Out, Proud & Jewish in Cincinnati

In 1969, the Stonewall Inn was no place for a nice Jewish person to be. The place was filthy, run by the mob and regularly raided by the police. Getting caught was a shondeh. Many lost their jobs, their homes and their reputations. Their lives, as they had known them, were effectively over. Then, on June 28th, 1969, the night of yet another police raid, the people said, “Enough!” Enough with the shakedowns. Enough with police brutality. Enough with the destruction of our lives. Just let us be.

The raid was led by Commander Seymour Pine of the NYPD’s Vice Squad. The son of Jewish immigrants from Poland, Pine thought this would be an easy night as such perpetrators were generally pretty compliant, but on that night, something snapped. Instead of going quietly into the paddy wagon, a brick was thrown and 200 people turned on the police. The group of nine vice cops were forced to take refuge inside the club while a growing crowd raged without. Pine recalled his service as a combat veteran in WWII: “I’ve seen combat, and there was never any time that I felt more scared than I did that night.”

Society has come a long way since that fateful night, with many Jewish activists like Harvey Milk, Edie Fischer and Barney Frank fighting for equal rights. Moreover, synagogues have come around to embracing their LGBTQIA+ members and even celebrating their weddings. While many Orthodox communities are not affirming, more progressive Jews are. 

The Reconstructionist Movement voted to bless same-sex marriages in 1992 followed by the Reformniks in 1997. The Conservative Movement was a bit more reserved, passing a resolution in 2006 allowing individual rabbis to officiate these ceremonies if they chose. Then, in 2012, an influential committee of the movement’s Rabbinical Assembly voted overwhelmingly to approve rituals for queer weddings, preceding nationwide legal recognition by three years. 

This brings us to 2023. I was able to celebrate Pride with the Jewish community of Cincinnati with Pride Shabbat, Stonewall Shabbat, and the Multifaith Pride Celebration.

Pride Shabbat

On Friday evening, June 23rd, I attended Tel Aviv Pride Shabbat at Adath Israel. One particular piece of liturgy is noteworthy. K’gavna כגונא comes from Zohar (Jewish mysticism) and means “Just as.” This version is an interpretive translation by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. 

We join together in community,

Together, reflecting God’s splendor.

We are the colors of the rainbow

Uniting to make one light.

The glorious holy throne

Is here where we meet

Ready for Shabbat to rest upon us.

Reading liturgy like this, with a Pride flag draped over the bima, and parishioners in rainbow swag, is powerfully validating. While some may rage at the changes in society, young people in this environment will grow up knowing that their families and their faith love and accept them.

Stonewall Shabbat

The following Friday, Elech and Ish co-hosted Stonewall Shabbat at the Ish Garage space in Northside. Always eager to get up and stand up for our rights, a craft table was set up to make protest signs complete with colored markers and glitter, lots of glitter. These were to be displayed in Columbus to protest SB 132 and HB 61, which seek to ban transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports.

Also, a small group of us convened a Torah study called “Parrying the Clobber Passages,” led by yours truly, in which we took a closer look at the Bible verses used to attack us and found deeper, more nuanced interpretations of the Biblical Hebrew.

Multi-Faith Pride Celebration

We had a pretty full house at Trinity Episcopal Church in Covington, KY for the Multifaith Pride Celebration on Thursday, June 22, 2023. Our keynote speaker was Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp of Temple Sholom. The rabbi recounted the story of Adam and Eve from Eve’s perspective. Eve lost the perfection of Eden and later lost her beloved son, Abel, to an act of violence. According to Midrash, after Abel’s murder, Hashem offered to let Eve return to Eden, but she turned Hashem down. By then, Eve had seen too much to believe in a perfect world without suffering. Part of life is learning to live with tragedy, but if we tend our gardens well, they will bring forth beauty.

Another poignant speaker was Greg Griffith, a Tibetan Buddhist who taught us Tong-Lin, Taking & Giving. Griffith led us through a meditation in which we took the negative black smoke of bigotry, inhaled it, then turned it into light that we exhaled into that person’s life with wishes of good health and peace. Honestly, I don’t know if I can do that, but it’s a nice idea.

Many Queer people who were raised in strict, religious traditions will relate with tears how they sat silently in the pews feeling dejected because their God and their own families wouldn’t love them. They were marginalized not for any heinous sin that ever hurt anyone, but simply for who they were and how they felt inside. The choice before them was clear. They could either make themselves miserable by suppressing who they were, or they could walk away from the faith and family they called home. 

This is why we need services like this, to remind us that we are all made in the image of the Divine, and the Creator of the Universe is not the property of any one faith or tribe. Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, is a monumental task and it will take all of us working together to accomplish it.

Happy Pride!