On the occasion of the Rainbow Jews exhibition launch in Brighton for LGBT History Month 2015, Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah reflects on Jewish LGBT History.
The title of the Rainbow Jews project tells us something crucial about the journey of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews since the days before the 1967 ‘Sexual Offences Act, which decriminalised ‘homosexual acts’ between two men in private.
As the project booklet puts it (p.1), ‘Fifty years ago being Jewish and LGBT meant that you were invisible and unwanted.’
Since that time, legal and social developments in Britain, and changes in attitudes and policies within the progressive movements – and in particular, within Liberal Judaism, which hosted the Heritage Lottery funded project – have meant that at long last LGBT Jews have something to celebrate.
The Rainbow Jews exhibition, the fruit of the Rainbow Jews project, tells the story of that journey from secrecy, fear and loneliness to solidarity, pride, and celebration – and the role played by LGBT Jews in liberating ourselves, and fostering and promoting inclusion and equality within Jewish life.
Further, as the symbol of the rainbow proclaims, LGBT is an identity of many colours, defying stereotypes. And so, the exhibition demonstrates that LGBT Jews like Jews in general come from a variety of different backgrounds across the denominational and cultural spectrum, and encompass diverse Jewish and LGBT perspectives and experiences.
I am particularly delighted that the Rainbow Jews exhibition is being held in Brighton.
Ordained in 1989, as one of the pioneer LGBT rabbis, I had personally been tripped up by many hazardous bumps on the road to equality, when I arrived in Brighton in March 2000. And then, Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue (B&HPS) took a chance on me – and the rest, as they say is history.
Since I commenced working as Rabbi of B&HPS in December 2000, the congregation has got fully behind Liberal Judaism’s equality and inclusion agenda, and in March 2006, when my partner, Jess Wood, and I celebrated our chuppah at the synagogue, following our Civil Partnership, the building was packed beyond capacity.
More recently, as the redevelopment of the synagogue building gets underway, a commitment has been made to install gender neutral toilets – an important signal that inclusion extends from LG and B to T: Transgender Jews.
This February, the Rainbow Jews exhibition is taking place in Brighton during LGBT History Month 2015 – an annual festival of celebratory and educational activities highlighting the history and lives of LGBT people. And so, another milestone has been reached: the acknowledgement and inclusion of Rainbow Jews in LGBT life.
Rainbow Jews project manager Surat Shaan Knan added in an interview with Liberal Judaism: ‘Yesterday’s launch event attracted over 50 history & heritage connoisseurs from all walks of life – and more people were asking for invites! The [Jubilee] Library foyer was packed. The atmosphere was fantastic; there was a real buzz in the room.
Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah gave a powerful and passionate speech about being LGBT and Jewish. It’s great to see this project is making such a difference to the wider community.
I’d like to thank all our donors and volunteers for their on-going support. The Brighton launch is hosted by Jubilee Library and the reception was kindly sponsored by Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah (Brighton & Hove Progressive Synagogue) and Barefoot Wines. And, did you know – Barefoot Wines have been supporting LGBT campaigns for over 25 years?’
Find out how you can support this ground-breaking initiative via www.rainbowjews.com