Edmonton celebrates Pride Shabbat with a meaningful and inclusive service

The Edmonton Jewish community celebrated Pride Shabbat with a poignant and inclusive service. Photo by Matt Levine.

By Matthew Levine

(Edmonton) – On June 23rd the Jewish Federation of Edmonton hosted a Pride Shabbat at a campsite in Laurier Park. Members of the Jewish community, MLAs, allies from CHEW project, the Queer and Trans Health Collective, and the ISCWR joined together to create a turnout of over 90 attendees. The festivities included numerous speeches, a dvar torah, songs, readings, and prayers. There was also a light dinner provided as well as numerous delicious rainbow dyed loaves of challah.

Stacey Leavitt-Wright, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Edmonton, introduced the event with a speech that emphasized its importance. She began by thanking volunteers, staff, and attendees, and reading a Treaty Six land acknowledgement. Stacey then highlighted the importance of intersectionality within the queer-Jewish community.

“We must build spaces that do not require our community members to choose between aspects of their identities,” she said.

She went on to talk about CIJA standing up to the recent Anti-Homosexuality act in Uganda, and advocating for international aid to help queer Ugandans immigrate to Canada. The Jewish community also played a role in removing the gbMSM blood ban and supporting the banning of conversion therapy in Canada.

“Rights are not guaranteed, they are fought for,” added Stacey.

JFED’s CEO concluded her speech with a strong take home message that set a warm and welcoming tone for the rest of the event. “It is my deepest and sincerest wish that you come as you are, in your fullest, most authentic selves and feel that there is a place for you in our community,” she proclaimed.

Two of the MLA’s representing the NDP spoke after Stacey. Lori Sigurdson spoke about pride calling it “a celebration of love, acceptance and equality.” Brooks Arcand-Paul spoke about our connection to the land and standing against hate.

“Like a flowing river, we all have to move in the same direction,” stated MLA Arcand-Paul.

“We must stand against hate every single day in every way that we can.”

Rabbah Gila Caine of the Temple Beth Ora Synagogue, then lead the attendees in song, readings, and prayers that related to queer pride, struggles, and the intersection of Jewish and queer identities. This Kabbalah Shabbat was engaging and different attendees were welcomed to the front to perform readings in both English and Hebrew.

Cas Allen, a JFED summer student in 2022, created and read a dvar torah that highlighted the benefits of living in a space in-between binaries imposed on us. It is centered on a poem read during the Kabbalat Shabbat titled Twilight People which is an ode to trans Jewish people and the space they exist in.

“The beauty of finding shades of gray within blacks and whites. Some people may be afraid of these in-between because they have programmed us to view the world in binaries. Of course, this might make life easier, but it also enslaves us to a life so narrow in our own perceptions that we lose sight of the beauty in exploring uncharted territory.”

Cas related finding meaning in one’s identity to Jewish scholars deriving meaning from ancient texts. “What this scholar says is not the same as what this scholar says, but here is where they overlap and here is where they separate and here is where you can decide on what YOU think is right.”

Cas went on to describe what living in this “in-between” can do for us, and how it can unlock a different lens with which to explore each other and the world.

“I would see fewer colours. I would be numb to the joys of a life without constraint. I would imagine fewer possibilities. I would view people with less empathy,” stated Cas.

“My vision is less tunneled and my mind remains open to the thousands of possibilities that life offers…Here, as Shabbat wraps her warm embrace over this community, perhaps we can look at each other in a new light and accept how wonderfully beautiful our in-betweens are.”

A copy of this speech is available on the Jewish Federation of Edmonton Facebook page or through this link: https://ow.ly/b5gl50P1N6w.

 Matthew Levine is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.

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