Taunton congregation celebrates Pride with Shabbat message

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TAUNTON – On June 17, members of Congregation Agudath Achim met to light the Shabbat candles and to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community.

“I want the LGBTQ+ community to know that there is a safe space for them,” said Colman Reaboi, cantor and spiritual leader.

“Whether it’s their synagogue or their churches, I think that more and more places of worship are understanding the need that there is a community that they cannot ignore.”

Reaboi, who recently celebrated one year at the Taunton synagogue, said that during his job interview he was asked by board member Kazumi Almedia, an openly non-binary student attending the University of California, his feelings on LGBTQ+ issues and how it fit into his theology of Judaism.

“Of course, I told them I’m in the positive and that I am absolutely for LGBTQ issues. There’s a place for everyone in Judaism,” he said.

Later in the meeting, Reaboi passed Almedia a note that read: “Pride Shabbat?”

At this second Pride Shabbat members of the LGBTQ+ community were invited to speak about their experiences as well as offer words about love and acceptance.

Almedia thanked their mom for accepting them when they recently came out. “I’m still figuring it out. I just know that I’m not cis (gender),” they said.

“The support that has come from this community, as a result of me coming out, has been more than I could have ever truly imagined.”

Holding back tears, Almedia called several people who helped with their transition, referring to them as “part of their family,” as well as tipping their hat to how spirituality played a part in their life.

“While I may not have prayed to God every day, heck, I didn’t even know how I felt toward God. I knew that without God, I wouldn’t have all of you,” they said.

“So this spirituality we share, this belief or love, or whatever it is that brings you here, is a powerful thing. Something so powerful, we can’t deny it. Whether it is Godly or not, I thank you for creating this community.”

Rev. Donnie Anderson, a minister at Pilgrim United Church of Christ in New Bedford, also spoke about coming out as transgender to her family and friends in 2017.

She recalls a special moment, while serving as executive minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, receiving a $250 gift certificate to Nordstrom with the message, “A little something to help you along your way,” signed by five rabbis from the Providence area.

Anderson also shared devastating statistics from a 2020 poll produced by the Trevor Project, which found that 52% of transgender and non binary identifying young people seriously contemplated taking their life and 20% actually tried.

“We are on this journey together,” Anderson said.

Reaboi spoke about how he interprets sexuality and gender identity with regard to the Torah. “Yes, there are words in our scriptures that say it is an abomination to be queer. Because of that, many of our faith institutions don’t want to make the world whole,” he said.

“For them, as well as for you, I have these words: read your scripture again.”

He said that people are all created in God’s image and his many aspects, and while some people are born with different sexual orientations and attractions, we should embrace them. “When we look at somebody, we should be looking at each other. We should be looking at us.”

Judaism, he explained, is a vehicle to attaining spirituality, connecting ourselves with God and with people. “We are one family. May it be God’s will and our goal to create a world where we can truly love and not just tolerate others. May we respect all life. We can be God-like, by showing love to others.”

“There are so many issues that we like to bring up in life,” Reaboi added. “To use my pulpit to address social justice issues, and bringing out the wisdom of the Torah to do so, is a privilege and an honor.”

SETH CHITWOOD (www.sethchitwood.com), of Barrington, is a features reporter for The Standard-Times, in New Bedford. He is also the creative director of the award-winning Angelwood Pictures production company.