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