement, read publicly from the Torah for the first time since their recent conversion to Judaism.
Don Croll, cantor emeritus of Temple Shalom, and Cantor Sheri Allen of Arlington’s Congregation Beth Shalom, led the singing. Rabbis Debra Robbins of Temple Emanu-El and Jordan Parr, now with Temple Beth El in Odessa while teaching and counseling throughout North Texas, took part. The Rev. Eric Folkerth, Northaven’s senior pastor for 15 years, welcomed everyone, following Josh Manes, current president of Beth El Binah. Also bringing greetings and prayers from other Protestant branches were the Rev. Dr. Neil Cazeres-Thomas, senior pastor of Dallas’ Cathedral of Hope, America’s largest LGBTQ congregation, and Baptist minister Dr. Stephen Sprinkle, theology professor at TCU’s Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth.
As so often happens, the joyous mood of even such prideful worship was undercut by loss and tragedy. Victims of the recent Orlando massacre were solemnly remembered and, with the saying of Kaddish, there was a sorrowful goodbye to Jack Evans, who had passed away just the day before at age 86. He and George Harris, his life partner for more than a half-century, were the first same-sex couple to marry in Dallas County after such unions were legally recognized; they would have celebrated their first wedding anniversary on the Sunday following this special Shabbat.
The service began with a responsive reading that featured these words: “We welcome the Sabbath into our midst…We celebrate the uniqueness of our creation by the Holy Divine One, just as the Sabbath day celebrates the seventh day of creation…We remember that all peoples on this earth have, at one time, been victims of marginalization … Discrimination of ‘the other’ is nothing new in humanity’s history, yet it is the venomous enemy that continues to rise from the darkness … On this Sabbath, may we, as one community, force the ignorance, the intolerance, the fear, down into the abyss, never to return again.”
And after the singing of Hinei Ma Tov, the evening’s entire congregation of gays and straights said this together: “How good it is to gather in the house of a God who loves each of us as we are created, without limit and forever. How sweet it is to gather together in the house of a God who transcends human limits and categories. How pleasant it is to gather together in a house of a God who hears the prayers of all people. How fine it is to gather people with firm beliefs, along with people who have questions in their hearts, all in the house of a God who values deeds of caring and justice.”
And yet, as we all stood before the small Ark that holds this small congregation’s two Sefer Torahs, there were seven policemen standing outside in the host church’s parking lot, a mute testimony to how cautious two of our country’s most often marginalized communities, Jews and LGBTs, must continue to be. Such a sad and somber, but abiding and necessary, note on this night of joy among members of this “House of an Understanding God.”

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