Bet Tikvah

Being LGBT and a Jew in Pittsburgh

If you think about being Jewish in Pittsburgh you can’t help but to think about Squirrel Hill. Who hasn’t made that connection? After all – it was estimated that 33% of Pittsburgh’s Jewish population lived there at one point. With well over 20 synagogues it was certainly the Pittsburgh hub of Jewish identity. But what about being Gay & Jewish? Pittsburgh has always lacked a “gayborhood” and a central meeting point so where does someone who is LGBT go for some Jewish spirituality?

Enter Bet Tikvah which bills itself as a “welcoming, queer-centric, independent minyan.” Minyan is the Hebrew word for the quorum of ten Jewish adults required for certain religious obligations. Fortunately, attendance at the Bet Tikvah services is always well over the required 10 individuals.

Bet Tikvah which means “House of Hope” was founded in 1988 when several gay Jews decided to form a group to meet the needs of Jewish gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Bet Tikvah is not affiliated with any particular branch of Judaism. The group currently consists of LGBT Jews of all ages and levels of spirituality. All of Bet Tikvah’s services and events are open to all and are regularly attended by interfaith couples and those wishing to explore Judaism.

In the beginning years, Bet Tikvah services were held in various locations until finally in 1994 it was able to find a location at Temple Rodef Shalom in Shadyside. Bet Tikvah is not officially affiliated with Temple Rodef Shalom. The Cohen Chapel which is a separate room outside of the main sanctuary is rented for the groups services. Religious services are held on the first Friday of every month at 7:30 PM. Additional services for special holidays are also held here during the year. Absent of its own Rabbi, the services are led by members of the congregation, creating a warm, involved, and active atmosphere. Bet Tikvah has created its own gender-neutral prayer books, which consist of traditional Hebrew prayers, English translations, poems, and meditations. After each Friday night’s service an Oneg Shabbat (gathering to honor the Sabbath) takes place which includes the blessing on wine and bread, and then refreshments and conversation.

Bet Tikvah also socializes and celebrates together during the Jewish Holidays throughout the year. Gatherings are held are various members’ homes for Sukkot, Hanukah, Purim and a catering hall is rented every year for the annual Passover Seder.

An interesting new tradition to the Passover Seder and one that Bet Tikvah embraces is the recent addition of the orange to the Passover Seder plate. The custom originated with writer Susannah Heschel, who first set it out as a symbol of inclusion for lesbian and gay Jews and in following years for all those who have been marginalized in the Jewish community. Jewish women also adopted the fruit as a symbol of their inclusion and now there are oranges on Seder plates all over the world.

Happy New Year!

September marks the beginning of the year 5775 in the Jewish calendar. Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of both the Jewish New Year and the High Holy Days and it begins on Wednesday, September 24, 2014 at sundown. The ten days starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur are commonly known as the Days of Repentance. This is a time for serious introspection, a time to consider the sins of the previous year and repent before Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is the most important holiday of the Jewish year. The name Yom Kippur means “Day of Atonement.” It is a day set aside to atone for the sins of the past year. Bet Tikvah will be holding its services this year for the High Holidays as follows: Rosh Hashanah on Thursday, September 25th @ 7:00 PM and Yom Kippur on Saturday, October 4th @ 4:00 PM.

Bet Tikvah currently has over 45 households as its membership base. It is inclusive of all individuals and families. All persons are welcomed who wish to join in worship.

“L’Shana Tova! (For a Good Year.)

For more information about Bet Tikvah, visit bettikvah.org. A full listing of all of the upcoming High Holiday services can also be found on the website.

Jeff Freedman (he/him) is a Pittsburgh native and is in his fourth decade of volunteerism for the LGBTQ Community.  Jeff is one of the founding members of the Steel City Softball League in 1981 and has been an active member of the LGBTQ Community ever since.  Jeff is currently a member of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Advisory Commission for LGBTQ Affairs.  He is a past Chair of the Pittsburgh Pride celebrations (’05-’07) and current Pittsburgh Pride March & Parade Co-Chair.  You would recognize him by his voice.  He was the loud one on the megaphone lining up all the March & Parade participants.  Jeff has a lot of great stories to tell and looks forward to sharing the printable ones with the QBurgh Community.