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UA Hillel Center holds Pride Shabbat to welcome Jewish LGBTQ community in celebrating religion and sexuality

Michelle Tomaszkowicz

The Hillel building front entrance, located on Second Street and Mountain Avenue. The Hillel Foundation on campus held an LGBT Shabbat for community members to celebrate their faith in conjunction with their sexuality.

The UA Hillel Foundation held its second annual Pride Shabbat on Friday night to celebrate and welcome LGBTQ community members to the center.

“This is a safe place,” said Maya Griswold, chair of the Shabbat Comity. “We want to make sure that people know that.”

While many students who visit Hillel regularly view it as a safe and welcoming space, one of the main goals of Pride Shabbat was to extend this welcome and invitation to a larger group on campus.

“We are really working on making Shabbat more inclusive and letting people know that we are here,” Griswold said. “So we wanted to use this as a way of opening the doors and welcoming people in.”

As in every Shabbat at Hillel, after singing together to mark the beginning of the night’s event, students had the chance to attend one of the three service options; Conservative, Reform or a non-service alternative. In the alternative session, guest speaker Moshe Alfisher gave a lesson including history and the concept of masks worn during the Jewish holdiay of Purim, which is coming up next weekend.

Alfisher gave a brief history of this concept, and then opened the service for students to discuss times in their lives where they have had to wear figurative masks, either in hiding their sexuality, or otherwise.

After the service sessions, students and staff gathered downstairs in the Oy Vey Cafe for a vegan Shabbat dinner. Pride decorations and rainbow-sprinkled Challah bread were included.

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Alfisher, who is a native Israeli and member of the LGBTQ community, spoke and gave words of encouragement to eager listeners.

“I always felt that something was different with me,” Alfisher began.

Alfisher told of his experience growing up in a very close-knit religious community just outside of Tel Aviv. He told of the struggles he faced in coming out to both his community and his parents, in a time where he didn’t even know what that meant for himself.

“It was a struggle for myself within my religious identity,” Alfisher said, “I thought that I could not say that I believe in God and say that I am gay.”

This idea was exactly what the Pride Shabbat hoped to combat.

“Now I am proud to be gay, I am proud to be Jewish, and I am proud of my Israeli community,” Alfisher said.

One of the main goals behind the Pride Shabbat was to help students share this sentiment, of being proud of both their religion and sexuality, and feeling that they are not alone.

“There is a huge queer Jewish community,” said Michal Chetrit, the coordinator of Pride Shabbat, “We are taking strides to create a welcoming space for everyone here at Hillel.”

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Pride Shabbat provided information for students and community members about what it means to be both Jewish and part of the LGBTQ community.

“This event celebrates the intersectionality of being queer and being Jewish,” Chetrit said. “Celebrating pride with celebrating Judaism is really important, and part of our mission is for these identities to be able to be celebrated together.”

With today’s political and social atmosphere, Hillel members emphasized the added importance to this event currently.

“In America right now there is a lot of uncertainty,” said Michael Walden, director of Jewish Student Life. “Now in the Jewish community it is important, more than ever, to stand up for all minority communities.”

Hillel, an established center on campus, is the perfect place to start.

“This is a student center,” Walden said. “By creating programs for students, we try to build a stronger community.”

Shabbat dinners are held most Friday nights at Hillel and are open to all students, regardless of faith or belief. Pride Shabbat is held once a year.

Follow Tirion Morris on Twitter.

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