A historic Pride Shabbat

At 5:oo P.M. this past Friday, a line of visibly excited people, many decked out in rainbow regalia, gathered outside Congregation Beit Simchat Torah Shabbat services. Synagogues generally don’t garner lines for services, especially lines that wrap around the block. But then again, it’s not every Shabbat that you can celebrate Pride weekend with Edith Windsor and Roberta Kaplan.

Windsor, of course, is the lesbian woman whose Supreme Court petition resulted in the historic overturn last week of the Defense of Marriage Act. Kaplan is her lawyer. Both women are CBST members.

Over 600 people — including mayoral candidate Christine Quinn — came to the synagogue to celebrate the ruling; some stood outside listening in through speakers. The services were extended and included the recitation of the Hallel prayer normally reserved for holidays. Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum dedicated the night to Thea Speyer, Windsor’s deceased partner, and said that, while there may be reasons not to fully celebrate the court’s decisions last week, we should still celebrate this momentous occasion.

And celebrate they did. With a full choir, the synagogue was full of joy, music, and hugs.

Kaplan and Windsor spoke together at the end of the service, comparing their efforts in securing equal rights for same-sex marriages to the efforts of the biblical daughters of Zelophehad, who fought for their inheritance rights and won.

The high point of the night came at an unexpected moment. As the services started, a diminutive, elegantly dressed woman walked in slowly. No one noticed her at first, but then one person recognized the smiling women as Edith Windsor, and the cheering and clapping turned into a sustained standing ovation. Her entrance felt like the triumphant return of a battle-worn hero waving to the crowd.

Joe Winkler is the online coordinator for JTA.