Recently, we celebrated a week of LGBTQ Pride events to kick-off Pride month at Temple Beth Shalom in Hudson. At Hudson’s Memorial Day Parade, my wife, my son and I joined the new group “Pride in Hudson,'' as we marched through the parade route together. It was wonderful to hear a chorus of cheers and applause as our banner was welcomed throughout the route.
A few days later, I convened a Jewish law court, or Beit Din, as we immersed two of our conversion students to Judaism at the ritual bath or mikvah. One is trans and the other is non-binary. Tears flowed easily down our cheeks as we welcomed them ritually into the Jewish community.
Voices of Faith: You are not alone in your demand for justice in wake of gun violence
On Friday, June 3, TBS Hudson hosted its inaugural Pride Shabbat. Four of our community members spoke about their intersections of their queer identities and their Jewish identities. We read special poems and sang a few queer anthems as well.
At our Torah Service that evening, we asked our two newest members — our recent conversion candidates — to carry the Torah scrolls and process them through the community. Placing the two Torah scrolls in their arms was one of the great blessings of my rabbinate. We welcomed in the holiday of Shavuot, where Jews celebrate the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. We were re-enacting that moment with our newest members. Our Judaism 101 class had joined us that evening for a special dinner. In that class we have a second small group of conversion candidates who witnessed the successful completion of the conversion journey in Judaism.
The following evening, at B’nai Jeshurun in Pepper Pike, in honor of the festival of Shavuot, TBS co-sponsored an all-night community study session to prepare us for the moment of receiving the Torah. We were joined by more than a dozen other groups. I was one of the first teachers that evening, and I led a session about the Book of Ruth, which is the special study text for the holiday. Ruth is the story of a non-Jewish woman who is considered the first convert to Judaism. I spoke about how before the pandemic, I had one or two students a year interested in conversion, maybe. During the first year of the pandemic that number grew to 5. This year it grew to more than a dozen students from TBS and Kent State Hillel who are now studying for conversion. The majority of these conversion students are part of the LGBTQ community, and it’s up to us to welcome them with open arms.
Our Jewish community is broadening and expanding. It is such a joy and blessing to have these new faces in our community who challenge us to love them with the same unconditional love that Ruth showed Naomi in the Book of Ruth.
May we go from strength to strength.
Rabbi Michael Ross is the Rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom in Hudson and the Senior Jewish Educator at Kent State Hillel. He also teaches in the Jewish Studies department at Kent State.
This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: Voices of Faith: Celebrating LGBTQ Pride, conversion and Torah