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Queer & Jewish: Congregation Or Chadash

CongregationWhen Laurie Grauer describes the type of community she finds in Congregation Or Chadash she thoughtfully chooses the words open, caring, and family. Like many queer folk, Laurie grew up religious, “I was born and raised (Jewish), went to Orthodox school from grades 1-12 and attended both Reform and Conservative camps.” However, when Laurie began attending DePaul University she had begun to explore other religious traditions, questioning specific tenements of Judaism such as the extent of religious observance and the role and status of women. She describes when she began to explore her own sexual identity as a defining moment for her Jewish identity as well, “I didn’t even know if I could be Jewish anymore, orthodoxy hadn’t prepared me for that.” Yet, where a severing of religious and queer identity could have happened Laurie found a stronger connection by seeing the documentary “Trembling before G-d” about gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews who reconcile their faith and sexual identities. Additionally as powerful of a moment was in 2006 when she began attending Congregation Or Chadash.

Laurie Grauer

Laurie Grauer

Or Chadash was founded in 1975 “as a response to the discrimination and isolation experienced by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Jews in mainstream synagogues.” While entire sects of Judaism have become queer-affirming since then, Or Chadash continues to serves as “a warm and nurturing environment for all Jews with special services to the LGBT Jewish community.” As Laurie continues to describe her experience at Or Chadash, the more I realize that LGBTQ folk are not simply welcome but diverse sexuality is celebrated and is foundational to this community; clearly a defining value of the congregation deserving of its induction into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 2006. The 90 member synagogue is impressively active for its size in both LGBTQ and greater Chicago communities; participating annually in Pride, providing outreach with agencies such as the Night Ministry, and advocating among other faith leaders for marriage equality in Illinois. The congregation offers a wide variety of worship and social opportunities that all are welcome to attend, Jewish or not, queer or otherwise. Shabbat services are offered every Friday evening at 8:00 p.m. as well as a Torah service on the third Friday of the month, and a 10:00 a.m. morning service on the first Saturday of the month. Each year the congregation offers a Pride Shabbat service on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Rabbi Larry Edwards has successfully led the congregation for the last ten years and will be retiring after the search for a new Rabbi has been fulfilled within the coming months. While for many faith traditions having an openly LGBTQ leader is a pie in the sky dream, for Congregation Or Chadash who has three openly gay Rabbi candidates, this is a reality that will continue to fulfill the commitment of offering Judaism from a queer perspective. Additionally as unique is a new Jewish conversion program called Hidur Keshet, taught from a queer lens that the congregation has developed and is currently seeking funding. Laurie, who serves as the Director of Membership has witnessed the diverse backgrounds of those who seek membership with Or Chadash; many with backgrounds in other forms of Judaism, some from Christian and Catholic roots, and even some who do not identify with any faith tradition.

What is overwhelmingly common in the stories of its members is the searching for a community of faith that encourages questioning while also finding a deep connection within sexuality and spirituality. For Laurie Grauer this deep connection found at Congregation Or Chadash has further revealed her personal understandings of the holy and self-identity, “I believe I am made in the image of God… [that] God has provided the seed and was very much a part of creating who I am. For me being queer and Jewish is just part of who I am and maybe I was created to help bridge the gap between being queer and being Jewish.” While a relatively small and intimate community, Congregation Or Chadash has surely made a positive impact on the LGBTQ community, Chicagoland area and the Jewish faith; may the gap that many experience between sexual identity and faith identity continue to be woven together in positive ways by the faithful like Laurie and by communities like Or Chadash.

To find out more about Or Chadash, you can contact them via their Facebook page at Congregation Or Chadash, email them at orchadashchicago@gmail.com, or call them at 773-24-JEWS2 (773-245-3972).

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About BC

BC is a Texan transplant to the city of Chicago, moving here to attend theology school. She has a great love for a good glass of wine, great books, meaningful conversations, her family, dance parties, and crime shows. Her great hope in this life is that LGBTQ stories will be equally heard and valued, and she believes that religious/spiritual experience and dialogue is one of many ways to work towards such a reality. BC is a pastor by trade but a mystical religious mutt in spirit, hoping to soak up as many understandings of hope each person has to offer.

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One Response to “Queer & Jewish: Congregation Or Chadash”

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