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Prayer book widens communal tent

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Rabbi Camille Angel (Greg Lawrence)

Rabbi Camille Angel (Greg Lawrence)

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) – After 30 years of community effort, Congregation Sha’ar Zahav is proud to be publishing our new prayerbook, Siddur Sha’ar Zahav, in time for Chanukah. As the rabbi who nurtures this community and oversaw the preparation of this siddur, I am deeply moved by the depth and scope of this book of prayer. It truly expresses the profound kavanah – spiritual intention – of a community who comes together to worship God in the context of our daily lives.

In addition to the full range of Jewish liturgy for Shabbat, festivals and daily prayer, the siddur includes prayers and readings that meet the needs of a diverse and inclusive congregation. Founded by gay and lesbian people who often were rejected by other people of faith, Congregation Sha’ar Zahav is based on the belief that all of us are created “b’tselem Elohim,” in the image of God, and that our lives are holy.

Today, our congregation welcomes many straight people, as well as those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning because Sha’ar Zahav is a place where they are engaged and included. Our fully egalitarian liturgy addresses all kinds of situations and life-cycle moments that are meaningful to our community, from birth through b’nei mitzvah, marriage and death.

For example, in Siddur Sha’ar Zahav, we recognize the full range of choices real people make about continuing the Jewish people “l’dor v’dor,” from generation to generation, by including readings for new birth, for adoption, for mentoring children instead of parenting one’s own, and even for becoming a sperm donor or surrogate mother. All gifts of life are sacred.

We who have come out of the closet know how painful it is to hide the truest elements of our identity. Siddur Sha’ar Zahav brings our lived experience, our joys and pains, out into the open to be celebrated and commemorated, to be shared with each other.

Recently, some have focused on one reading out of our 600-plus pages: a meditation on “unexpected intimacy” with strangers. Doing so misrepresents our community, reducing us once again to only one part of our lives – our most intimate physical moments. This triggers the deepest fears some may harbor about who we are. We remain and proudly celebrate our diversity and fullness of community ­ – families, workers, neighbors, daughters and sons, teachers and students ­ – all of whom make up the fabric of our Jewish communal tent.

A siddur is a historical anthology, a snapshot of the Jewish people at any given time and place: who we have been, who we are and our highest aspirations of who we hope to be. Siddur Sha’ar Zahav’s contribution is its recognition of the richness and diversity of our LGBTQ lives as we claim our place among people of faith.

Sha’ar Zahav means “golden gate,” a reference to the Eastern gate of Jerusalem and to our San Francisco bridge. We pray that this prayer book will become a bridge between isolation and community, connecting LGBTQ Jews everywhere to the Jewish tradition.

We pray that this Siddur Sha’ar Zahav will become a bridge over time, to a future when we can be in honest dialogue with God, with our full selves and with the world in which we live.

Pray with us: “Ken Yhi Ratzon,” May it be so.

(Rabbi Camille Shira Angel is the religious leader of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav.)

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