TORONTO — Congregation Shir Libeynu will be gearing up for Toronto’s annual Pride Week with a special Shabbat service on June 2 that honours “queer Jews, our allies, and the people we love,” the shul’s website said.
Aviva Goldberg, the spiritual leader of Shir Libeynu, a Toronto liberal, inclusive, egalitarian and unaffiliated shul, said this will be the sixth annual LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning) Pride service the congregation has held, but isn’t totally comfortable calling it a “pride-themed” service.
“We’ve always had a problem with calling it a pride-themed service because right from our inception, we’ve been inclusive. I don’t like the term gay-friendly. It’s nice to be friendly to everybody and everybody is, but we are more than just that,” Goldberg said.
“We’ve always been inclusive. Our members are from all denominations of Judaism, as well as all sexual orientations.”
Shir Libeynu, which will be celebrating its 16th year on Rosh Hashanah, holds Shabbat services on the first Saturday morning of each month in the Michael Bernstein Chapel in Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre.
She explained that for the past six years, the Shabbat service that runs in advance of Pride Week (June 22 to July 1) focuses on the diverse Jewish LBGTQ population.
The service is based on an Eit Ratzon siddur, a transliterated text that focuses on the meaning of the prayers and incorporates readings from other texts.
“There is a great deal of participation. Different people recite the readings, and the dvar Torah that will be read at this service will specifically focus on inclusivity, and the fact that Judaism is open, we believe, to everybody,” Goldberg said.
“Many of our readings are adapted from a variety of siddurim – for example one called Sha’ar Zahav – which the gay-lesbian synagogue in San Francisco put together.”
Goldberg said the service is different each year. “I happen to be a professor at York University and my work has to do with religious studies, so that allows me to do a lot of research that is both for my work at the university and for the synagogue.”
She said she just read a book called Keep Your Wives Away from Them: Orthodox Women, Unorthodox Desires from which she’ll pull excerpts to be read during the service.
In addition to the readings, the service will also incorporate music, which will be led by singer-songwriter Daniela Gesundheit, who doubles as Shir Libeynu’s cantor.
Goldberg, who has been the spiritual leader since the shul’s inception, said that while Shir Libeynu may not be affiliated with the mainstream Jewish denominations, the fact that the congregation has multiplied over the years is evidence that it fills a need in the Jewish community.
“We started out with about 75 people who came to our services… There are now about 300 who come to our High Holiday services,” she said. “We’re a congregation of people who want to be at shul, and we feel comfortable in all aspects of our lives. I mean that from a sense of pride, but I also mean that they can be all of who they are when they come to the synagogue.”