Feeling Like A Rock Star at Chicago’s Gay Pride Parade
by Andrew B. Simmons
The URJ’s Incubator Grant enabled Temple Sholom to enter Chicago’s Gay Pride parade for the first time in June 2011. We are the first mainstream synagogue in Chicago to have ever done so, and we will do so again this year. But the grant was just the “incubator” that enabled an incredibly supportive temple to take its social Justice practice to the next level.
Let me explain. For 20 years, my partner Mitchell and I have belonged to Temple Sholom as a family. As far as this temple is concerned, there has never been a distinction between one “type” of family and another. Here, a family is what you define it to be, and in my opinion, this is how it should be.
More than 10 years ago, we were married in this sanctuary. We walked down the main sanctuary aisle with my then-nearly-80-year-old mother (who, by the way, God willing, will be 90 this summer). It was a Saturday evening in June, a perfect day weather-wise, and the sun was streaming through the magnificent stained glass windows. The sanctuary was bathed in a golden glow. There was beautiful music, loving words, a chuppah, and more than 100 friends and family there to support and affirm us. It’s really impossible to put a value on an experience such as that or on the institution that enabled such an event to occur – and remember, that was in the “dark ages” of 2001!
Mitchell has been president of the Temple Brotherhood and sat on the Board of Directors of Temple Sholom. I have sung in the Shir Shohom choir, taught an adult education class on nigguns, and have worked with Cantor Aviva Katzman to begin our Mindful Jewish Aging group to address the spiritual needs and concerns of people over 50.
I have also worked with fellow congregant Edwards Buice and a host of extremely dedicated clergy and staff here to begin the group called “Am Keshet,” or “People of the Rainbow,” Temple Sholom’s outreach group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people and their supporters. Support from the URJ’s Incubator Grant helped get our organization off to a big start by enabling Temple Sholom to participate for the first time in Chicago’s Gay Pride Parade last year – and boy, did we participate in a big way!
Along with more than two dozen fellow members, staff, and clergy of Temple Sholom – gay and straight – we marched in Chicago’s annual Gay Pride Parade for the first time with our temple. Our stunning replica of our sacred building was perched on a float accompanied by a pair of three-foot high speakers blasting music the cantor, rabbi, and I chose, that was, shall we say, “diverse.” When was the last time you heard Barbra Streisand singing “Don’t Rain On My Parade” in the same song set as Israeli rap music and a choir from Uganda singing in Hebrew? We were cheered on like rock stars by hundreds of thousands of people along the route. There were shouts of “Go Jews!” and “We Love The Jews!” (when was the last time you heard that?) and even “Shabbat Shalom!” OK, it was a Sunday afternoon, but their hearts were in the right place.
This was one of the highlights of my life, and other participants have expressed similar feelings. We were all floating on such a high afterward that it took days to come down. Again, it’s impossible to put a value on an experience such as that or on the institutions that enabled such an event to occur. And the support we received! As mentioned, the URJ grant was key, but so also was the time and effort, enthusiastically given and offered by so many staff and clergy at the Temple. We have made many friends here and always feel like we are coming home to be with our family when we walk through these doors.
Honestly I can’t imagine that there are many synagogues in the world – or any synagogues in the world – where we could have had these life-changing experiences. I feel very grateful that Temple Sholom has been such an important part of my life for the past two decades.
As members of Temple Sholom, Mitchell and I have been accepted, embraced, and supported. We have grown intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally, and have been guided along the path by remarkable clergy.
We are very grateful.
Andrew B. Simmons is a member of Temple Sholom of Chicago and co-founder of Am Keshet (People of the Rainbow).