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Creating Community, Making History: 50 years of Beth Chayim Chadashim

Creating Community, Making History: 50 years of Beth Chayim Chadashim

On Thursday, June 23, 2022, LGBTQ-RAN hosted a conversation exploring the history of Beth Chayim Chadashim, founded as the first synagogue by and for gay and lesbian Jews, 50 years ago in Los Angeles.  The presenters discussed factors that led to the formation of the congregation and its accomplishments and challenges in the early years.  What impact did BCC have on queer Jews in other parts of the U.S. and world?  How has the congregation developed over these 50 years and what lies ahead?  

Rabbi Lisa Edwards, Ph.D., has been a Jewish lesbian activist from the pulpit, on the page and the Web, in the classroom, and in the streets for over three decades. She served as rabbi of Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC) from 1994 to 2019.  Edwards is widely published in books on queer and Jewish topics, as well as on websites where her scholarship on traditional Jewish texts combines with the personal and the contemporary.  She earned a masters in Hebrew Letters from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and holds a BA from Brown University, an MA from the University of Chicago, and a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Iowa.

Rabbi Jillian Cameron is a proud native of New Jersey and an alumna of Trinity College in Hartford, CT and Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion where she was ordained and received two master's degrees.  She has worked in Virginia and Boston is now the rabbi at Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles.  She has always strived to create community and connect folks to Judaism, especially those who have often been overlooked and marginalized in the past, like members of the LGBTQIA+ community as well as interfaith/intercultural/diverse couples and families.    

Dr. Gregg Drinkwater is a scholar of sexuality, gender, and Judaism in the modern United States. Based at the University of Colorado, he is currently working on a book on the history of LGBTQ synagogues and their role in incubating queer Jewish space. Prior to entering academic life, Drinkwater worked for 10 years as a researcher and advocate for LGBTQ inclusion and social justice in the Jewish community. He is the co-editor of the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible (NYU Press, 2009).

Jan Wilkens is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Potsdam (Germany). He holds an M.A. in Jewish Studies and a B.A. in Judaic Studies/Middle Eastern Studies. His research interests include the Jewish LGBTQ+ community, Jewish-feminist discourses, Gender Research, commemorative culture as well as provenance research. For his master’s thesis, he came to Beth Chayim Chadashim and analyzed its early years and its integration into Reform Judaism.