St. Louis Jewish community groups hope presence at PrideFest sends message of support

A variety of St. Louis Jewish congregations and organizations took part in the St. Louis PrideFest parade. Photos: Philip Deitch

BY ERIC BERGER , Staff Writer

Lawrence Amitin said the St. Louis PrideFest parade this year felt different because of the terrorist attack at a gay club earlier this month in Orlando, Fla. In the wake of the attack, he said he could relate to the LGBT community not only because his daughter is gay but also as a Jew.

“They showed their resiliency and their strength, and they didn’t show weakness,” said Amitin, a member of United Hebrew Congregation. “They banded together just like the Jewish community has banded together” during times of persecution.

At the parade Sunday, thousands of people marched along Market Street downtown despite temperatures in the high 90s. 

Among the more than 100 people who marched with the Jewish contingent there were plenty of people who did not identify as LGBT. Some said they attended because they have a close friend or family member who is gay. Others gave reasons similar to Amitin’s.  

The group of Jews wearing rainbow colors and leis included representatives from Jewish Federation of St. Louis, Temple Israel, Kol Rinah, Central Reform Congregation, Temple Emanuel, Next Dor St. Louis, Q Jews, National Council of Jewish Women-St. Louis Section, Camp Ramot Amoona, Congregation Shaare Emeth, Moishe House, YPD, United Hebrew, Shir Hadash Reconstructionist Community, Hillel at Washington University in St. Louis, the Jewish Community Center and Congregation B’nai Amoona.

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Local support for the LGBT community in June — Pride Month — also extended into the Orthodox stream of Judaism. Young Adults of Bais Abraham hosted a discussion featuring Rabbi Micah Buck-Yael, a transgender man, at an ice cream shop Monday. 

Rabbi Randy Fleisher of CRC said the number of Jewish groups supporting the LGBT community at the parade has grown significantly since his congregation first started marching more than 20 years ago with a local church.Gradually other Jewish congregations and organizations joined. 

“I never thought we would have a day where there would be that many Jewish organizations and congregations together,” said Rabbi Susan Talve of CRC.

Fleisher said the groups coming together to march sends a strong message. 

“I think it’s important for the Jewish community to have a public face at an event like this,” he said. “So many people come who really don’t have LGBT issues on their radar screen, but they are downtown or they are here because there’s a parade. For them to all of a sudden see dozens if not hundreds of Jews demonstrating love for the LGBT community is important.”

Gavin Schiffres, a teacher who is moving into Next Dor, a house in the Central West End that hosts events for Jews in their 20s and 30s, wore a colorful bandana with fruit attached to it and had rainbow flag paint on his face. He held a sign that said, “We say Kaddish for Orlando.” 

“I want to make a statement that Next Dor is an inclusive place, especially after what happened in Orlando,” said Schiffres, who is from New York and teaches English at Jennings Senior High School & College Prep Academy. “I see how important it is to create a safe space for gay students every day. I have a lot of gay students and bisexual students or students who just don’t know and are experimenting and curious, and I want to make sure that they feel loved.”

Holly Bezinovich came out about four years ago and moved recently with her partner from Chicago, she said. She has a tattoo of a colorful Jewish star on her left arm. She said she was inspired to participate in the parade by her grandmother, who was a Holocaust survivor. 

“She was never afraid to say that she was a Jew, and I’m never afraid to say that I’m gay and who I am,” said Bezinovich, a nurse.

She pointed to her tattoo and said, “I wear this in pride with thoughts of (my grandmother) and everyone else who is gay and can’t be out.”