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Atlanta gay rabbi appointed to city Human Relations Commission

Congregation Bet Haverim’s Rabbi Josh Lesser has been appointed to the City of Atlanta’s Human Relations Commission.

A leading figure in the Atlanta LGBT community, Lesser has served as rabbi at Congregation Bet Haverim since 1999. He was appointed by District 2 City Councilmember Kwanza Hall.

“When Councilman Hall was looking for new members, I was approached by Fulton County Commissioner Joan Garner,” says Lesser. “I have a long-standing connection with the city’s LGBT community and she thought I would be a good fit.”

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Gay-led Atlanta synagogue wants LGBT town hall slated for Jewish holiday to be rescheduled

Congregation Bet Haverim, Atlanta's gay-founded Reconstructionist synagogue, released an open letter today expressing disappointment that an LGBT town hall forum with Mayor Kasim Reed is scheduled for Sept. 28, the start of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

The letter, signed by Congregation Bet Haverim President Jeri L. Kagel and Rabbi Joshua Lesser, asks that the "problematic" meeting date be rescheduled out of "communal respect." It is addressed to the Atlanta Police LGBT Advisory Committee and copied to the mayor's office.

The public forum is a project of the mayor and the advisory board, a citizen panel founded in the wake of the botched 2009 police raid on the Atlanta Eagle gay bar.

"There are Rosh Hashanah services in synagogues of all denominations across Atlanta and it is one of the few times during the year when Jews of all degrees of observance attend services," the letter stated. "If the meeting remains on this date our congregants, other LGBT Jews and straight allies, will not have the opportunity to hear two of our city’s leaders address important issues about police interaction within the LGBT community."

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Faith & Religion: Many options for LGBT worshippers

Rev. Glenna Shepherd (left to right), Rabbi Joshua Lesser, Rev. Paul Graetz and Rev. Antonio Jones are among LGBT faith leaders in Atlanta

Gay and lesbian people of faith are in the midst of a modern Great Awakening. Once deemed outcasts from the majority of religions, they now have more opportunities to worship in affirming environments — whether gay churches, gay-friendly congregations and even more traditional churches that have tempered their hostility to homosexuality — than ever before.

Many LGBT worshippers and religious leaders are also re-examining their position in spiritual circles, moving from the fringes into more mainstream areas in order to keep up with rapid generational changes in society’s views of God and gays. Some are choosing to be advocates for gay inclusion in traditional congregations, while others are switching denominations in an attempt to join into “one body” with heterosexual members of their faith.

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Atlanta Pride to overlap Jewish holiday

Rabbi Josh Lesser at the Atlanta Pride Commitment Ceremony

When Atlanta Pride announced yesterday that this year’s festival will be held Oct. 8-9, several community members were quick to point out the scheduling conflict with the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

“When I first heard the news, I was terribly disappointed,” Rabbi Josh Lesser of Congregation Bet Haverim said in a phone interview. “Yom Kippur is the most holy day of the year.”

Lesser said that James Parker Sheffield, executive director of the Atlanta Pride Committee, has reached out to Atlanta's LGBT Jewish community and will work toward providing Jewish-specific events that recognize the community at this year's Pride.

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Religion blog: To tell and kiss?

I once imagined writing a queer dating guide that fused identity, politics, common courtesy, ethics, spirituality and sexuality. But back on planet Earth, I fear that just by bringing those lenses to such a project, it would bomb. Certainly, a friend or two would point out that by that very description I manage to squeeze fun out of dating. I would retort that there's no fun in dating. And then I would sadly shake my head and agree this might not be my best project. Perhaps, I could pen a dating guide that was for people who are too intense.

Navigating dating is often a labyrinth of unexpressed expectations, conscious and unconscious fantasies and biases, complicated neuroses, hidden rules mixed with some pheremonal chemistry and then add specific LGBTQQI issues into the mix! And all of that starts with you, so imagine what happens when another person is involved!