June 19, 2019

BCC Celebrates Shavuot with Pride

Rabbi Lisa Edwards

Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC), Los Angeles’ first gay and lesbian synagogue, and Temple Isaiah came together on the night of June 8, to celebrate Shavuot and Pride Weekend.

Titled “True Colors — A Shavuot Experience,” the event, held at BCC, was conceived by BCC Cantor Juval Porat and Temple Isaiah’s Rabbi Jaclyn Cohen. 

“We have a really nice relationship with BCC and we were talking about ways to collaborate and bring our communities together,” Cohen told the Journal. “Cantor Porat looked at the calendar and said, ‘Shavuot is falling on Pride Weekend and wouldn’t this be a wonderful opportunity?’ We brainstormed this idea of true colors and coming out, whatever that means to you no matter how you identify, and celebrating that and linking it to Torah.” 

More than 50 people attended the event and snacked on traditional Shavuot fare — cheesecake, blintzes and kugel — and listened to performances from BCC and Temple Isaiah choir members under the direction of Porat. 

Porat reflected on the act of chanting on this special occasion: “The thing I love most about chanting in nigun (melody),” he said,  “is the stillness that comes out of it. There is something very pure in that stillness. I think the act of chanting on this Pride Weekend and on this night of Shavuot … allows us to tap into that which sometimes … in our habitual living, gets hidden by shields of defense or inconvenience, and so tonight we are really invited to peel off those layers and reconnect with that which is important to us, that which is authentic to us.”

“We brainstormed this idea of true colors and coming out, whatever that means to you no matter how you identify, and celebrating that and linking it to Torah.”

— Rabbi Jaclyn Cohen

Temple Isaiah’s Rabbi Zoë Klein Miles spoke about a section of the Talmud where Rabbis Hillel and Shammai discuss what one says to a bride at her wedding. She related this to how we see each other through loving eyes and the difference between brutal truth and tenderness and support.

Outgoing BCC Senior Rabbi Lisa Edwards, who is retiring after 25 years at the end of the month, delved into the contemporary midrashic reading of the Book of Ruth and the passionate speech where Ruth the Moabite swears loyalty to her Israelite mother-in-law Naomi. 

“It’s one of the most beautiful lesbian scenes that have ever been written,” said Rabbi Edwards’ wife Lezbtzn Tracy Moore, “and it really encapsulates a feeling of complete commitment in any love and where it comes from and what it entails and what it encircles and holds close.” 

In her teaching, Cohen, said,  “Telling our stories isn’t always easy but it can lead to some beautiful, authentic truth, and I hope that as we celebrate the receiving of Torah, that the Torah script of our own lives contains more truth, more realness, more authenticity, more love, more color, more pride in our stories and more power to live as our true selves.”

The evening concluded with the choir singing “Elohai N’tzor,” with all the members dressed in clothing reflecting the colors of the rainbow, and Cohen and Porat singing Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.” 

Temple Isaiah choir member Elaine Diamond told the Journal the evening was “a wonderful connection between our two congregations. To be here on Shavuot and Pride Weekend is a double celebration. We have two wonderful cantors, Juval and Jaclyn, and the melding of their voices with the congregation’s voices just lifts all our spirits.” 

And in her last Shavuot service as senior rabbi, Edwards told the Journal the connection between Shavuot and Pride is like “the image of the crowds gathering at the foot of Sinai. It works nicely that we are walking into [the parsha of] Bamidbar this week because I always think of a Pride parade when we read about all of the tribes gathered around with the great treasure of the tabernacle and everyone has a banner and their flags to identify them. It is very Pride linked.”