The warm summer air was perfect as Mitchell, and I arrived at the Staenberg-Loup JCC in Denver for Pride Shabbat. After dropping the box of JEWISHcolorado sponsor swag on the table by the security desk, I turned to survey the lobby. The meeting tables had been replaced with rows of chairs, set theatre-style facing a small stage, and the stage was surrounded by singers and their accompanying guitarist.
Rabbi Caryn Aviv of Judaism Your Way led the service, complete with gender-neutral prayers. Although I had not been to synagogue or anything resembling a service in quite some time, and though I stumbled my way through some of the Hebrew parts, I felt remarkably comfortable. It was empowering to be surrounded by others who shared my experience of being a member of the LGBTQ+ community while also connecting with their Judaism.
As we made our way through the service, multiple people visited the stage, describing who they were and what had led them to Pride Shabbat. One person said, “I am here today because I will no longer allow myself to hold the pieces of my identity separate from one another,” (paraphrasing) which struck a particularly emotional chord — not only for me, but for the entire room. There are many times when, as queer people, we feel like the religious space does not have room for us or our community, and, despite this, we still search for that feeling of belonging, and hold dear that desire to cross the figurative bridge and bring together both worlds; our queerness and our faith.
Another part of the service that hit home was when Rabbi Aviv had us close our eyes and think of someone who needed prayers — “good vibes” for secular folks — and had people in the crowd shout out their names. I could feel the tears threatening to pour out of my eyes as I heard names being called out, and as I thought of my friend Kristin who had just lost her grandfather, and who was surely in need of my good vibrations. Despite not having been active in this world for quite some time, I felt that moment of connection as love and good will rippled through the room.
Religion can sometimes tough to navigate for LGBTQ+ people, often because of the stigma that religious communities bear no love or acceptance for us. Indeed, a big reason I have not participated in many faith-based activities in my life is because of my assumption that I am not welcome because of who I am. That is why this Shabbat was sent to me; to remind me that I am sometimes wrong in thinking that faith and LGBTQ+ identities must be mutually exclusive, or that I will always have to choose one over the other. It is just as the young person said during service, and we as queer people need to be brave, take matters into our own hands, and refuse to fracture ourselves to feel whole.