Since becoming Congregation Bet Haverim’s spiritual leader in 1999, gay Rabbi Joshua Lesser has made a mark on the Reconstructionist synagogue and beyond.
Membership at Bet Haverim has risen 300 percent, and the congregation has become a model for inclusivity while ending decades of wandering through private houses and rented spaces by moving into its own building in Toco Hills in 2015. The synagogue’s religious school had fewer than 40 students in 1999; now it has more than 125.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Lesser has been named one of the most influential rabbis in North America.
Bet Haverim will honor Rabbi Lesser for his 18th year with the congregation and celebrate its 30th anniversary Wednesday, Nov. 2, with a reception at Gallery 874 in West Midtown.
Rabbi Lesser helped Bet Haverim, founded in June 1986, transition from a synagogue primarily serving gay men and lesbians to one open to all Jews and their loved ones.
Since 1999, many synagogues that exclusively served the LGBTQ community across the nation have closed or merged with other synagogues.
“I love that we’re celebrating our 30th year and my 18th year at the same time,” Rabbi Lesser said. “Because places like Bet Haverim existed, it gave me courage to take the steps to becoming a rabbi at a time when there were much fewer gay and lesbian people taking that risk. For me, what’s most meaningful is that I’m an Atlantan. Part of what I’ve hoped to do is not only to add to the well-being of a synagogue, but to the well-being of the city that nurtured me. To create a greater sense of inclusion in our community has been very powerful.”