Why this LGBT Synagogue is Moving Beyond Its 40-Year Mission

San Francisco LGBT congregation Sha’ar Zahav marks 40 years, and there’s no intention to toss out its rainbow flags or stop participating in Pride week events. However, recent changes at Sha’ar Zahav epitomize an evolution taking place around the country.

At Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco, Rabbi Mychal Copeland leads Shabbat services with a rainbow tallit around her shoulders. The synagogue newsletter is called “The Jewish Gaily Forward.”

But the shul that has been known since its 1977 founding as San Francisco’s gay synagogue is now reaching out to a broader community and de-emphasizing its identity as an LGBT-specific congregation.

That reflects the Reform congregation’s changing demographics as well as the evolution in attitudes toward LGBT people in the greater Jewish community, in which other local shuls now also welcome homosexual, bisexual and transgender congregants and clergy.

“This year we’re marking 40 years, and that’s a significant number in Judaism,” said Michael Chertok, Sha’ar Zahav’s president and a member since 1993. “It’s hard to say we’ve come into the Promised Land, but we’re really in a new place as far as LGBT rights in this country.”

Sha’ar Zahav — while retaining its “queer values” core — is focusing on how to serve a congregation that is increasingly of mixed gender, including residents of the Castro who are not gay.

Arthur Slepian, who joined Sha’ar Zahav in 1989 and served as its president from 2003 to 2006, said he’s proud of the synagogue’s leading role in the move to greater inclusiveness in the Jewish community and happy it can now broaden its appeal. Continue reading on J Weekly