Celebrating inclusion with Pride Month

The 2021 Pride Festival activities are returning to Ottawa for another COVID-affected year, this time with a city-wide celebration at Lansdowne Park on August 29, along with several celebrations taking place in the Jewish community. 

Kehillat Beth Israel has a Pride Shabbat scheduled for August 27, which features a youth and teen session with a guest speaker, as well as a dessert reception with another guest speaker. 

“This year we chose to highlight the trans experience,” said Rabbi Deborah Zuker. “Our speaker (Cameron Jette of the Capital Pride Committee) is very involved in advocacy in Ottawa, and we are looking forward to hearing their perspective.”

KBI has held a Pride Shabbat, coinciding with Ottawa Pride, since its inception in 2016, and in most recent years, held partnership with the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. 

“Our Pride Shabbat programs are among our most popular of the year,” said Rabbi Zuker. “In our multicultural city, it is important for the Jewish community to demonstrate our openness to our neighbours and all members of the Ottawa community. Pride Shabbat is our opportunity to share our Jewish community’s values with the wider queer community of Ottawa.”

“LGBTQ+ inclusion and welcoming are a core part of our synagogue’s identity; we are always proud to demonstrate Judaism’s value of tzelem elohim — recognizing the divine image in every person.”

At Or Haneshamah, they’ve opted for a Pride Shabbat morning event, on August 21. 

“We celebrate a Pride Shabbat every year. You could say doing so — in the same way that now putting pronouns into my e-signature, or on my Zoom screen — is habitual, in a good way,” said Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton. 

For Temple Israel, “Pride is basically one of the High Holidays,” said Rabbi Daniel Mikelberg. Right now, the synagogue’s Facebook page even features their logo in iconic rainbow colours. 

“We really celebrate inclusion and diversity [in our congregation] and try every year to make Pride a highlight. We’re doing our best with restrictions, to bring our colours and celebration.”

On August 25, Rabbi Dara Lithwick and Rabbi Mikelberg along with the Reverend Gary van der Meer, rector of St John the Evangelist Anglican Church are hosting a Zoom discussion about ‘Queering the Liturgy,’ looking at examples from both traditions. 

While this talk is timed for Pride week, this year, Temple Israel opted to celebrate Pride in June, with a Pride Shabbat featuring a speaker from Rainbow Railroad, a global not-for-profit organization that helps LGTBQI+ people facing persecution based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics. 

“One of our community members is a refugee and a Rainbow Railroad board member, so we had him speak to us about coming from a country where his life was not affirmed, to Canada, where he was appreciated and valued and nurtured,” said Rabbi Mikelberg. 

They did their celebration in June intentionally, finding August too busy of a month to really be able to focus on celebrating Pride as a congregation. Plus, June is the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots — to recognize the importance of the month, Temple Israel joined with Temple Sinai for a virtual service. 

“In a normal year of course we would gather in person and host a speaker who relates to queer identity,” said Rabbi Mikelberg. “We’re always proud to send a strong contingent to the Pride parade, and we have trailblazers there who have been marching since there was a Pride parade — they’re in their 70s now.”

Temple Israel is also looking forward to showing off a new tapestry, a Pride chuppah — made by Patsey Royer — which now hangs in the building. 

“We brought together a lot of people to really talk about how we could abridge our Jewish identity with Pride. It’s quite beautiful and as we get ready to go back into the building, I can’t wait for people to see it,” said Rabbi Mikelberg.

According to Federation CEO Andrea Freedman “prior to the pandemic, it was a highlight of the year for Federation leadership to participate in Pride Shabbat and take part in the Pride parade. We are looking forward to 2022 when we can once again proudly join the parade. Two years ago, when I marched in the parade as an ally, it was so important to wave the Israeli and Pride flags together, empowering Jews to live and express all aspects of their full, true and authentic selves.”

Find all the city-wide events for Pride at www.capitalpride.ca.