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New York rabbi celebrates 20 years at LGBT synagogue

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum worked at Religious Action Center in D.C. before arriving at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in 1992

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Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Judaism, Gay New York

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and then-National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Matt Foreman protest “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in Times Square in 2007 (Photo courtesy of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah)

NEW YORK – Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of New York City’s Congregation Beit Simchat Torah had been in rabbinical school for less than a year when she attended a secret conference of gay and lesbian rabbinical and cantorial students and rabbis in Los Angeles in 1986 where attendees had to call a phone number once they landed to find out where the gathering was taking place. The Reconstructionist Jewish movement adopted a non-discrimination policy two years earlier, but the Reform and Conservative traditions still prohibited gay rabbinical students.

They faced potential expulsion over their sexual orientation.

“I was in the first class that was admitted under that [1984] policy,” Kleinbaum told the Washington Blade in a recent interview, noting her own tradition remained hostile to openly LGBT rabbinical students and gay issues in general. “It was all pretty cutting edge. We were all testing the waters. It was a very different time, so we were all figuring out how to both transform the Jewish community internally and the liberal Jewish community was no different.”

Kleinbaum spoke to the Blade shortly after she celebrated her 20th anniversary at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the country’s largest LGBT synagogue with 1,100 members that first held services at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood in 1973. The congregation has since returned to the same Episcopal parish to conduct their Friday night services because it has outgrown its previous location in the West Village.

AIDS was ravaging Congregation Beit Simchat Torah when she became its first full-time senior rabbi in Aug. 1992.

“We just had funerals constantly,” said Kleinbaum, who was director of congregational relations at the Religious Action Center in D.C. from 1990 until she arrived at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah. “I came to CBST and it was in the midst of an epidemic that was being largely ignored by the religious community and certainly by the government. So we were really under siege in those days.”

Roughly one third of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah’s members lost their battle with AIDS, while Kleinbaum said up to 75 percent of her male congregants were living with HIV. She also buried the synagogue’s president who had supported the hiring of a full-time rabbi a month after she arrived at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah.

“The primary motivation for having a rabbi come into the congregation was to respond to this crisis of AIDS. And it was a spiritual crisis that the synagogue was really reeling from the death and the illness and there was no end in sight of course at that time,” said Kleinbaum, who further noted that anti-AIDS stigma at the time only exacerbated the plight of those in the congregation living with the virus. “Religion was used constantly as ammunition, as a weapon against us and against people who were HIV-positive or had AIDS. So my presence to try and project a different image of God and of religion was very important both pastorally and politically.”

Activism extends beyond HIV, LGBT rights

In addition to her HIV/AIDS advocacy, Kleinbaum has publicly backed marriage rights for same-sex couples and other LGBT-specific issues. New York police arrested her and then-National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Matt Foreman during a 2007 protest against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when they obstructed traffic in Times Square.

Kleinbaum was among the New York Board of Rabbi members taken into custody for civil disobedience during a protest against the 1999 police shooting of unarmed West African immigrant Amadou Diallo in the Bronx. More recently, she has spoken out against the New York Police Department’s controversial stop and frisk policy that critics maintain unfairly targets black and Latinos and other underrepresented groups.

“If we want a country to change and a world to change we have to be deeply in partnership and see our fight and struggle for human rights — it’s not just about who I am as a person literally. This I take from my Jewish tradition,” said Kleinbaum. “We are told over and over and over and over again, remember that you were slaves once in Egypt, therefore make sure you do everything you can to prevent the oppression of anyone else. No one else should be a slave.”

Kleinbaum remained humble when the Blade asked her about those who have identified her as among New York’s most influential Jewish leaders and one of the country’s most important rabbis.

“It’s wonderful to be recognized in that way if it helps also continuing our effort to transform the world,” she said. “I have one agenda; and that’s to transform the world. And I feel that only happens when people are really working hard together.”

Over the last two decades, the congregation’s High Holiday services at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center have grown to include more than 4,000 people each year.  Congregation Beit Simchat Torah also hopes to move into a new building on West 30th Street in Manhattan in 2014.

Judaism itself has changed since Kleinbaum attended rabbinical school in the mid-1980s.

The Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements all admit openly gay rabbinical students and place them in synagogues and other congregational positions. These traditions also recognize same-sex weddings.

“These years since I started rabbinical school have been totally transformative and so it’s been very moving to be part of that,” said Kleinbaum.

As for Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, Kleinbaum said she hopes to further develop its social justice work over the next decade. She would also like to create what she described as an institute that examines the intersection of sexuality and religion.

