Mitziut Jewish Community in Chicago's West Rogers Park neighborhood celebrates the High Holy Days for the sixth year beginning with Rosh Hashanah on the eve of Sept. 29. The independent, inclusive Jewish group welcomes members of the LGBT community to its events, including the Holy Day services, biweekly Shabbat services and monthly Drum Circle, said its founder, Rabbi Menachem Cohen.
Membership Chair Rachel Kalom said she discovered Miziut as she searched for a community 'where I didn't have to sideline my politics or any of the other kind of identities that I inhabit right now, if I want to identify as queer, or as a feminist, or as interested in an egalitarian community. All of those things mesh really well' in Miziut, where 'everyone is so open to accepting what direction you're coming from, what path you have.'
Mitziut, which comes from the Hebrew word for 'reality,' was formed as a community so that 'we could do Judaism in a way that made sense to us,' Cohen said. 'Some of the important things that we think about is that we're trying to understand the meaning of the text we're looking at, or the meaning of the holiday we're celebrating or the prayer that we're saying. What does this mean for us, how does this tell us how to live our lives today?
'We also sing and dance and drum and eat together, and schmooze,' Cohen said, adding 'it's natural' that the LGBT community has been included in Miziut, as he works in Lakeview with queer youth, and he imagines creating a line of children's books 'where Joey's parents are same-sex, and Andy's parents are opposite sex, and they just show up as characters,' he said. 'We want to create an environment as a natural thing where all are accepted.'
Shabbat services are held on the second and fourth Fridays of the month—typically in a home on the second Friday and a public venue on the fourth Friday. High Holy Day services begin Sept. 29, the evening of Rosh Hashanah, and will be held the following day, as well as Oct. 8-9 for Yom Kippur, with a sliding fee for tickets.
Miziut's Drum Circle attracts a dozen or more attendees monthly, where drumming is 'like prayer, and we chant some Hebrew lines, and we drum, and have a good time,' Cohen said.
'It's also a non-denominational group, so I feel like people that are Orthodox can come, people that are atheist can come, people who are not Jewish can come and explore, and it's a safe place for all of those things to happen,' Kalom said.
As Membership Chair, she said she hopes to 'get the word out that we're a safe, welcoming and open environment, because I feel like that in some ways I sort of stumbled across that aspect of it,' and she'd like to 'put out there to other LGBTQ folks that, 'Hey, this is an option', and we're actively seeking folks to come and join us.'
A relevant part of Cohen's background includes attending the Burning Man Project in Nevada for eight years, creating the Black Rock JCC, which he said draws as many as 200 attendees to Shabbat services during the event. He noted that Burning Man draws 'people on the fringes,' and distinguished between 'going out to serve people who aren't me, like reaching out to the young people at Rock—I'm going to my people, you know, so going to Burning Man for me is not service, it's just living.'