CBH has a rich, nomadic, and colorful history. Explore our rituals and traditions, the building, and more.
A quick and dirty summary: CBH started as a group of Lesbian and Gay friends meeting in 1985 because they felt they didn't have a synagogue where they truly fit in and were accepted. By 1986 the group had grown to a couple dozen friends meeting and they chose to organize by incorporating as Congregation Bet Haverim, House of Friends. The group met in homes, meeting houses, and churches.
Over the next 10 years the membership grew, and attracted so many straight friends, that the bylaws were changed in 1996 to allow straight people to join as voting members. This single act of faith that straight people would value and support the syagogue's original mission is possibly responsible for the rapid growth and sustainability of the synagogue, as many other Gay and Lesbian synagogues have folded due to lack of growth. Because of the mix of members, CBH was able to start a community school, and we look forward to celebating b'nai mitzvah with the many families of gay and straight members. Other big milestones include the hiring of Rabbi Josh Lesser, hiring a full time Executive Director, and hiring other office staff to support the synagogue. But the biggest recent milestone was moving into our first building at 2074 Lavista Road. We are no longer nomads in a strange land. We have a place to call home.
Some of our favorite traditions you won't see elsewhere:
Shabbat Shirah - a service that falls in winter marking the torah reading when the Jewish people leave Egypt and cross over the Red Sea.
Pride Seder - we have adapted the Passover seder to commemorate what is seen as the start of the gay rights movement, the Stonewall Riots in 1969. We celebrate how far we have come, and remember how much is left to do to gain equal rights.
Music CDs and concerts - CBH is very proud of our choir, strings, and band. We hold concerts throughout the year as fundraisers. We also have several CDs produced professionally that are available for purchase here.
- “The first ‘ark’ was a kitchen cabinet first for our toy torahs. When we got the real torah there was a committee that designed the ark.” -- Mark Spieler
- “The CBH ark was a community project spearheaded by Michael Kinsler when he was president. The community had a ‘visioning’ meeting, and a committee (Michael Kinsler, Edie Cohen, Paul Glickstein, and others) took it from there.” -- Paul Glickstein
- “The ark doors are wood with glass representing light, openness, and accessibility. It is not behind curtains and obscured. The compromise is a tallit draped over the Torah.” -- Paul Glickstein
- The ark doors have a Star of David in chery wood, embedded with a lamda in maple wood, representing the LGBT community. The Lamda was one of the earliest symbols for LGBT.
- The storage area and wheels were added because we didn’t have a home when it was built. We moved it around with us.
- Built in 1992, the ark cost $3,800 and was designed and built by Jim Tolmach, a furniture maker in Avondale Estates. He is a member of the Friends Meeting house where CBH met at the time.
Our Torah came to us after a tragic death of one of our members. The story is told by Loretta Bernstein, mother of member Serge Bernstein, z”l:
“Serge, of blessed memory, was one of the first founders of CBH and was always proud of the synagogue. He devoted most of his time to the welfare of the congregation. When he got sick and knew he did not have much time left to live, his desire was to get a Torah for the synagogue. Sharon Kleinbaum, was the rabbi at the time and we commissioned her to go to New York to get us the Torah. The congregants dedicated the Torah by opening it from one end to the other, which was followed by a beautiful reception.
Serge would have been very proud of what CBH has become through the growth and mostly, by the new building.”
Charlie Chasen was CBH President in 2014 when we signed the papers, purchasing our first synagogue from Young Israel. After a year of planning and renovations, we moved into the building in October 2015. The building was changed to make it accessible for people with disabilities, and to make it a beautiful, warm gathering place for our members and staff.
the edie cohen award
by Bob Schwartz
CBH is an egalitarian congregation, but there is one individual honor it bestows: The Edie Cohen Award. Edie Cohen was a member of CBH during its early years, when we were primarily a gay and lesbian congregation and "fabulousness" was of paramount importance. Edie was a paragon of sartorial splendor, whose outfits and jewelry invariably featured complementary elements and colors. A garment worn above the waist would always be echoed by a garment of a similar color below the waist, with matching shoes and jewelry. When any CBH member came to services or a special event looking particularly stylish, we would remark tongue in cheek that she or he had won the Edie Cohen Award that day.
Eventually, at the CBH Hanukkah party in 1994, Edie was given an actual trophy with a plaque on it stating that she was the recipient of The Edie Cohen Award. Since then, CBH has given The Edie Cohen Award every year to recognize a member who personifies "excellence in color coordination and accessorizing." Although originally given at Hanukkah, The Edie Cohen Award honoree is now recognized at the CBH Purim festival.
CBH invites all members to dress up for Purim, either with elegance and fabulousness or with originality and humor. Show your fashion style, and remember, shameless self promotion is always acceptable in pursuit of The Edie Cohen Award.
Edie Cohen pictured below. Plaques pictured Right.
Each year, the Jewish community gathers at Passover to remember our people’s journey from slavery to freedom many thousands of years ago. At Congregation Bet Haverim, we also gather once a year to call to mind another journey out of oppression – one that we are still in the midst of as an LGBTQII community. Pride Seder is our annual event that commemorates the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, and recognizes the important steps made so far towards civil rights for the LGBTQII community. It also asks, "what's next?"