“The intersection of sexuality and religion is a source of tremendous oppression in the world,” said Kleinbaum. “I’d like to create an institute which focuses on ways that religion can be a voice of liberation in areas of sexuality and religion.”

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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Robin Tyler

    October 18, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    When the Southern Women's Music and Comedy Festival were not allowed back (after 8 years) at the Union of American Congregations Camp Coleman in Georgia, Rabbi Kleinbaum was working in a very high position at UAHC. We had spent 9 years at Camp Coleman, from the mid 1980's to the mid 1990's. The Camp Director who was there when we first rented, really worked well with us. (We all thought he was gay). We spent years fixing the camp where ever we could (old electrical equipment was replaced etc.) When the Camp Director was replaced, a homophobic Director came to work there. He did not want 'dykes' at his camp. We were sent a letter from the UAHC headquarters that there were too many women on the land. (Actually, the festival had dropped from 2000 to 1200 when we got the letter.) The ACLU and NOW tried to help us stay there. When I spoke to Rabbi Kleinbaum her exact words were 'This is the UAHC's decision and there is nothing I can do.) So, the first and largest lesbian festival in the South was thrown out while Kleinbaum did nothing, nothing, nothing. We found another camp but our numbers dropped and I just couldn't fight any more. So now, Rabbi Kleinbaum is a respected 'hero' in our movement. Well Sharon, you turned your back on us because you did not want to upset your position in the organization and never bothered to apologize. UAHC is now 'pro LGBT'. But we have never been back to Camp Coleman. You see, the 300 person rule is still in place. I will never forget my conversation (which was much longer then I have written here) with this Rabbi. The bottom line is that she protected her position by allowing them to discriminate.

    • Carolyn Gage

      October 18, 2012 at 3:57 pm

      Thank you for telling the story. that takes courage.

    • Carolyn Gage

      October 18, 2012 at 3:57 pm

      Thank you for telling the story. that takes courage.

    • Tina Jarrard

      October 18, 2012 at 4:03 pm

      Robin, this is a great article. I,too, mourn the loss of Camp Coleman. Many of us made lifelong friends there. I can only hope, and from reading the article, assume she had evolved over the last 2 decades. I know I sure have. I am nowhere near the same young woman who first entered that camp. I like to believe life has taught me many valuable lessons and things I held true at that point i have now discarded. I hope Rabbi Kleinbaum has also and that she would, indeed, issue an apology for not standing up for us.

      • Robin Tyler

        October 18, 2012 at 12:11 pm

        The difference between you and the Rabbi Tina, is that this was your first steps ‘out’ and you were terrific. The Rabbi had a very powerful position and protected her job rather then us. I am Jewish and after the Holocaust, we all swore ‘Never Again.’ Yet, she stood by and by allowing UAHC to discriminate, and by not getting involved, she broke her oath as a Rabbi, a Jew, and certainly, her loyalty to her own community. So I am not quite as forgiving. It is not enough to say ‘I am sorry.’ It will only be enough when the Southern Women’s Music & Comedy that I produced is allowed back at Camp Coleman. I would go back there one last time and produce a Festival just to put what happened to us to rest. It isn’t about ‘just us.’ It is about justice.

    • Louise Sali

      October 18, 2012 at 5:05 pm

      As I posted on festival page…I remember looking forward to that camp every year, it made us all happy to know in just a few months after west coast, we would see everyone at Southern.
      I also remember the staff loving us! As trouble shooter I was always with the camps staff, we even had codes to meet up with one another for some real southern cooking…I was always answering!
      All that said, the Rabbi was pretty powerful, and Aids and the "men's" issues, seem to be her path and didn't take much interests in Lesbian or Women's issues. I have always had difficulty in recognizing what was more important…the Power, or the Vision, to those fight for change. The big deal on all of us was to fight for HIV services, etc…not much fame or attention or $$ in rights of women or women identified projects! Glad for success, hope Tina is right and has a broader scope.

    • Jelsa Palao

      October 18, 2012 at 5:15 pm

      I'm sorry that this woman didn't have the courage and the integrity to stand up – I hope she's not taking any bows for this… I remember entertaining at the Southern Festival and it was terrific – except for the scorpions everywhere…. it seems that people are really trying hard to make discrimination ok…. it's not ok and we have to keep fighting – even if it's against our "own" who are afraid to take a stand.

    • Andie Grater

      October 18, 2012 at 6:46 pm

      not to excuse her but she was very very young at the time and perhaps not as brave to make waves. I had no idea she was part of the demise of the festivals.

    • Carolyn Whitehorn

      October 18, 2012 at 7:00 pm

      I missed the first year at Southern, but I was there from 1985 until it folded. I had always had a reputation for being "aloof, stand-offish, and withdrawn" but at Southern that year I made lifelong friends. I still miss it.

