By Sharon Gittleman
OAK PARK – For Reconstructionists, Judaism is a faith that evolves over time, with Jewish culture and community at its core.
Gays, lesbians, transsexuals and bisexuals are welcome in that community – with open arms and without reservation.
That was the message of Student Rabbi Jordi Gendra when he visited the Reconstructionist Congregation T’Chiyah in Oak Park March 9.
Gendra, who is affiliated with the synagogue, spoke about the relationship between the LGBT community and the Reconstructionist denomination to the dozen people who came to the Congregation’s meeting room for the discussion.
The Reconstructionist movement was the first Jewish sect to recognize LGBT rights, said Peter Cooper, a member of Congregation T’Chiyah and the Jewish Gay Network of Michigan.
“It seems like, as Reconstructionists and GLBT Jews, we should have a natural alliance,” said Cooper, who organized the event.
Cooper said he hoped the meeting would inspire Reconstructionists and Jewish gays and lesbians to understand and help each other more.
“I want people to know there’s a congregation LGBT people can feel comfortable participating in,” he said.
The Reconstructionist movement is the youngest branch of Judaism. It was founded in the U.S. in the 1920s, said Gendra, who is gay.
Gendra, a native of Barcelona, Spain, said he turned to the Reconstructionist movement because he thought it would be unfair to apply to a rabbinical college that “put his partner in the closet.”
“Many years ago, we couldn’t imagine talking about LGBT issues in public,” he said.
Attitudes toward gays and lesbians have changed and need to change more in the future, he said.
“We have to acknowledge the presence and create the room and rituals to respond to the GLBT community,” said Gendra. “As Jews, we shouldn’t tolerate discrimination.”
Gendra said he doesn’t read the Bible literally.
“The Bible talks to me and I talk to the Bible,” he said.
Part of the problem is language and cultural context, he said. When the Bible describes certain sexual acts as an “abomination,” it could actually be making reference to the “sacred prostitution” practiced by Canaanite cults of that time – not love between men.
“We have lost the keys of interpretation,” he said. “The Bible is something that comes from the 5th century. How we read it today is very different.”
Gendra believes other Jewish denominations will become more welcoming to the LGBT community.
“Sooner or later it will happen,” he said.
Gays and lesbians can ease that process forward, he said.
“The first thing to do is to be present,” he said. “It requires chutzpah – the boldness of saying, ‘I’m gay and I’m here.'”
Helping people see beyond the abstract notion of “gay people” to the person sitting next to them in the synagogue is important, he said.
“It’s our responsibility to help people go through the process of understanding,” he said. “When the problem has a face the situation changes.”
Roz Schindler, Congregation T’Chiyah’s president, said the 60-family synagogue is making efforts to reach out to different organizations, like JGN.
Maureen Bernard, who attends services at the Congregation, said she thought the Rabbi’s discussion about Reconstructionist values was enlightening.
“I’ve always known the LGBT community was welcome, but I didn’t know why and how,” she said.