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STL Jews turn out to support LGBTQ community

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The St. Louis Jewish community showed up for Pride with all the bells and whistles you’d hope for: rainbow kippot, Jewish pride flags and matching mint green T-shirts.

They joined thousands in Sunday’s grand parade down Market Street, part of the two-day PrideFest St. Louis event with the theme “millions of moments.” As the 100-member Jewish contingency slogged through the 90-plus degree heat, smiling and waving to the sounds of “Gloria,” someone blew a shofar.

While they marched, they gleefully waved signs like “proud to be an ally and Jewish” and Jewish pride flags — rainbow stripes with a Jewish star in the center — a symbol banned at other pride celebrations for its resemblance to the Israeli flag. But in St. Louis, onlookers cheered and waved back and even doled out water bottles, different people and organizations coming together in the name of pride.

The Jewish contingency — a mix of LGBTQ people and straight allies — came to PrideFest to show support for the LGBTQ community.

“Pride really speaks to the values of inclusivity, acceptance and caring for one another,” said Karen Sher, who organized the Jewish contingency at PrideFest as Vice President of Community Engagement at the Jewish Federation. “To be present here as a community not only shows support, but it shows that we are all in this world together and that we all need to support each other no matter where we come from.”

The Jewish community really did come together for pride. The T-shirts, which read, “millions of moments brought us here,” bore the names of the 26 sponsors for the Federation’s PrideFest and Pride Shabbat celebration, including all of St. Louis’ Reform and Conservative synagogues.

For many in the Jewish contingency, attending pride was an expression of Jewish values.

“It’s about being who you are and loving who that is — everybody is made in the image of God,” said Amy Pakett Bornstein, director of Literary and Jewish Arts at the Jewish Community Center. “I think that there are so many lessons in the Torah that teach us to be accepting of the stranger for we were once strangers, and that’s the same with the LGBT community.”

United Hebrew Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg agreed that Jewish and LGBTQ values intersect. “I think they go together even in the simplest term v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha — love your neighbor as you love yourself,” she said. “Regardless of who you are and what community you are from or represent, we’re supposed to honor and love that person for who they are.”

Jews from near and far came to pride. Recent St. Louis University graduate Sarah Silverberg, 22, donned her rainbow bat mitzvah kippah as she marched down Market Street alongside her friend Jethro Adams, a member of UH who is descended from Scottish kings and sported a kilt.

Also in the Jewish contingency was Rabbi Michal Ken-Tor, the regional rabbi for St. Louis’s sister city: Megiddo County, Israel. Ken-Tor was thrilled to spend her first pride celebration in St. Louis.

“It’s a great privilege that the first pride parade I attend is out of Israel,” she said. “In Israel, everybody is Jewish, there’s nothing unique. But here, being able to come as the Jewish community to pride is a good way to make a statement for me.”

This year’s pride marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising: the June 1969 LGBTQ demonstration against police raids of New York City’s Stonewall Inn, a popular bar for members of the gay community. Following routine police raids of gay bars in the 1960s, the Stonewall raid was met with resistance, marking a major turning point in the fight for LGBTQ rights.

The next year, pride marches were borne. The world’s first gay pride marches, held in June 1970 to commemorate the anniversary of the riots, started a tradition, and millions now attend pride celebrations each year.

Adams said there’s been “monumental progress” since Stonewall, particularly with the 2015 legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States.

“I don’t think the people in 1969 at the Stonewall riots ever imagined that it would be something that they’d see probably in their lifetimes, and yet here it is 40 some odd years later,” he said.

St. Louis has come a long way in its acceptance of LGBTQ people. Its first Gay and Lesbian Pride Celebration was in 1980, and since then, hundreds of thousands of Missourians have flocked to its annual pride celebration, with 300,000 people downtown for PrideFest 2017.

And the St. Louis Jewish community, too, has welcomed LGBTQ people like Emily and Amy Bornstein, who met at the Jewish Federation and married in 2018.

Yet Emily Bornstein, the manager of Impact and Evaluation at the Federation, said she wants the Jewish community to do more.

“It’s one thing to say that you’re welcoming, and it’s another thing to have policies and things within your organization and congregation that you’re doing to actively welcome LGBTQ people,” she said. “I think we haven’t gotten to that step.”

Amy Bornstein thinks that synagogues have made progress in welcoming LGBTQ couples, though she wants religious schools to add more programs educating children about the LGBTQ community. “It’s important that kids at a young age are learning about people that are different from them,” she said.

The Bornsteins also think that Missouri should work harder to protect members of the LGBTQ community.

“Lots of other rights in other states protect the LGBTQ community,” said Emily Bornstein. But “Missouri is quite a bit behind other states, so there are a lot of rights that LGBTQ people don’t have here: we could be fired from our jobs at any time, we could not get a house or a mortgage. Lots of things just because we’re gay.”

In the meantime, several organizations are working to promote LGBTQ rights and to unite the LGBTQ/Jewish community. Q Jews of St. Louis, for example, brings together LGBTQ Jews for social and social justice activities.