    • Evie Litwok

      October 18, 2012 at 9:47 pm

      Evie Litwok I am a member of CBST and my Rabbi is Sharon Kleinbaum. She is an amazing spiritual leader and has an impressive list of accomplishments. We, the LGBT community, have so many important battles to fight. Can I ask you to delete this post and to keep our community battles private?

      • Robin Tyler

        October 18, 2012 at 7:43 pm

        No Evie, I will not delete the post. We never received an apology from Rabbi Kleinbaum. Although I understand she has an impressive list of accomplishments, the battle we fought to start and maintain a lesbian festival which organized thousands of women in the South took enormous courage as we were right in the middle of Klan Country. Eleanor Smeal, Rita Mae Brown, Melissa Ethridge and countless other political leaders, entertainers and workshop presenters appeared there. Thousands of lesbians who had never been out of the closet took part and it was an organizing tool not just for our community, but taught outreach and how to help battered women, women in poverty, marches on Washington, etc. etc. This was such an important part of our history, that I am not going to sweep what happened to us being thrown out of Camp Coleman under the carpet. When you refer to ‘so many important battles to fight’, think of those who did this decades ago in the deep South? We as both lesbians and women will never accept the injustice and not speak up about it. The total lack of support from Rabbi Kleinbaum is something she needs to attempt to clean up. This is not just a small ‘community’ battle. As a proud Jewish lesbian, I expect more from UAHC and Sharon. She is certainly welcome to contact me, and so is UAHC. I would be more then happy to have my Rabbi, Rabbi Denise Eger, mediate. Until we walk back on the land at Camp Coleman and are able to hold a final festival to make up for the discrimination, I nor other women will not be silenced.

    • Vicki Hudson

      October 19, 2012 at 3:26 am

      The loss of the SWM&CFestival was a loss to hundreds and hundreds of women, during a time when for many, this place was the only safe place for us. That is not a private battle.

    • Lenny Earl

      October 19, 2012 at 9:40 pm

      Andie, this culture is not one that draws female Rabbis who are "not as brave to make waves"… and Evie, I don't understand how ignoring the past will guide us to fight the battles of today in the right direction… do you?

  2. dry mouth treatments

    November 6, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Usually I don’t learn post on blogs, but I wish to say that this write-up very forced me to check out and do so! Your writing style has been surprised me. Thanks, very nice article.

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Real Estate

What to watch for during an open house

Check condition of kitchen, flooring, windows, and more

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When touring a home, check out the condition of kitchen cabinets.

Anyone who knows me might say that I am detail obsessed. This has proven to be an amazing asset when looking at real estate. When I scour through listings for clients I am analyzing the photos, floor plans, and square feet of each property to ensure that everything flows properly into what my clients are looking for in their home. These items I search for also tell the tale of how recently renovated a property is, how well loved it was and a general idea of how much will be needed to make improvements and get it into the condition and aesthetic of which my clients are dreaming. When the time comes to see property in person, the fun begins and I am going to provide a few simple tips that you can use on your Sunday open house strolls that we all love to do.

The following is by no means an exhaustive list of things that I, and other individuals, keep an eye out for when touring homes, but these are perhaps the most noticeable and least controversial. Let me state here (for my lawyer warned me) I am by no means a home inspector, contractor, interior designer, etc.

The kitchen truly is the heart of the home, especially with the holidays approaching. Some obvious items to identify are the cabinets. Are they soft close or can you slam them shut in an argument and really get your point across? If they are not soft close this means that likely they are on the older side and as such most items in the kitchen are also on the older side. In the kitchen I focus mainly on items that are difficult to remove, like cabinetry and counter surfaces. Appliances, while sometimes costly, can easily be replaced due to wear and tear.

• Moving through the house I take note of windows. What material are they made out of? Are they operational or painted shut? And how many are there? This last piece is CRUCIAL. This not only comes to mind when you need to replace windows but more immediately for the purpose of window coverings — it all adds up quickly.

Flooring is next on the list. Not so much that the warm wood tones will clash with my client’s furniture, but more so the condition of the flooring and how much there is. Again, similar to the windows, coming from a place of utility and replacement. What condition is the flooring in and what type? If I’m lucky enough to find original wood floors my clients have been searching for, how many times have they been refinished and can they be refinished again? If not, then how large is the home and what’s the cost to replace the flooring. As I pointed out earlier, on behalf of my lawyer, I am not a structural engineer either. I would take note of any low points or dips in the flooring and if needed, consult an engineer to take a look at the support pieces of the home.

