Friday night a conservative Jewish congregation in downtown Philadelphia will host shabbat for the city’s LGBT community. It will be the first time the synagogue is hosting an LGBT event.
The weekly shabbat service is normally a fairly relaxed affair at Temple Beth Zion Beth Israel (BZBI) in Rittenhouse Square; it’s monthly Marom Kabbalat is described as “meditative.” But this week it will feature a concert by the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus, supported by a roster of local LGBT groups like the William Way Center, Spectrum Philly, and J.Proud.
The congregation is part of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, a national organization that has only recently begun accepting gays and lesbians. Some congregations have been more reluctant than others.
BZBI’s Senior Rabbi Abe Friedman says the congregation has always welcomed people with different sexual orientations, but now wants to make itself more visible to the LGBT community.
“Judaism has always valued stable families. Part of the openness to marriage equality stems from those same values,” said Friedman. “What we’re seeing at BZBI is a new outward expression of the same values that have been with us for millennia.”
Recently the synagogue reassigned its bathrooms as gender-neutral, and is trying to alter language during services to be gender-neutral — a tricky semantic challenge because all nouns in the Hebrew language are assigned as masculine or feminine.
Tonight’s service for Pride Shabbat may be the one and only explicitly gay shabbat at BZBI. “We’re looking to move away from specific events that are LGBT themed, and finding ways to spread the message that everything we do is LGBT inclusive,” said Friedman.