The 2020 Philly Pride Parade and Festival was canceled, but Pride Month is in full swing at Jewish organizations throughout the city, with many events addressing themes of social justice and the coronavirus pandemic.
Germantown Jewish Centre launched its Pride programming with a Zoom Shabbat
on June 5.
“It’s usually a big festival event with a barbecue and lots of families, followed by a service outside under the stars. It’s a really beautiful, celebratory community event. It’s one of the highlights of our year and its one of the things we’re most missing right now,” Rabbi Adam Zeff said.
The event struck a more somber and reflective tone in the wake of the recent George Floyd-related protests.
“Having a celebratory Friday night didn’t seem right, right now, when we are still feeling outrage,” Zeff said.
He said GJC is striving to become an anti-racist community and is incorporating that goal into its Pride events.
“We’re just at the beginning of that work, and holding up that thread during our Pride celebration as well. We’ve adopted as our flag for pride the version of the LGBTQ flag that includes a black stripe and a brown strip to acknowledge the struggle of LGBTQ people of color,” Zeff said.
The Pride Shabbat service on June 6 featured Gwynn Kessler, associate professor in the department of religion at Swarthmore College, who gave a d’var Torah about the intersection of LGBTQ liberation and racial justice.
The synagogue is hosting a Friday Night Pride on June 19, complete with virtual scavenger hunts and a costume parade. It is leading the storytelling event Taking Pride: Story Sharing by LGBTQ Members of GJC on June 28.
Mishkan Shalom Synagogue is also integrating themes of social justice into its Pride Shabbat services.
“This year we will be doing a Friday night Shabbat program focusing on lifting up solidarity with the themes of anti-racism, Pride and Jewish Pride month. We will stress that everyone, with the pandemic and protests going on, needs to find their way of contributing, whether it’s bail funds or groceries for people in need,” Rabbi Shawn Zevet said.
The synagogue is a member of J.Proud Jewish Philly LGBTQ Consortium and POWER, an interfaith justice network. Zevet is co-chair of POWER’s Clergy Caucus.
“Mishkan Shalom was initially founded in 1988 with Rabbi Bryan Walt as a synagogue that would be maximally inclusive, including LGBTQ Jews,” Zevet said.
J.Proud released a statement supporting Black Lives Matter.
“This is a month to celebrate and enjoy life as LGBTQ+ folks, and a month to recognize that the history of queer justice is tied into the history of racial justice — and will continue to be,” it read.
The consortium will host a Pride Shabbat on June 12.
“(The service) will be led by members of all of the communities that are members of J.Proud, including folks from museums and schools and chavurot. We want to show the community we are excited to be in one place even if it’s virtual,” said Galia Godel, J.Proud’s leader and organizer.
J.Proud has posted 17 Pride events on its online calendar, including a Zoom dance party on June 25 and a Tribe12 (Gay)me Night on June 19.
“We have smaller queer spirit events where we connect to each other in religious spaces, educational events about queer history, events about the intersections between queer justice and racial justice, especially highlighting what is happening right now,” Godel said.
On June 15, Saundra Epstein of ESHEL, a nonprofit that provides resources for LGBTQ Orthodox Jews and their communities, will lead a workshop on Jewish law and gender affirmation surgery.
On June 17, Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia will host a conversation with transgender Jewish activist Abby Stein.
Congregation Rodeph Shalom is creating an LGBTQ Torah study program led by Rabbi Alan Fuchs and Jewish educator Jerry Silverman. The class will meet on June 18, 25 and July 2.
Godel is also leading a queer Torah study every Sunday in June with Congregation Kol Tzedek.
“It’s not just a Shabbat Zoom where I happen to see my other LGBTQ-identifying friends. We show up in a Zoom room and really get to meet each other,” she said.
Although the weekly parshahs don’t always address LGBTQ issues, they present an opportunity to discuss topics like disability and relationships.
“It’s not all about queer existence, but we get to talk about all of them through a queer lens. There’s always something new to discover from the text,” she said.
She wants to keep doing online Torah study even when it is safe for people to meet in person again.
“Accessibility has increased hundredfold, given that we are able to offer people programming where they are and when they need it,” she said.