Bay Area Jews celebrate marriage equality, Pride weekend

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Members of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav were so happy about the Supreme Court ruling establishing marriage equality in all 50 states that they just had to dance.

The historically LGBT synagogue in San Francisco posted a video of adults and children dancing outdoors to the soundtrack of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” shortly after the June 26 ruling, which came two days before the city’s 45th annual Pride Parade.

The timing of the historic ruling meant that Pride celebrations around the Bay Area were more exuberant than usual. And Jewish groups were front and center during the festivities.

Camp Newman, Keshet, American Jewish World Service and the JCC of San Francisco all marched in the San Francisco Pride Parade. They were joined by a contingent of at least 15 synagogues marching under the banner of the Union for Reform Judaism.

The American Jewish World Service contingent in the San Francisco Pride Parade on June 28 photo/ajws

A number of local congregations held Pride Shabbat services that weekend — including Congregations Sha’ar Zahav and Emanu-El in San Francisco and Congregation Beth El in Berkeley. The JCC of San Francisco hosted a Pride happy hour and Keshet and Piedmont’s Kehilla Community Synagogue hosted a Shabbat picnic in Dolores Park before the Trans March. And for the third straight year, Congregation B’nai Emunah of San Francisco had a booth in Civic Center Plaza on Pride Sunday, this year adding Jewish trivia questions to the mix.

“Today, I am proud to be a U.S. American,” Rabbi David Cooper told Kehilla Community Synagogue attendees during Pride weekend Saturday services. “Each service we end with some version of the Jewish prayer, Aleinu, which says that it is up to us to take the service’s message to repair our broken world for peace and justice and to make it real beyond the walls of the synagogue. We dedicate our prayer today to the decades of struggle and to our well-deserved time of celebration.”

Major Jewish groups across the country, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, celebrated the Supreme Court ruling, though some conservative Jewish groups expressed concern about the decision. Joe Goldman, public affairs and civic engagement manager for the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council, rushed to San Francisco’s city hall after the ruling to celebrate with the masses.

“I’m in a state of awe … I really look at today’s marriage ruling as a testament to the social change that has happened,” Goldman said on June 26.

Goldman, 26, said he received support when he came out as gay at the age of 14, but still never believed that marriage equality would come so quickly. “Many of the leading LGBT voices in this city are also members of the Jewish community, and I am very proud of that,” he said. “I think it’s a testament to LGBT Jews who have really built incredible community both in the LGBT realms as well as the Jewish realm. You can go to almost any shul in this city and, at virtually every one, you will find families headed by same-sex couples.”

San Francisco Super­visor Scott Wiener said support for marriage equality is characteristic of a Jewish community that embraces the values of equality and justice.

Marchers with Congregation Beth Emek of Pleasanton include (from left) Reina Leibovitch, Skylar Cohen and Janet Milder. photo/facebook-congregation beth emek

“The Jewish community has always been at the forefront in other community’s civil rights battles,” Wiener told J. “Jews participated in the founding of the NAACP; Jews went to the South in the ’60s to fight for civil rights; Jews have been incredibly supportive of the LGBT community.”

In a Tumblr post, Congregation Emanu-El celebrated the expansion of marriage equality as a victory for religious liberty.

“This decision is a victory for human dignity, for equality, for gay rights but also for religious freedom,” the Emanu-El clergy wrote. “As rabbis and cantors, we have been welcoming gay couples under the chuppah for years, but these ceremonies did not have the support of the law throughout the country. Now they will and we can rejoice that we are finally free to sanctify these beautiful families and help them enjoy the legal benefits of marriage.”

“This victory has been a long time coming, and the path that’s led us here is one filled with risk, activism, sacrifice and quiet deeds of heroism we may never be fully aware of,” Rabbi Rebecca Gutterman of Congregation B’nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek wrote in an email to members. “Like many of us, I rejoice with my family members and dear friends who walk in full equality today. As a congregation, we can also take special pride in the hard work — our own and that of our fellow Jews — who have argued for a world that is more diverse, and more affirming of love and family in its many manifestations.”

After the ruling came down, Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills posted on Facebook the last paragraph of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion, and added simply: “Can we get an AMEN!”

Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a former J. reporter who writes about education, families and Jewish life. She lives with her husband and two sons.