Moving onto electrical components. An easy thing to look for is outlets. Identify the type of outlets a home has. We are fortunate here in the DMV to have a plethora of older homes. This comes with its own set of challenges. If you see an outlet that only accepts a two-prong plug then likely the electrical system is older and will need to be upgraded. Looking at the electrical panel for the home is also a very important step. If there are two prong outlets and glass fuses in the electrical panel then this is a great time to call Chip and Joanna Gaines as this home will likely need a massive overhaul.

Again, this is in no way an exhaustive list of things to identify as you are house hunting but rather some items that I always look for and point out when advising clients with perhaps one of the most expensive and scariest purchases of their lives. These items above are not meant to condemn a home but instead identify if a home is a good fit for you based on a more in-depth look. Paint and light fixtures can be changed, similar to hair color, but it’s a bit harder to change one’s heart. Ensuring the overall structure of the home and the more expensive components are in working order and have several useful years left is paramount. 

Justin Noble is a Realtor with Sotheby’s International Realty licensed in D.C., Maryland, and Delaware for your DMV and Delaware Beach needs. Specializing in first time homebuyers, development and new construction as well as estate sales, Justin is a well versed agent, highly regarded, and provides white glove service at every price point. Reach him at 202-503-4243 or [email protected]

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Real Estate

Investing in real estate: What you need to know

From REITs to flips, tips for getting started

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In many cases, buying or selling a home is a very personal experience. Many people buy a home with the intention of living there – making memories, building a family, becoming part of a community. The same is true of sellers. Selling a home, in many cases, is simultaneously difficult and exciting – it means the ending of one chapter and the beginning of another. While the majority of buying and selling experiences may be personal – increasingly, others in the market are interested in real estate not just to find a home, but also to make a great investment.

In our current market, it’s easy to see why real estate can often end up being quite a profitable investment. In 2021, sellers often saw huge profits on the sale of real estate – but even in years where profits aren’t quite as significant as this year, real estate has often proven to be a sound and reliable long-term investment strategy. Real estate investments can add diversification to your portfolio, and a very successful venture, particularly if you buy and sell when the circumstances are right.

Over the last several years, many gay neighborhoods around the country have shown steady appreciation, leading investors, and particularly LGBTQ investors, to consider whether the time is right to consider adding real estate to their investment portfolio. For those considering real estate as an investment strategy, here are a few helpful tips:

• Consider REITs: For those just getting started with real estate investment, Real Estate Investment Trusts, or “REITs” for short, might be a good option. These provide the opportunity to invest in real estate without owning the physical real estate yourself. They are often compared to mutual funds, and you invest in a company, a REIT, which owns commercial real estate like office buildings, apartments, hotels, and retail spaces. Generally, REITs pay high dividends, which make them a popular investment in retirement, as well as for investors not wanting to own one particular piece of property.

• Consider investing in rental properties: Rental income can often be a steady, reliable source of income if you do your due diligence researching the property itself, the surrounding neighborhood, and the potential community of renters. While maintaining a rental property will certainly require some investment of time and energy on your part, it can be a profitable long-term investment and one that is appealing to many people.

• Put your skills to work: If you have a skill set that includes being able to renovate and upgrade homes – or if you know a trusted person or team of people who does, flipping a home that could use some renovation can be quite a profitable investment indeed. Getting a home that could use some extra TLC at a good price and updating it can result in a sales price that is significantly higher than the purchase price. This can certainly be a very good investment – and a fulfilling project too.

• Be willing to listen and learn: When trying something new, it is almost always helpful to talk to those with experience in that area. Investing in real estate is no different. Having a mentor who can give you some tips and advice from their own experience is invaluable.

• Get to know the neighborhood: When making any real estate decision, whether you’re going to live in a home yourself or purchase property for investment purposes, knowing the neighborhood and community you’re interested in is important. A key part of that will be finding a real estate agent who knows and loves the community that you’re interested in, and who understands the market in that area. This can make all the difference between a smooth and successful process, and a stressful one.

(At GayRealEstate.com, we are dedicated to our mission of connecting LGBTQ home buyers and sellers with talented, knowledgeable, and experienced real estate agents across the country who can help them to achieve their real estate goals. Whether you’re interested in buying or selling a home that you live in personally, or buying and selling for investment purposes, we can connect you with an agent who knows and loves the community, and who can help you achieve your goals. Contact us at any time. We look forward to helping you soon.)

Jeff Hammerberg is founding CEO of Hammerberg & Associates, Inc. Reach him at
303-378-5526 or [email protected].

