20 years of inspiring and provoking
Welcome to our third installment of “Queer Clergy in Action,” spotlighting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rabbis and cantors. This behind-the-scenes look at queer clergy covers both those who have paved the way and up-and-coming trailblazers.
Coming out can be really difficult and it can be especially risky for those who are, or aspire to be, clergy. Nonetheless, this vanguard has helped open up the Jewish world, and we’re very proud to shine an extra light on their work, their ideas, and their stories. You can also read the first two posts in this series, about Rabbi Steve Greenberg and Rabbi Reuben Zellman.
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum is no stranger to accolades – but this year, she’s being fêted not only for her accomplishments, but for reaching an important anniversary. Rabbi Kleinbaum was installed as the first rabbi of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the world’s largest LGBT synagogue, in September of 1992. She arrived at the height of the AIDS crisis, and quickly made a name for herself by addressing the community’s tremendous loss with compassion, leadership, and spiritual guidance. In the years since, Rabbi Kleinbaum has made civil rights for LGBT Jews – and the inclusion of their voices as part of the religious conversation – a major part of her rabbinate. This year marks her 20th anniversary at CBST, and the filmmaker David Sigal has put together a video in honor of the occasion, including interviews with politicians, famous rabbis, and of course, her mother, who immediately offers some sweet baby pictures of this indefatigable leader:
This video pretty much says it all, but we had a few more question for Rabbi Kleinbaum, so we quickly caught up with her, amidst all the celebration of her work.
1) How has being LGBTQ informed your work as a rabbi?
Completely interwoven. I am most interested in helping to create a Jewish community in which traditional understandings of the primacy of heterosexuality and rigid gender binaries are rejected. I don’t just want a Judaism in which there is inclusion of GLBT people – where the pie is just divided differently. I want to change the nature of the pie itself!
2) What should we, as members of the LGBT Jewish community, be focusing on now?
How to use the power we’ve acquired and the resources we have to address profound issues of race and class in our society.
3) Favorite queer Jewish figure?
4) What’s next for you? A project, a sermon – what are you working on that’s queer and Jewish?
My life. That’s my new project, which is definitely queer and definitely Jewish.