In honor of LGBT Pride Month, I thought I’d share some information about Congregation Or Chadash, Chicago’s LBGT synagogue, which will celebrate its 35th anniversary next year as a strong and vibrant community. Founded in 1975, Or Chadash opened alongside several other gay and lesbian synagogues, such as Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in New York and Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles. These congregations created a community for members of the Jewish community who otherwise felt incredibly excluded.
Or Chadash started small, as just an ad placed by a University of Chicago student looking to gather other gay and lesbian Jews. It soon grew into a congregation, with a strong tradition of lay leadership, and a wonderful part-time rabbi for most of its years. Rabbi Larry Edwards, a highly respected scholar and educator (as well as a mensch!), is the current rabbi of Or Chadash.
Fortunately, these days, a whole spectrum of congregations have open and inclusive policies toward LGBT Jews, so a question may arise--what are the benefits of being a part of a community like Or Chadash? At Or Chadash, there is definitely a greater emphasis on the specific needs and interests of the community. Rabbi Edwards's sermons address current LGBT issues, and the congregation offers many ways to join the community through social functions, educational opportunities, and other avenues that create the feel of a small Chavurah. I saw this tightly knit community firsthand, when I met with the congregation's group of lay service leaders for an annual wrap-up discussion. It felt like being at a gathering of close friends, all who feel very drawn to this special community.
While Or Chadash is a long standing member of the Union of Reform Judaism, one will find that its membership is incredibly diverse in their backgrounds, a spectrum of those who grew up Orthodox to Jews-by-choice. One will also find variety in the types of services offered, as there is a more traditional Shabbat morning service monthly. It should be noted that Or Chadash's doors are open to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation. A recent article in the Forward addresses Why Straight People go to Gay Synagogues and how much they can get out of LGBT congregations.
There are a couple of special events happening in the congregation in celebration of Pride this month. The World Congress of GLBT Jews will be meeting in Chicago, and has invited all those interested to meet its international leadership at a reception on Thursday, June 25 at 7 p.m. at Congregation Emanuel (5959 N. Sheridan). On Friday, June 26, join the congregation for their annual Pride Shabbat. There will be a 7 p.m. cookout and an 8 p.m. service, both on the beach adjacent to the congregation. And, look for Or Chadash again this year in the Pride Parade on that Sunday. Last year, they marched alongside a cute little Smartcar!