After five years together, lesbian partners Zehorit and Limor Sorek decided it was time to have a commitment ceremony.
However, when Zehorit asked a few years ago to make a kiddusha Jewish blessing with wine or grape juicein her synagogue on Sabbath to honor their marriage, she encountered opposition. First, the rabbi hesitated, and then refused. Then, two days before they were planning the kiddush, they were told that, if they proceeded with their plans, they would no longer be welcome to pray at that synagogue.
Still, they went ahead with the ceremony, thanks to the support of some straight allies and many LGBT friends.
"The following Shabbat, when I went to [the synagogue for] services, I got cold stares from people and felt very bad about this," Zehorit said. "I no longer had a place to pray."
The Jewish High Holy DaysRosh Hashanah and Yom Kippurwere approaching and the two had no place to pray. So Zehorit talked to a local gay about their dilemma.
His suggestion was to make their own prayer areaand that's what they did.
"I called my religious gay friends and asked for their help, [and about] 30 people volunteered," Zehorit said. "I [then] approached the manager of the Gay Community Center in Tel Aviv and said that we needed a hall for our [service]. He asked for how many people [likely would attend]. I told him the core group would [be] about 30 people, and that if we actually had 100, [it] would be a big success."
Well, on Yom Kippurthe holiest day of the year for Jews300 people came to pray with Zehorit and Limor.
"I then understood that, through the need to [build a] bridge between my religious identity and [being] lesbian, we [actually] were answering the same need of many other people," Zehorit said.
So was born The Pride Minyan, still going strong today, offering a place to connect LGBT and strong Jewish identities.
The Pride Minyan has ceremonies around Hanukkah and most other Jewish holidays. Most Pride Minyan events are held in Tel Aviv, although the group has expanded into Jerusalem, too.
"We are not just for the LGBT, but for all the community," said Zehorit, 35, a mother of two who was married to a man for years before they divorced and she came out.
The Pride Minyan has a five-member board, including three lesbians and two gays.
"We're working to bridge the gap [between the] LGBT community and the religious community," Zehorit said. "The group now has a place to pray, and it is a group that has fun. We want to show that, yes, you can be LGBT and have a Jewish life."
The Pride Minyan now holds its services in a hall inside the Tel Aviv Community Center, and uses Torahs that it borrows. Zehorit wants to expand in the future, so the Pride Minyan has more of a synagogue feel.
"We deserve a place of our own, a place in which we can pray as equals, with no discrimination or isolation of any kind," Zehorit said. "The Pride Minyan is meaningful not only to the Orthodox LGBTs, but to the entire gay community. In Israel, when Judaism is usually grasped as an oppressive religion, held by extremists, it's not easy to connect the Jewish and the religious spheres. It's even harder when many of the extremists hold an anti-gay view.
"The creation of The Pride Minyan is our way, as a community, to announce that the Judaism is ours to have. It's our way to claim back our place in the congregation."
Pride Minyan now serves at the religious home to more than 400 LGBT in Israel.