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Dining

Bistro du Jour transports you from Wharf to Seine

New casually sophisticated restaurant a welcoming, inclusive space

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The owners of Bistro du Jour say, ‘Our restaurants are intended to be welcoming to all guests of all backgrounds, beliefs and demographics.’ (Photo by Rey Lopez courtesy Bistro du Jour)

Delights run morning to night at The Wharf’s new Bistro du Jour, a casually sophisticated French outpost sliding into a prime waterfront space.

Courtesy of gay-owned KNEAD Hospitality + Design, this new restaurant flaunts a menu born from a Seine-side bistro, serving coffee in the morning hours to Champagne in the evening. Its all-day culinary oeuvre begins with coffee (from La Colombe) and omelettes, and ends with items like a towering and meaty bi-patty cheeseburger L’Americain.

Taking over the sweet spot vacated by Dolcezza, Bistro du Jour is a sister to Mi Vida and The Grill, KNEAD group’s two other Southwest waterfront locales. The group also runs several other formal and large-format restaurants they have populated across the city.

Why bring French to the Wharf?

“We have been here for almost four years and we knew what the area was missing and acted on it,” says one of the co-owners, Jason Berry. “We wanted something where people could come in at all hours of the day and find something they wanted, from coffee and pastry to a full-on sit down at night.”

The Bistro opens at 7:30 a.m. serving that local La Colombe coffee, plus flaky, buttery pastries from KNEAD’s partner Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery. Breakfast service starts at 8 a.m. with brioche doughnuts, quiches, a “massive” Belgian waffle, and French toast topped with a blueberry compote and sweetened whipped cream.

Executive Chef Treveen Dove – transferred after three years at another KNEAD spot, Succotash Prime) – oversees the offerings, a tour of the “greatest hits” of a typical Parisian bistro.

“Oeufs Sur Le Plat is to die for, with the griddled buttered bread topped with a sunny side up egg, sautéed mushrooms and a Mornay sauce… It’s so rich and delicious.”

By 11 a.m., the Bistro transitions to other traditional French fare, like French onion soup, tuna Niçoise salad, steak frites, mussels in a white wine and garlic butter, and a croque madame sandwich dripping with gruyere and creamy Bechamel. One unique offering is whipped brown butter with radishes and crostinis. There are also gougeres, warm cheese puffs shot through with gruyere.

Come 4 p.m., the dinner menu fills out even more, with additional dinner items confit de canard (duck leg with green lentils and red wine shallots); and a robust, earthy coq au vin (braised chicken with bacon, mushrooms and mashed potatoes); and a lamb shepherd’s pie with mashed potatoes that would be at home on a French Alps farm.

Due to space limitations, the Bistro lacks a sit-down bar. Yet beverage director Darlin Kulla, who has been a part of the KNEAD family for more than four years, has put together a focused menu of six craft cocktails. You’ll find not only a French 75 (gin, lemon verbena, lemon, bubbles), but also a Manhattan and a “Champs Elysees” with cognac, chartreuse, lemon, and bitters.

The bar itself carries only one brand of each liquor: one gin, rum, and vodka. “ If you want vodka, you’re having Grey Goose,” notes Reg with a smile.

Given the cuisine, there is a considerable French wine list topping 60 bottles, leaning heavily on Champagne and sparkling wine. There are almost 20 red, white, rose, and Champagne options by the glass and carafe, as well. The bar rounds out its stock with French aperitifs and bottled beer.

Notably, the majority of the restaurant’s seating is situated on the building’s exterior, in a newly constructed all-season patio enclosure with almost 70 seats. The owners designed the space to maximize waterfront views, capacity, and flexibility. During warmer days, the Potomac breeze is welcome to flutter around coffee-sippers; in the colder months, the windows roll down for a fully enclosed and conditioned space. The patio’s banquettes arrived directly from France, and twinkling strung lights sway from the ceiling.

The interior is done up in Mediterranean greens, pinks, and creams. Big windows welcome in daytime natural light, but allow for a dim, mood-lit atmosphere in the evening. Traditional bentwood bistro chairs dot the space and antique-style tin tiles reflect a classic Parisian flair. Over at the bar, the glassware display was created from a single panel of antiqued brass. At the rear, a daytime counter offers coffee, pastries, and drinks.

As Bistro du Jour’s owners are both gay men, they note that, “Our restaurants are intended to be welcoming to all guests of all backgrounds, beliefs and demographics. We cater to everyone, which is the only way to lead a hospitality organization.”

“When you’re part of a minority group in society,” they say, “the only way to lead your restaurants is as inclusive, welcoming, and hospitable leaders.”

Though smaller than their other ventures, a French bistro right on the teeming, pedestrian-heavy Wharf “was the perfect fit,” they say. 

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