Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Pride Shabbat to Remember

As a congregational Rabbi, I don't have that many opportunities each year to visit at another congregation's services.  This year, after receiving an email from a friend who sings in the choir at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah - the LGBTQ congregation in New York City about their Pride Shabbat service, I found myself able to attend this year.  And what a year to be in New York City on the Friday night of Pride weekend.  To begin, the Shabbat service was quite wonderful.  The music is always something special at CBST, with the wonderful Joyce Rosenzweig (who also teaches at HUC) as music director.  The cantorial intern this past year was an incredible talent, Magda Fishman, who has just been invested as Cantor at the Jewish Theological Seminary.  Add to that the lovely, smart, funny, and passionate Cynthia Nixon, who was their Pride Speaker this year, and the Shabbat service itself was quite wonderfully crafted.

But of course, this year there was much more.  CBST adds in psalms of Hallel for their Pride Shabbat, recognizing the annual festive nature of the weekend.  This year the energy was one of anticipation and excitement that took the festivities to a whole new level.  It had become clear, just as services were beginning, that a vote on marriage equality in New York would take place in the NY Senate in Albany that night.  Toward the end of the service we'd received an update that the vote was likely to be approximately 30 minutes after the end of our service.

Outside the Stonewall Inn, waiting for the vote
And so, at its conclusion, many congregants gathered together to walk down to the Stonewall Inn.  We joined about 1000 people gathering in the street outside the bar, arriving just 10 minutes or so before the vote was taken.  Looking around, and speaking to the people around us, I was struck by the incredible diversity.  Many LGBTQ-identified people, but also heterosexual friends and allies who were there to share the moment.  And, the annual Drag Parade had finished just a short while earlier, so there was plenty of additional color and glamour added to the mix.

When the news came in, the crowd erupted in cheering and hugging and crying and laughing.  The celebratory atmosphere was incredible.  In the mix, the Jews who had walked down from CBST started dancing and singing 'Siman Tov u'mazel tov' and other Jewish wedding tunes.  A couple of Latino gay men came over to us, taken by the joyful sound and said, 'this is so wonderful - I wish we could be your friends'.  One of the CBST congregants took them by the hand and said, 'You are our friends' and they joined in the dance.

As one who wasn't even born at the time that the Stonewall Inn first came to fame in much darker times, it felt quite magical to be standing there at the moment that NY voted to give equal civil rights to homosexual couples.  Instead of police with batons, the police around the perimeter were friendly and smiling.  The feel-good on the streets and in the bars of Greenwich Village as people passed each other with smiles, cheers, and high-fives was a moment of feeling the community togetherness that can sometimes shine through in New York City.

The prophet, Isaiah (58:13) coined Shabbat as a time of oneg - pleasure, delight - a time to enjoy good food, to dress up, to enjoy each other's company, and to celebrate.  Last night was surely a pure and holy expression of Oneg Shabbat and it is one I will never forget.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

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