Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum Fêted for 25 Years of Leadership

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum (right) and author, performance artist, and gender theorist Kate Bornstein. | DONNA ACETO

PHOTO ESSAY BY DONNA ACETO | In a benefit evening of speeches, musical performances, and a reception, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the city’s LGBTQ synagogue that is also the world’s largest, celebrated 25 years of spiritual leadership under Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum. The highlight of the evening, which raised funds to complete the capital campaign that allowed CBST to move into its new permanent home at 130 West 30th Street last year, were remarks by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Speaking to the crowd gathered at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Clinton praised Kleinbaum for her leadership on social justice issues and in bringing her community along in resistance to the Trump administration, while also remarking on the congregation’s extraordinary growth since the early 1970s when it struggled to reach a minyan, or quorum of 10 Jewish adults required to hold religious worship. Joking, “I’m kvelling… not bad for a Methodist,” the Democrat who won the 2016 popular vote handily only to lose in the Electoral College, also talked about how her faith has sustained her over the past year.

Introduced by Jonathan, a teenage member of CBST who was Bar Mitzvahed by Kleinbaum and volunteered in her campaign last year, Clinton also spoke of the hope she’s found in letters from young people around the country. About a boy named Felix who dressed as Hillary for Halloween, Clinton said, “He really nailed my hair.”

Rabbi Kleinbaum greets Hillary Clinton. | DONNA ACETO

In her own remarks, Kleinbaum recalled many happy moments at CBST but also talked about the critical social justice challenges faced in today’s political world. She, her children, and her partner, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, read written passages from Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait,” which was performed by the Greenwich Village Orchestra under the direction of Adria Benjamin. The congregation’s music director, Joyce Rozenzweig, led the CBST Community Chorus in song, and cantor Steve Zeidenberg also sang. Katherine Linton, who long helmed PBS’ “In the Life” LGBTQ public affairs program, produced a video, “Bringing Vision to Life,” the evening’s theme.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. | DONNA ACETO

Cynthia Nixon and Andy Cohen, both CBST members, hosted the evening. — Additional reporting by Paul Schindler

Rabbi Kleinbaum’s partner, Randi Weingarten, who heads the American Federation of Teachers, and Melissa Sklarz, the development director at the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. | DONNA ACETO

The evening’s co-hosts, Andy Cohen and Cynthia Nixon. | DONNA ACETO

Fred Davie, executive vice president at Union Theological Seminary, his husband Michael Adams, executive director of SAGE, State Assemblymember Deborah Glick, former State Senator Tom Duane, marriage equality champion Evan Wolfson, longtime LGBTQ leader Urvashi Vaid, and her partner, comedian Kate Clinton. | DONNA ACETO

New York Law School Professor Arthur S. Leonard, Gay City News’ legal correspondent, and Alix Kucker, an active CBST member and a former prosecutor in Queens. | DONNA ACETO