Atlanta’s Jewish community is coming together the day after Yom Kippur to march for the first time in the Atlanta Pride parade on Sunday, Oct. 9.
Typically, the day after Yom Kippur — the Day of Atonement that calls for reflection, prayer and fasting — is a day of rest for Rabbi Josh Lesser, who leads the gay-founded Congregation Bet Haverim. This year, he’ll be riding atop a float.
“I’ll be in full energy mode,” he said with a laugh.
Congregation Bet Haverim is partnering with The Temple, Atlanta’s oldest synagogue, and Temple Sinai of Sandy Springs, to march in the Pride parade as part of a pilot program of the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation called the Welcoming Synagogues Project.
The project aims to help synagogues be welcoming to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, Lesser said.
“The program was hatched about two years ago and I’ve been talking [with the Institute] about what has been happening in Atlanta, how the city has such a large gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, and how we thought the city would be a good pilot for the program,” said Lesser. “One of benchmarks was getting more synagogues involved in Pride.”
But when Atlanta Pride announced its dates, Oct. 8-9, and those dates conflicted with Yom Kippur, there was doubt the program would take place here.
“What happened with Pride made this a bit more difficult,” Lesser said. “People were, ‘Oy, we have some work to do.’ And there are still people in our LGBT community who don’t understand.
“Now Pride itself, after its initial lack of awareness, has really taken great steps to be understanding. We had this [project] planned all along and to make it happen we believed it would be helpful if we could show Pride was a willing partner, and they have been.”
Atlanta Pride is including CBH’s Yom Kippur services as part of its official lineup of events and there will be shuttle services from Piedmont Park throughout the day on Saturday, Oct. 8, for those wanting to attend the services at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church on LaVista Road.
There will also be a memorial service called Yizkor for those who have died, including a special commemoration for the numerous LGBT-related suicides that have made headlines in recent months.
A Jewish meet-and-greet is planned for after the parade on Sunday and a possible meeting with Ari Gold, the gay Jewish singer performing Sunday at Pride, is in the works, Lesser said.
Congregation Bet Haverim and the Rainbow Center, a social services program of Jewish Family & Career Services serving LGBT people, have participated in Atlanta Pride for many years. But this is this first year other synagogues are making a committed effort to reach out to LGBT people and others who may want to become members at Atlanta Pride.
“With so much oppression of GLBT people directed by some of the faith communities in this country, it is gratifying that this year we will embody the value of Tikkun Olam by standing up for others,” said Rebecca Stapel-Wax, director of the Rainbow Center.
Top photo: Rabbi Josh Lesser of Congregation Bet Haverim looks forward to a ‘vital Jewish presence’ at this year’s Atlanta Pride. (by Dyana Bagby)