Local Jewish Community Embraces Austin Pride Week
Clergy and lay leaders represented many faiths at the Pride Interfaith Celebration.
By Tonyia Cone
Austin’s Jewish community found uniquely Jewish ways to break out the rainbow last month in support of Pride Week, a celebration of those who are lesbian; gay; bisexual; trans; queer or questioning their sexual orientation, gender and/or identity; intersex; asexual; and all other sexualities, sexes and genders.
Shalom Austin, Temple Beth Shalom, Congregation Agudas Achim, Congregation Shir Ami and Sisterhood of Congregation Beth Israel sponsored this year’s Pride Interfaith Celebration, and Shalom Austin hosted the Aug. 5 celebration.
Rabbi Daniel Septimus, Shalom Austin CEO, said, “Shalom Austin was honored to host the Pride Interfaith Celebration in support of the LGBTQiA+ communities. We affirm, embrace and celebrate people of all cultural and social backgrounds and identities to participate and come together in a safe environment. Our Jewish value kehillah, building a strong community, is a cornerstone of who we are.”
Joy Butler, Pride Interfaith Celebration coordinator explained that the event, an annual Pride Week tradition since 2001, was a joyful celebration of both the faith-filled and rainbow communities in the Austin area.
“The JCC Community Hall was a perfect spot for us to gather and celebrate, and Rabbi Daniel Septimus of Shalom Austin gave a warm welcome to open the service, welcoming all 300 in attendance,” she said.
Butler explained that more than 30 faith leaders from a variety of traditions, including Pagan, Jewish, Muslim and Christian, participated in the processional.
The featured speaker was Kat Macías, a queer Puerto Rican and Cuban Jew-by-Choice, from Washington D.C.-based Avodah. Temple Beth Shalom’s Cantor Abby Gostein’s performance of “Olam Chesed Yibaneh,” was a highlight of the service. Other Jewish participants included Blossom Cohon and young person Maya Deol, both Temple Beth Shalom community members who participated in the Rainbow Candle Ceremony.
Rifka Reichler, Pride Interfaith Celebration Planning Team member, explained that when the team approached Congregation Agudas Achim’s Rabbi Neil Blumofe about hosting the reception for the Interfaith Pride Service at CAA, “His response was a swift and enthusiastic yes.”
“CAA's embrace of the LGBTQiA+ community reinforced my decision, as a proud queer Jew, to call CAA home," said Reichler.
Masha-Leah Dina, Pride Interfaith Celebration Planning Team member said, “It was especially gratifying to me for Agudas Achim, the synagogue of which I am a member, to have been a sponsor to show the religious community that the Jewish faith is also fully on-board in being egalitarian and affirming. In fact, all of the religions that participated in the Pride Interfaith service demonstrate that somebody doesn’t have to forsake their religion or faith just because they are a member of the LGBTQiA+ Community.”
Congregation Shir Ami's Rabbi Rebecca Reice has served on the Steering and Planning Committee for the Pride Interfaith Partnership for the last three years and once again introduced the featured speaker at the Pride Interfaith Celebration.
Reice explained that after last year’s Austin Pride Parade was rescheduled for Shabbat—which was also Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar and a time when almost no observant Jews could participate—it was an honor to help the Jewish community rejoin the Pride community in celebrating universal love.
“As a person of faith, it was inspiring to see so many clergy people of all different religious traditions join together to give that much more dignity to the joyful proceedings. Pride Interfaith Celebration 2018 was inspiring and unifying for the Austin LGBTQiA+ communities and religious communities, but it was especially powerful for secular and religious people of any gender identity and every sexual orientation--which is ALL of us!”
Congregation Beth Israel’s Rabbi Kelly Levy was also proud to participate in the Austin Interfaith Pride event.
Levy said, “Together with clergy from many other faiths, we walked into Shalom Austin wearing colorful clerical garb, spreading joy and excitement. Everyone present enjoyed listening to the various speakers, the incredible music, and a special dance performed by a local dance organization. Interfaith Austin came together to show support for the LGBTQiA+ community, and to share the importance of treating every person in this world with respect, kindness and love.”
The congregations and individual members of Austin’s Jewish community went on to have a very visual presence in the city’s Pride Parade later in Pride Week, as they have for the past few years.
Rabbi Marie Betcher explained that as the only rabbi-cantor in the country to serve two cities—she serves the Austin Police and Cedar Park Police and Fire Departments as a chaplain—she proudly marched with Austin Police Department officers, Chief Brian Manley and the Lesbian and Gay Peace Officers Association.
“The LGPOA is the only one of its kind in the state of Texas,” said Betcher, who attends their board meetings.
Congregation Beth Israel introduced a new Pride Week event this year, with its first Pride Shabbat Aug. 10. Several members and allies of the LGBTQiA+ community led portions of the service.
Senior Rabbi Steve Folberg recalled a sermon he gave on Rosh Hashanah in 1996 in which he strongly encouraged CBI members to be welcoming to the “Gay and Lesbian community.”
“He also recalled that he received a standing ovation for that sermon,” said Harold Wilensky, Congregation Beth Israel’s director of community engagement, adding that Folberg went on to comment about how far we have come in the past 22 years and how far we have to go. ■