“What a sign in pride that in our community we can celebrate rabbis who have been at their pulpits for many, many years,” said Rabbi Michael Latz of Shir Tikvah in Minneapolis. “We should be both proud of who we are, and that we have a community that enables a community to be who they are.
“There are so many of us and we don’t have a LGBT congregation. There are touchpoints at Reform, Conservative, Duluth, Sholom, JFCS. They are across the board. That’s where the power lies.”
“I think right now it’s a really exciting time,” said Emily Saltzman, the Community Services Director at Jewish Family and Children’s Services in Minneapolis. Part of her responsibilities include overseeing J-Pride. “It’s huge in a city of our size and it’s really awesome and exciting because the Twin Cities are such an affiliated community.”
So what is about the Twin Cities that it has become such a landing spot?
“I think geography plays a big role,” said Adath Jeshurun Rabbi Aaron Weininger. “Often times people talk about the coasts as being more accepting. I’m not so sure I agree with that. A lot of congregations, Adath included, have done the hard work going back to the 1980s. That ethos of hard work and egalitarian spirit and inclusion that pervades a lot of the Midwest, that people strive to treat each other fairly.
“When I think of where a number of my conservative colleagues are that are out, I think of cities like St. Louis, or Chicago or Minneapolis, or Columbus. People live intentional lives in the Midwest and strive for fairness. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Minnesota was the first state to defeat a marriage amendment. I think people genuinely feel here that you treat your neighbor the way you want to be treated. You’re judged on how you serve and your values.”
Lynn Liberman, the Jewish Community Chaplain at Jewish Family Service of St. Paul, agrees.
“It doesn’t feel particularly surprising,” said Liberman, “It’s a welcoming community. It’s a great place to work as a Jew, no matter your persuasion.
Weininger is a New York native who came to Adath fresh out of the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2012. He had the distinction of being the first openly gay student to be accepted to rabbinical school at JTS; The school changed its policy on ordaining gay and lesbian rabbis in 2007, shortly before he was accepted at the school.
“In many ways, our process is the product of people who’ve come before us and come after us. The challenge is figuring out how will the Conservative movement look different, and what opportunities there are for liturgy and lifecycle, and how we talk about love and how we make sure our kids feel safe.”
Temple of Aaron Rabbi Avi Strausberg, who arrived at the St. Paul synagogue last July, said the LGBTQ community wasn’t the only thing she and her wife, Chana, were looking at.
“When we asked our queer community, we knew that it had a strong LGBT and queer community,” she said. “For me in my position, it wasn’t that we were looking for the queerest place we could find. Nor was TOA seeking a queer clergy member. I just happened to be a woman and happened to be gay.”
Rabbi Sharon Stiefel of the Reconstructionist Mayim Rabim and Sholom Hospice, has been in Minnesota the longest of the LGBT rabbis. She credits the Conservative movement opening its arms to gay and lesbian commitment ceremonies, as well LGBT rabbis and rabbinic students, as making a major difference in their acceptance.
“Now things have changed radically in that regard,” Stiefel said. “With marriage equality, we’re living in a time of greater opportunity.”
Latz, a Minnesota native, came back in 2009 with his husband Michael and their two daughters because he loved Shir Tikvah.
“We find the quality of life and Minneapolis Public Schools to be great,” he said. “Certainly, for me, knowing that you’re not the one only is helpful. The community, for all our mishigas, treats rabbis well. We have work to do but it’s not a toxic environment.”
Changing Times, But Work Still Ahead
“You don’t hear with any regularity messages from the gay community that religion is hostile,” Latz said. “Ten years ago, it was a battle in the gay community. Today, I am out and present as a rabbi, Jew and theologian. When progressive stuff happens, we always have a seat at the table.”
Strausberg said that she thinks the time we live in helps rabbis who are LGBT be out easier. JTS changing its policy almost a decade ago helps.
“It’s possible to be queer, Jewish, and for myself, religious and observant,” she said. “I can hold both parts of that identity. There is a trend in embracing both of those identities.”
Weininger stressed that, with incidents like the shootings in Orlando, there is still hostility.
“The reality is, as we saw [with the Orlando shootings], that as open as our society is and as blessed we are with those blessings, there are real challenges,” he said. “There are many pockets in this world where there is hate and violence. Part of my responsibility is to look at the Jewish tradition and find ways to undo some of that damage and do that in partnership with straight colleagues and with LGBTQ colleagues.”
So after the marriage ban was defeated by the voters in 2012 and passed by the legislature in 2013, what’s next?
Latz said Shir Tikvah has done programming around transgender issues, including how to be welcoming and inclusive.
“Shir Tikvah has always been a congregation with a sizeable LGBT population and we’ve been exploring the past few years about how do we use our power for the larger good,” Latz said. “We’re using power for climate justice, criminal justice reform and racism. We’ve done work with a Muslim community. For us it wasn’t won and done. When we organize around our values, we can have a big impact on our state.”
Come visit J-Pride at Pride Festival this weekend at Loring Park. J-Pride will be in Booth P086; pick up swag and come talk with Rabbis that will be there all day Sunday!