Congregation Or Chadash ( Congregation of New Light ) began 40 years ago as a social club and support group for gay Jewish men and since then it has grown into a Reform congregation of over 80 LGBT and straight families, not all of whom are Jewish.
"The congregation was formed so that LGBT people who were also Jewish could gather in community for prayer, study and to celebrate holy days and significant moments of our lives together openly and as integrated beingshonoring and nurturing the wholeness of our beings: Jewish and LGBTnot needing to hide either essential aspect of our persons," said Congregation Or Chadash's Rabbi Cindy Enger. "In the past forty years, so much has changed."
The group began when Harold Goodman ran an ad in the Chicago Reader in October 1975 that said, "Gay Jewish Group — if you want to get together with other local gay Jews, call Tsvi [Harold] …" At first the men who answered Goodman's ad met at his home and when they outgrew that space the group began holding regular services at the Second Unitarian Church on Barry Street, where they stayed until 2002. The congregation then moved to its current home, Emanuel Congregation in Edgewater. They hold services in what they call the "Stonewall Chapel."
"I want for all people, LGBT and straight, to find something personally meaningful in their lives, something that will help them to truly connect with others in a way that is personal and intimate. Being Jewish, for me, is a major part of my life and as a gay man I wanted to meet others who had this same connection," said Goodman. "The original intention wasn't to start a religious group, a synagogue, since many gay and lesbian Jews were not primarily interested in that. What we wanted most of all was to connect with others like us; people who loved and honored our Jewishness and also were gay and lesbian."
"Forty years ago, it wasn't easy to be a gay Jew or a gay or lesbian anything so we were that welcoming and accepting group that we still are today. We have now have an ordained rabbi that happens to be a lesbian and that's amazing to me because for so many years we were a lay led congregation," said Norman Sandfield, longtime member and former board member and congregation president. " I think it surprises non-LGBT Jews that come to our services that we are just like other Jewish congregations."
Not long after forming, the congregation began holding celebrations every year at various restaurants and in 1999 the annual gathering turned into an official gala.
This year's annual gala will be held at the Hotel Allegro on Saturday, April 25, at 6-10:30 p.m. They will be honoring Judith Golden, cantorial soloist for the congregation, as well as two of the three founding members of the congregation, Bob Cohn and Frank Nussbaum. On the weekend of the gala celebration, the congregation and other religious communities across the country will be participating in the "National Weekend of Prayer for the Freedom to Marry."
"We were early adopters of gender neutral language and we rewrote the entire prayer book line by line to reflect that language. We also rewrote the Passover Seder prayer to be gender neutral," said Cohn. "It's wonderful that we are celebrating 40 years as a congregation. I'm so glad that the newer, younger members of our congregation have kept this going with their energy and dedication."
"Over the years, we've had gala honorees from outside of our congregation including LGBT allies and supporters such as Rep. Jan Schakowsky and state Sen. Sara Feigenholtz. Every year, we honor people from within our congregation but when someone seems deserving from outside our congregation we honor them as well," said Lilli Kornblum, longtime member and current congregation president. "This 40th-anniversary celebration recognizes the incredible dedication and commitment from our members and the community over the years. The fact that we continue to be a viable and active congregation is a strong sign that there is still a place for religious organizations such as Congregation Or Chadash that focus on the LGBT community."
Not only is the congregation celebrating 40 years of existence this year, they were also inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 2007.
To purchase tickets for the gala, visit https://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/eventReg?oeidk=a07eaoepqos9d50e803&oseq=&c=46a6dc60-a82e-11e4-99f2-d4ae52733bf0&ch=46aad400-a82e-11e4-99f2-d4ae52733bf0.
See www.orchadash.rjweb-builder.com for more information.