Gay Jewish synagogues are finding a growing number of heterosexual Jews in attendance and even playing leadership roles, mostly due to the welcoming and experimental nature of these congregations, reports the website Forward.com (June 4).
In some cases, synagogues established originally for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and trans-sexual Jews now even have a majority of straight members. Jay Michaelson writes that gay synagogues have been in the forefront of creating rituals, structures and language that welcome outsiders to the Jewish community and establishment. Especially in areas outside such centers of Jewish activity and populations as New York, less-affiliated Jews have felt excluded from synagogue life (for instance, for not knowing enough Hebrew).
What such unaffiliated Jews “find at most gay synagogues is a community that welcomes them warmly and effectively, with fewer judgements, raised eyebrows or grumbles about political correctness,” Michaelson writes. The gay synagogues specialize in reinventing tradition—from creating new rituals to celebrating a gender change or writing a new liturgy for becoming an adoptive “co-parent”—and are attractive to liberal Jews seeking to change the tradition.
Michaelson adds that today gay synagogues are at a crossroads: many are becoming “irrelevant” as mainstream synagogues become more accepting of gay rights, while others have lost their gay identity as more straights have joined. But such leading gay synagogues as Beth Simchat Torah in New York and San Francisco’s Congregation Sha’ar Zahav have written new prayer books and have become leading political actors in the gay marriage battle.