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Our History

Bet Haverim’s founders were  quiet revolutionaries − and some not so quiet − who bucked the establishment. They were visionaries who leveraged their idealism to blaze the trail that CBH follows today.

In 1985, at a Passover Seder, four gay men talked about their struggle to find acceptance in Atlanta's Jewish community. At the time, in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, Atlanta’s synagogues did not welcome openly gay and lesbian Jews. The Seder’s host, Gary Piccola, a 35-year old psychologist, was considering a move to Washington, DC or Miami − cities that had gay synagogues. But that night, along with the Seder’s traditional Four Questions, there was a Fifth: “Why not here?” they asked. “A gay and lesbian synagogue in Atlanta."

As the fledgling community grew − eventually attracting straight members – the programming expanded to include a full range of synagogue activities. “It was magical,” recalls one early member, “because there was nothing like it.”

CBH affiliated with the Reconstructionist movement, opened a religious school, established what would become a nationally recognized music program, and hired Rabbi Joshua Lesser, one of the country’s most dynamic religious leaders. Throughout CBH’s evolution, the congregation’s guiding principles have been rooted in the vision of its founders and early members: Inclusion and Innovation.

Some of our favorite traditions you won't see elsewhere:

  • Shabbat Shirah - This much beloved service comes each winter, when we read the Torah portion Beshelach -- the parsha when the Israelites leave Egypt and cross the Red Sea. It is a celebration of freedom, a call to attune ourselves to issues of social justice in our time, and as it is the parsha that contains the "Song of the Sea," it is a most magnificent musical offering. 
  • Pride Seder - Each year in June, we create an adaptation of the Passover Seder that charts the course from oppression to increased freedom for the LGBTQ community. The timing commemorates as the start of the gay rights movement, the Stonewall Riots in 1969. 
  • Music CDs and concerts - We are very proud of our robust music program, which both enables our members to make incredible music together and offers moments of beauty and transcendence to our wider congregation. We have a chorus, band, and strings ensemble made up entirely of members, and hold concerts throughout the year. We also have several CDs produced professionally that are available for purchase here.
  • The Prayer for the End of Hiding- This is an important prayer in the history of our synagogue, for had it not been needed, CBH would probably have not come into existence. While most of our liturgy reflects the diversity and inclusivity of our community, this prayer connects us as nothing else to the richness of our past and reminds us that in today's climate, we have not yet reached Eden. View the prayer here.

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Our Ark

The CBH ark, a significant symbol of the congregation's reverence and inclusivity, has a rich history and was a collaborative community project. Originally, the first "ark" at CBH was a kitchen cabinet used to store toy Torahs. However, when the congregation acquired a real Torah, a dedicated committee was formed to design and create a proper ark.

Under the leadership of Michael Kinsler, who was president at the time, the community came together in a "visioning" meeting to shape the concept of the ark. A committee consisting of Michael Kinsler, Edie Cohen, Paul Glickstein, and others took on the responsibility of bringing this vision to life. The result was a remarkable ark that embodies the values and aspirations of the congregation.

The ark doors, made of wood with glass panels, symbolize light, openness, and accessibility. 

Notably, the ark doors incorporate distinctive elements. A Star of David in cherry wood is adorned with a lambda symbol in maple wood, representing the inclusion and support of the LGBT community. The lambda, one of the earliest symbols of the LGBT movement, serves as a testament to CBH's commitment to embracing diversity.

Given the congregation's transient nature at the time of construction, practical considerations were taken into account. The addition of storage space and wheels allowed for easy mobility as CBH did not have a permanent home. The ark accompanied the congregation as they moved from place to place, becoming a symbol of stability and continuity amidst the journey.

The CBH ark, completed in 1992, was designed and crafted by Jim Tolmach, a skilled furniture maker from Avondale Estates and a member of the Friends Meeting house where CBH met at that time. The cost of the ark was $3,800, representing the investment made by the congregation in creating a sacred and meaningful space for the Torah.

The CBH ark stands as a testament to the collaborative efforts and shared vision of the community, embodying their values of openness, inclusivity, and reverence for the Torah. It serves as a cherished centerpiece within the congregation, reminding all who behold it of their shared journey and commitment to creating a welcoming spiritual home.

Our Torah

Our Torah holds a deeply meaningful story that emerged from a tragic event, a testament to the devotion and spirit of our community. Loretta Bernstein, the mother of our beloved member Serge Bernstein, z"l, shares this heartfelt account:

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.

The unfurling of the CBH Torah, and the beautiful reception afterwards, was a momentous occasion for CBH, where the joy and gratitude in the room were palpable.

Serge would have been immensely proud of the remarkable growth and progress that CBH has achieved, especially with the construction of our new building. His spirit continues to inspire and guide us as we move forward, cherishing the Torah he helped bring to our community and the lasting impact it has on our collective journey.

our  building

After many, many years of wandering and renting, we purchased our property at 2074 Lavista Road in 2014 from another synagogue community, Young Israel. The property has functioned as a synagogue since the early 1990s -- it was originally a ranch home that was dedicated to use as communal space for Young Israel, and at some point along the way, Young Israel built a large, light-filled gathering room onto the back of the home for services. After CBH purchased the property, we embarked on a year of planning and renovations ranging from design and aesthetics to accessibility to acoustics. With great joy, we moved into the building in October 2015. 

Fitting a full synagogue worth of programming into 3300 square feet means that nearly every space is multi-use. The beautiful space that serves as our sanctuary also serves as a space for meetings, yoga, art, concerts, and Shabbat dinners -- we often joke that it is our "room of requirement," somehow flexing however necessary to accommodate a myriad of set-ups and activities. Though our religious school, our high holidays, and our larger simchas still take place at another location, our modest home on Lavista has enabled us to expand our offerings tremendously. We are very grateful to have a place to call home.

The Edie Cohen Award

Edie CohenCBH 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.

Pride Seder

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?"

Sun, June 16 2024 10 Sivan 5784