Back Bay Synagogue Caters to LGBT Jews

by Dan Meyer

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday August 28, 2012

As America continues to socially progress with equality and inclusion in regards to its LGBT citizens, religious communities have struggled. Instances of gay marriage opponents dedicating millions of dollars to campaigns that promote exclusion and discrimination prove this. But that's not to say all of America is like this. In fact, many religious communities are evolving, especially in the Northeast, which is setting an example for inclusion.

The Central Reform Temple of Boston is one such congregation focused on giving LGBT worshippers a place to pray without making their sexual orientation or gender identity a source of contention.

"In other congregations, you have the dynamic that it's a predominately heterosexual congregation and wants to project itself as being welcoming and inclusive," Rabbi Howard Berman told EDGE. "With us, we are a sizably gay congregation where this commitment is not external to everything we are, its part of the culture of the congregation. I think that's where we're different."

Located in the Back Bay neighborhood, the temple has been around for a while, but under a different name. In 2004, with the help of other rabbis and inter-denominational members of the clergy, Berman founded Boston Jewish Spirit in 2004.

Now, the temple is being rebranded as the Central Reform Temple of Boston, which includes a new logo, a new website and a public relations campaign geared towards helping potential congregation members understand what the temple strives to achieve.

"Our previous name was kind of funky and unconventional and a lot of people were not figuring out what we were," said Berman, referring to the congregations focus on inclusion and diversity.

Part of the campaign is an Open House on September 7, which will welcome Jews who may be looking for a new congregation. Rabbi Berman explained the date choice, stating that this is a popular time for worshippers to change congregations, partly because many people move in September due to new schools or jobs, and partly because it's the end of the Jewish year.

In fact, the Open House date marks a one-week countdown until the Jewish High Holy Days, including Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

Though the temple is going through a name change and launching a PR campaign geared towards projecting a higher profile, the core values are the same as they were when Berman founded it eight years ago.

Around 175 people are actively involved with the congregation and they come from all over city.

"We have a strong proportion of GLBT people, a strong proportion of straight people both empty nester couples, married couples, young couples with children, all of whom are deeply committed to diversity and GLBT rights," said Berman. Many empty nester couples in the congregation have gay children as well.

Berman has been a leading voice for inclusion and equality ever since he, along with his fellow clergymen, founded the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry in 1996.

In 2004, Berman and his husband were among the first 50 couples to marry at Boston City Hall after the court decision was handed down.

"I am, if not the very first, one of the first and probably the very first legally married gay rabbis in 5,000 years of Jewish history," Berman told EDGE.

The Central Jewish Reform Temple isn't the only leader promoting LGBT inclusion in the Northeast. Many congregations of different denominations get publicly involved. Churches, especially mainstream Protestant denominations, welcome LGBT worshippers. Last year, the Presbyterian Church allowed openly gay men and women to become ordained ministers. And the New Hampshire Diocese of the Episcopal Church made headlines years ago when it ordained the first out-gay bishop.

LGBT Jewish Youth Celebrate Religion and Sexual Identity at Free Shabbaton Camp

On the weekend of August 24 to 26, teens made their way to Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center for a program that would celebrate both religion and sexual identity.

"This Shabbaton is an incredible opportunity for LGBTQ Jewish teens to celebrate who they are," said Idit Klein, executive director of Keshet, one of the camp's partners. "Bullying and peer pressure are day-to-day realities for so many young people. Keshet is proud to join with Isabella Freedman, UJA-Federation of New York, and many of this country's leading Jewish youth movements and programs to offer a space for queer teens to connect with one another, affirm both their Jewish and LGBTQ identities, and express their full glorious selves."

The program free and also included transportation to the camp from Boston and New York City.

"I am particularly excited to meet other queer, Jewish teens and are committed to both their identities with the LGBTQ community and the Jewish community," said Amram Altzman shortly before the program started.

Among the many activities planned were workshops that looked at LGBTQ themes in Jewish texts and strategies on beginning a gay-straight alliance, along with a concert by gay Jewish hip-hop artist Y-Love.

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Dan Meyer is a young professional whose stories have appeared in publications such as The Advocate online and UCLA's LGBT magazine entitled "OutWrite." He is also a part-time ESL teacher in Boston.