Living a Jewish life can mean a lot of things. It can mean celebrating the holidays, observing Shabbat, or spending time with Jewish grandparents. It can mean keeping kosher, wearing a kippah, studying Jewish texts (or Hebrew or Yiddish), or giving tzedakah and living out the Jewish value of tikkun olam.
But for many Jews, living a Jewish life also means prayer, spirituality, and going to synagogue – either twice a year for the high holidays, or more regularly. Historically, finding a safe and welcoming place to worship has been challenging for LGBTQ Jews. Starting in the 1970s, a handful of congregations formed that specifically served the LGBTQ community.
Today, more and more synagogues are becoming increasingly welcoming to all members, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. For Pride Month, Repair the World rounded up some historic and more recent congregations that were either founded by, or have made themselves particularly open to members of the LGBTQ community:
Am Tikva (Boston): Since 1976, this LGBTQ-congregation has served Boston’s community. Their first Shabbat service was held at the Boston University Hillel House, and in 2003 voted to become a formal congregation.
Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple (Beachwood, Ohio): Within this larger temple, located in the larger Cleveland area, exists a smaller synagogue called Chevrei Tikva Chavurah, which welcomes gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Jews and their families and friends for worship services.
Bet Mishpachah (Washington DC): Bet Mishpachah is a spirited, egalitarian congregation founded in 1975 to serve gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Jews, as well as anyone who wishes to participate in an inclusive, egalitarian, and mutually supportive community.
Beth Chayim Chadashim (Los Angeles): Badging itself as “the world’s first LGBT synagogue” (it was founded in 1972), BCC-LA continues to be a vibrant spiritual and communal center for Los Angeles’ LGBTQ community and allies. In 2011, the congregation moved into a beautiful, newly built eco-friendly synagogue!
Congregation Bet Haverim (Atlanta): Led by Rabbi Joshua Lesser, this Reconstructionist synagogue was founded by gay and lesbian Jews as a place where they could engage with Judaism and Jewish life in a full and safe way. Today the synagogue retains that mission, while opening itself to a diverse community of congregants.
CBST (New York City): Congregation Beth Simchat Torah has been a haven for gay Jews, their families, and straight allies since 1973. Their services, led by the visionary Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, attract a diverse crowd of including some celebrities. (Bravo’s Andy Cohen, Joan Rivers, and Cynthia Nixon have all attended high holiday services at CBST.)
Congregation Etz Chaim (Tamarac, Florida): First started in 1974 by seven gay Jews who had been attending services at Miami’s MCC church (at the time, the only place in South Florida that welcomed openly gay people), they created an independent Jewish minyan. Beginning by holding services in people’s homes, they now hold services at the Conservative-affiliated Temple Beth Torah in Tamarac.
Congregation Or Chadash (Chicago): Founded in 1976, this reform synagogue serves as the Windy City’s preeminent LGBTQ-friendly synagogue. It was founded as an answer to the prejudice that gay and lesbian Jews experienced in other synagogues, and continues to be a warm and welcoming place for all. This past spring, the congregation hired a new spiritual leader, Rabbi Cindy Enger.
Sha’har Zahav (San Francisco): Founded in 1977, this progressive and diverse congregation celebrates its history as a LGBTQ-centered community, while actively welcoming all for worship, learning, and celebration.
Temple Israel of Greater Miami (Miami): This reform congregation has within it a havurah (independent prayer group) called Ru’ach that specifically serves the synagogues LGBTQ community.
Valley Beth Shalom (Encino, CA): This 1800 family Conservative synagogue is one of the largest in the United States. While not an official LGBTQ congregation, the synagogue’s rabbinic and communal leadership actively and explicitly welcomes same-sex individuals and families.
Who did we miss? Let us know your favorite LGBTQ-friendly synagogue in the comments or by tweeting @repairtheworld #pridemonth.