A Pride Shabbat dinner on July 28 was the first-ever effort in Halifax to bring together the local Jewish and LBGTQ communities to foster support, understanding and respect between the two groups.
Last year’s Pride Halifax annual general meeting was disrupted by cries of anti-Semitism. This year’s Shabbat dinner helped mend the rift.
Hosted by the Atlantic Jewish Council (AJC), with assistance from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), two Halifax synagogues and several corporate sponsors, the rooftop event drew 115 people to the Halifax waterfront.
Ariella Kimmel, CIJA’s senior manager of partnerships, who was in town for the event from Toronto, said, “This is the second of five planned Shabbat dinners we’re supporting with LBGTQ communities across Canada (the first was in Toronto in June 2017) because Shabbat is a time for people to come together.
“This was a tremendous success. Naomi (Rosenfeld, executive director of AJC) and her team did a fantastic job of putting this together. Despite the size of the Halifax community, the sell-out crowd far surpassed the one in Toronto.”
She added that the event had significance after last year’s Pride AGM fiasco. “It was hurtful to both communities. This was an important step to heal the rift,” she said.
At its AGM last October, Halifax Pride defeated a resolution that called for the banning of Size Doesn’t Matter (SDM) and other materials at Pride that showcase the achievements of Israel’s LGBTQ community. SDM is a Canadian program run by CIJA, which highlights Israeli culture, technology, lifestyle and values.
For several years in Halifax, the AJC has made use of SDM materials while leading a contingent of LGBTQ and allied Jewish community members participating in annual Pride events. The resolution singled out the Jewish community for censorship, but its defeat ensured Pride’s core values of inclusion and equality would be upheld at future events.
Rosenfeld called the Shabbat dinner a “beautiful celebration of inclusion. There were amazing conversations at every table and people heard unique stories.”
With Liberal MP Andy Fillmore and MLA Rafah Dicostanzo in attendance, Morgan Manzer, chair of Halifax Pride, emphasized that events like this “help us listen to one another, understand each other.”
Manzer was grateful the AJC proposed the Shabbat dinner. With a smile, he noted that, “Food is a unifier.”
Recently admitted to the bar, Manzer, a Nova Scotia Legal Aid lawyer, said this is the first step toward rebuilding trust between Pride and the AJC, and between Pride and other groups.
He painfully told his own story of coming out. “I was confused with (my) own identity, growing up in a small town in New Brunswick and knowing no one who was gay. In my early 20s, I accepted who I was. In 2011, working in Halifax, I marched in the Pride parade and realized I could embrace who I was. I felt accepted and filled with hope,” he said.
One guest speaker, Sherri Kasten of Halifax, was frank in her remarks:
“Today, there are Jews here, and queers, and we are all welcomed at this dinner. There is more connecting us than dividing us. I’m Jewish, I’m queer and I’m a left-winger, an interesting combination. I have found Pride in Halifax to be very healing.”
Kasten participated in the recent Halifax Pride Parade, saying that, “For one day, we aspired to be rainbow people, singing and dancing in the streets. I was a proud queer and proud Jew, blending my sensitivities with others. I just hoped not to be vilified.”
Schuyler Smith, a former AJC board member who’s now on the board of Halifax Pride, welcomed guests by explaining Shabbat traditions, inviting Jewish community members to lead the blessings over the hand washing, wine and challah, and explained the mitzvah of having guests at Shabbat dinner.