J-Pride a home for LGBTQ Jews and allies in times of uncertainty
By Heather Renetzky • J-Pride Program Coordinator
Back in November, my partner Emma and I were listening to a segment on MPR covering people’s reactions to the presidential election. We were continuing to process the new reality and Emma asked me how I was feeling given the rise in overt anti-Semitic rhetoric and our country’s growing intolerance toward “otherness.” It was a big question, and I had to remind myself to focus on my driving as I shakily answered. “They can take away our rights, but there are some things they can’t take away,” I reflected. “They can blur the line between church and state, but they can’t keep me from lighting Shabbat candles. They can try to take away our right to marry, but they can’t take away our love.”
It was a cheesy way to express my sentiment, but for me, it felt true. These things that can’t be taken away are what keep me going. It is also what’s at the heart of J-Pride. In today’s world, as in the past, simply gathering as a group of queer Jews feels like an act of resistance; J-Pride is a program that facilitates that community gathering, bringing together LGBTQ Jewish folks and their allies for events, social gatherings, and educational opportunities.
On July 28, we held our first ever J-Pride Shabbat, keeping the spirit and celebration of Pride alive beyond the month of June. We gathered together in Minnehaha Park to sing Shabbat songs, share a meal, and gather in community. By happenstance, our Shabbat was held mere days after President Trump declared trans folks were not welcome in the military and the Justice Department asserted that civil rights laws did not include gender and sexuality in their protections. As we went through the service filled with readings, songs, and prayers specifically connected to LGBTQ themes and inclusion, I could feel the emotions and energy in the space—pain and struggle from the week’s events, anguish and worry about what was to come. But also, joy. Joy in the opportunity to be together, in showing up in community, and in looking around and realizing that each of us was not alone. To open services, we recited the following blessing:
Since coming out is a continual process, it is fitting to say a blessing or a prayer each time the process is furthered. Whether we are telling someone we haven’t seen in a while about our identity or marching in a gay pride parade, we can acknowledge our courage by saying a blessing:
Nevarekh et Eyn HaHayyim asher natna lee haozmah lazet min hamezarim.
Let us bless the source of life for giving me the courage to come out. (Source RitualWell)
There was a deep and moving connectedness to our group as we recited these words together. We had folks present who had come all the way from St. Cloud. One person rode nearly two hours on the bus in order to attend.
Throughout the evening, I saw new friendships form over shared smiles with a puppy companion, heard conversations and exchanges of information about everything from theses to recipes, and felt goosebumps on my arms as we all sang “Olam Chesed Yibaneh”—we will build this world from love. For me personally, I feel most connected to my queer Jewish community in these moments, when we create spaces where folks can feel celebrated in their Jewish and queer identities.
As we wrapped up leftovers and said our goodbyes, several participants remarked on how good it felt to be in a Jewish space that was so explicitly queer. A few people called the space “healing.”
The effects and impact of J-Pride can’t be underestimated. Growing and fostering community connections and creating a home for LGBTQ Jews is our mission, and that will always remain true. We strive to build a Jewish community and a greater community where queer and trans folks feel loved, safe, and welcome. We will continue to stand together and support one another year round, no matter what laws or legislation are on the table. We are currently working on planning the year ahead. If there are events or conversations you’d like to see happen, please reach out to us by email or on Facebook. J-Pride, like JFCS, is here for you. Always.