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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-02-22



Congregation Or Chadash holds final Pride Shabbat

This article shared 779 times since Wed Jun 29, 2016
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By Gretchen Rachel Hammond

A bittersweet feeling was echoed by most of the over 70 people who attended what was to not only be the final Pride Shabbat service but the final service held at the North Side's Congregation Or Chadash June 24.

After 41 years of leading the way in demonstrating that the Jewish faith is open to all regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, Or Chadash will now fold into the larger Temple Sholom in Lake View.

With Or Chadash Rabbi Cindy Enger and Cantorial Soloist Judith Golden leading, the beachside barbecue and Shabbat service marked the end of an era in which a unified community became a loving family of, in the words of's Rabbi Rueben Zellan, "twilight people."

The entire congregation spoke his prayer during the service in peaceful understanding.

"We can never be fully labeled or defined," Zellan wrote. "We are many identities and loves, many genders and none. We are in between roles, at the intersection of histories, or between place and place. We are crisscrossed paths of memory and destination, streaks of light swirled together. We are neither day nor night. We are both, neither, and all."

Some of those in attendance had been with Or Chadash at its very first meeting which, in a fitting irony, took place not in a synagogue but at a home.

One of them was Frank Nussbaum.

"I think there were 10 of us," he told Windy City Times. "I never felt comfortable in a synagogue. So it was good. It worked out, but it's time now to go a different way."

That different way was ample reason for optimism among those gathered in the midst of remembrance and celebration.

"I don't think there's really a need for a separate group anymore," Nussbaum said. "There are many temples that are [LGBT] friendly now. Temple Sholom has its own group and, in the Windy City Times during High Holidays, other temples say they are welcoming. Times change and attitudes change."

Norman Sandfield —who was on the Or Chadash Board for 24 years—said, "When the gay religious movement started and we used to have interfaith meetings, the feeling was that if we were successful we would put ourselves out of business. Forty years later, we've got our own identity, rabbi, place, history and all these wonderful things. LGBT congregations have gone out of business across the country. Mainstream Jewish congregations have gone out of business or have merged. This is not new."

Sandfield put a lot of that down to younger generations finding a sense of community online.

"But I look at our successes," he added. "We've had four Rabbis. We were a lay-lead congregation until Roy Furman showed up and he became our first mainstream rabbi. In the early days, if everybody didn't come to every meeting and every event we wouldn't have existed but people did and we succeeded. They were good times and we were lucky."

A member of the younger generation, Jay Gelles is a current board member of Or Chadash. Yet he, too, felt a mixture of sadness and hope.

"On the one hand the broader social acceptance is really wonderful," he said. "But this congregation has been a big part of my life, growth and development as a human being. A lot of the people here have a very special place in my heart and we have a great sense of community that will be very hard to replicate."

He noted that Temple Sholom have been extremely generous and welcoming as Or Chadash folds into that congregation and becomes the new name of the synagogue's LGBT group.

"I really feel that it's the right decision," Gelles said. "This is the best way to maintain our legacy."

However, not everyone was enthusiastic about the move.

Some members said they intended to shop around before making a decision on where they would go next. Some are already members of a different synagogue.

Erin Sanders is a trans woman who used to be a part of Or Chadash but whose work schedule as a truck driver caused her to switch to Emanuel Congregation.

"I have really mixed feelings about Temple Sholom," she said. "Such a large synagogue never sat well with me. It's just the way I was raised. It's old school Reform there. Part of the beauty of coming to Shul for me is community. It's wonderful that more of us are accepted in mainstream Shuls but unfortunately it's only in urban areas. Or Chadash welcomed everybody from all the different movements. Although services were technically part of the Reform movement, they reflected parts of the Orthodox and Conservative services."

For this night though and, as the sun began to make way to a clear night sky, Enger began the Shabbat service by remembering that, for the past 41 years, Or Chadash has built a community of love.

Such a legacy was best summed up in the song Olam Chesed Yibaneh ( music and lyrics by Rabbi Menachem Creditor ) in which the congregation representing multiple generations which Nussbaum remembered as "wonderful people who were part of a huge number of firsts" joined Golden in reverence and joy.

"I will build this world from love.

And you must build this world from love

And if we build this world from love

Then God will build this world from love."

This article shared 779 times since Wed Jun 29, 2016
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