History of an Inclusive Jewish Congregation

Members of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (Photo via the Jewish Week)

Members of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (Photo via the Jewish Week)

Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, which expects about 4,000 worshippers to attend its Kol Nidrei services at the Jacob Javits Center this year, has for 40 years drawn congregants from the LGBT community in New York. To recognize and celebrate its inclusive history, the congregation is publishing a history, “Changing Lives, Making History: Congregation Beit Simchat Torah – The First Forty Years,” reports Sandee Brawarsky of The Jewish Week.

The illustrated volume was written by Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen, who details the congregation’s beginnings.

The congregation’s roots go back to February 1973, when a small group of gay Jews, just about a minyan, met to celebrate Shabbat together, in the annex of the Church of the Holy Apostles in Chelsea.

The book uses archival materials, photographs, first-person account and information sources to tell the story of CBST, now located on Bethune Street in Greenwich Village. Profiles of lay and rabbinic leaders are included.

[The history] is also a larger story of what was going on in New York City over these years and the evolution of the LGBT movement — and an important contribution to American Jewish history. Now, LGBT Jews may feel comfortable attending many synagogues of various denominations, and that’s a testament in part to CBST’s pioneering efforts.

The synagogue maintains an inclusive approach, and the services on the evening of Oct. 3 will be no different, as they are open to everyone.

“Our mission has always been to serve a congregation that’s bigger than our congregation,” longtime member Regina Linder says. “Ingathering is a way to describe what we do.”

Congregation Beit Simchat Torah describes itself as an LGBTQS synagogue, inclusive of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Find out more about CBST’s history, including the time it spread word through “flyers at bars and Village shops.”

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