2001 marks the 25th anniversary of Congregation Or Chadash, Chicago's synagogue with special outreach to the GLBT community. Translating as "new light," Or Chadash has offered Chicago's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Jews community, fellowship, and spiritual comfort throughout its rich history.
From its humble beginnings as a social group meeting in private homes, Or Chadash has matured to a full-service congregation with more than 100 members. Shabbat services are held on the first Saturday morning of the month and each subsequent Friday evening. Additionally, Or Chadash offers many educational events, and the monthly Rosh Chodesh group provides women-only space to Or Chadash's sizable lesbian constituency.
Suzanne Griffel joined Or Chadash as the congregation's first permanent rabbi in 1997. She praises Or Chadash as a community of empowered adults conjoining their Jewishness with a GLBT identity. Says Rabbi Griffel, "We celebrate our members' lifecycle events (coming out, partnerships, births) in the context of Jewish liturgy and ritual."
While some Or Chadash members have actively practiced their Judaism since childhood, many others are only beginning to explore their Jewish roots. "Before Or Chadash my only experience with shul was my naming ceremony (a ritual performed during infancy)," one new lesbian member said, "and I was nervous about the congregation at first. I thought I'd be the only one with little exposure to my faith. But I was wrong—there are plenty of us with a secular background."
According to Vice President Stephanie Friedman, the congregation's membership can be described as encompassing "out GLBTs looking to explore what's beyond purely secular Jewish life, or who just want to be a part of a community of Jews; as well as those who are already invested in being affiliated with a synagogue but have come out and need a place where they can explore how this newly recognized part of themselves can be accommodated within their Jewishness."
Or Chadash looks back with pride on its longevity, and with joyous anticipation of its next quarter century of illuminating the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Jews. Its 25th anniversary celebration will be held on Saturday, Feb. 24 at the Hotel Inter-Continental, 505 N. Michigan Ave. Cocktails are at 7:30 p.m. in the South Tower, 2nd Floor; dinner is at 8:30 p.m. in King Arthur's Court, 3rd Floor. The celebration features a cash bar, dancing and silent auction. U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of the United States House of Representatives is featured guest speaker. Cost is $100; (773) 248-9456 .
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