The Pittsburgh Jewish community stood out among the tens of thousands who joined in the city’s annual EQT Equality March on June 11 and not just because of their “Love is Kosher” T-shirts.
“It was the energy of our community, and the numbers,” said Josh Sayles, director of the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, which organized Jewish participation in the march in partnership with J’Burgh, Bet Tikvah, the Federation’s Volunteer Center and Shalom Pittsburgh.
J’Burgh and Bet Tikvah received a grant from the Federation’s SteelTree Fund to partner for the event prior to being approached by the CRC.
The annual Equality March, which had its start in 1973, celebrates and supports the rights of the LGBT community. This was the first year that the Jewish community participated as an organized group in the parade, although the Federation has had a booth at the event in past years.
Jewish Federations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, St. Louis, Cincinnati — and many others — have been galvanizing their respective Jewish communities to participate in LGBT parades for the past several years.
“We had about 120 people who marched,” said Laura Cherner, assistant director of the CRC, who initiated the Federation’s participation in the parade. “It was a wide representation of affiliated and nonaffiliated people, and the support from the broader Pittsburgh Jewish community was really overwhelming.”
Feedback from across the Jewish spectrum was “positive, including from the Orthodox community,” said Sayles.
Since 2014, it has been the Pittsburgh Jewish community’s policy to unequivocally support LGBT rights, Sayles noted, citing a formal resolution to that effect passed by the Jewish Delegate Assembly of Greater Pittsburgh, which included 75 representatives from a range of local Jewish institutions.
The “Love is Kosher” T-Shirts proved to be a popular item at the march, with both Jews and non-Jews approaching Federation representatives asking where they could purchase them. Organizers had ordered 115 shirts and gave all of them away.
“I think [‘Love is Kosher’] is a great slogan,” said Jonathan Bernstein, 38, who is a member of the Orthodox Congregation Poale Zedeck and a member of the board of The Chronicle. “In my mind, love is a very central Jewish value.”
Rabbi Akiva, noted Bernstein, “explained that the mitzvah to love your neighbor as yourself is a fundamental value of the Torah. And we say ‘Blessed are you, God, who loves his people Israel’ before we say the Shema. The idea that all people should be loved and treated with dignity is very Jewish.”
Marching together as a community in support of LGBT rights is critical both to celebrate accomplishments and to continue conquering challenges, according to Richard Meritzer, a member of Bet Tikvah, Pittsburgh’s queer-centric, independent minyan.
“Particularly when it looks like our rights are going to be challenged, we need to celebrate how far we have come,” Meritzer said. “In addition, we need to show through our diversity of race, religion, political philosophy, ability and economic standing that we are united in achieving security in employment, housing, marriage and adoption and access to goods and services. We march together to celebrate how far we have come and to start the next phase of the struggle.”
The June 11 parade culminated 10 days of pride events, which are organized by the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh.
Cherner hopes to “continue and expand” Jewish community participation in the event next year, she said.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.