At last, gay and lesbian synagogue hires a rabbi

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CHICAGO — Twenty-two years after it was founded, Congregation Or Chadash, Chicago's only gay and lesbian congregation, has hired its first permanent rabbi.

The Reform-affiliated temple named Rabbi Suzanne Griffel, 35, to head its 120-member congregation.

"This is an important milestone for the members to have hired a rabbi," said Griffel. "It is a mark that the congregation is really dynamic and growing — that it is coming of age."

The members wanted a rabbi who would focus on outreach and growth, Griffel said.

The decision to choose a rabbi who is not gay reflects the congregation's intent to reach out beyond the gay and lesbian community.

Two years ago, Or Chadash then-president Steven Joachim said that as some mainstream synagogues become more open to homosexuality, gay and lesbian congregations would have to diversify if they are to survive.

"There is substantive Jewish learning and living that goes on at Or Chadash," Griffel said. "We want this to be a comforting and welcoming place for everyone, while at the same time we don't want the service to be a patchwork."

Prior to being appointed the temple's rabbi, she served as acting director at the University of Chicago's Hillel.