Congregation Bet Haverim celebrated three decades as Atlanta’s first gay and lesbian synagogue with a multimedia presentation about its origins.
The occasion is a bittersweet reminder for Michael McNeir-Clark, the only survivor of the shul’s four original founders.
“Increasingly during the 1980s, there was a growing sense of urgency: Don’t whine; fix it. Don’t put things off; there might not be a tomorrow,” McNeir-Clark told the Atlanta Jewish Times by email.
The creation of Bet Haverim — Secretary of State Max Cleland certified the articles of incorporation June 24, 1986 — followed soon after the emergence of the AIDS epidemic and its devastating consequences. Gary Piccola and Robert Needle, two of McNeir-Clark’s co-founders, died of AIDS complications within a week of each other in 1989.
The congregation was at first ostracized, and its members were identified in official records solely by their initials. Newsletters were sent out in plain brown envelopes. Bet Haverim was denied permission to join the Synagogue Council of Greater Atlanta, ostensibly because it lacked a full-fledged rabbi.