Longtime Jewish activist a grand marshal at Pride Parade

As a young military man stationed in Germany in the 1950s, Alvin Baum was just beginning to embrace his Jewish identity. The Chicago native attended Shabbat services there for the first time, thinking it could be an escape from the routine of Army life. At the time, said Baum, he didn’t know he was gay.

Nearly 60 years later, Baum is known throughout San Francisco for his philanthropy and activism in both the gay and Jewish communities. On June 30, the longtime member of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav will serve as the “Lifetime Achievement” grand marshal in the city’s 43rd annual Pride Parade.

Alvin Baum gets a hug from partner Robert Holgate photo/courtesy of alvin baum

He created the Alvin H. Baum Endowment Fund at Jewish Family and Children’s Services of San Francisco, which funds a number of programs including health education. He has also served as an advisory committee member for the AIDS Emergency Fund, the Hormel Gay & Lesbian Center of the San Francisco Public Library, and the Horizons Foundation, among others.

“When I decided to come to San Francisco after the Army, I had no idea that I would ever have any role as a gay person, or as a gay Jewish person,” said Baum, 81. “I feel so lucky that I’ve been able to express those aspects of my identity, and to help bridge those two communities.”

Perhaps the best proof of the progress that Baum and other gay Jewish activists have made toward bridging the gap is the sheer number of Pride-themed events that local congregations and Jewish nonprofits have come up with for this year’s celebration.

The Jewish social justice organization Bend the Arc is organizing a Jewish contingent to march in the parade; so far the group includes congregants from East Bay’s Temple Sinai, Netivot Shalom and Beth El, Sha’ar Zahav in S.F. and others, as well as people affiliated with Keshet, the Jewish LGBT advocacy organization. Susan Lubeck, Bend the Arc’s Bay Area regional director, said all are welcome, groups or individuals; people who sign up at http://tinyurl.com/bendthearc-pride will receive details and an invitation to a sign-making party on June 26.

Baum and Lubeck both said this year’s celebration comes at a particularly important time for the gay community, as the Supreme Court is set to release decisions on both California’s Proposition 8 and the so-called federal Defense of Marriage Act, which would affect benefits for same-sex couples even in states that have passed gay marriage laws.

“I’m hopeful,” said Baum. “I do think there’s been a national shift of opinion, and it’s accelerating.”

Leading up to the parade, the month of June offers a full calendar of other LGBT events hosted by Jewish groups around the Bay. Some highlights:

Contingent from A Wider Bridge and Temple Sinai of Oakland in the 2012 Pride Parade photo/courtesy of a wider bridge

• On June 21 at 8 p.m., Keshet and Moishe House will co-host a Pride Shabbat Cookout at Moishe House SF, 1250 Fell St., San Francisco. Attendees will discuss the history of the Pride celebration and how Jewish and gay identities overlap; meat and vegetarian dinner options will be provided. Keshet will co-host a number of other Pride events throughout June; visit www.keshetonline.org/work/sfbay for details.

• On June 27 at 7 p.m., A Wider Bridge — the Bay Area nonprofit that seeks to build LGBT connections with Israel   — will screen “Gay in a Day,” a series of short films about members of the Israeli LGBT community, at Oakland’s Temple Sinai. A Q&A session with Yair Hochner, producer of the Tel Aviv LGBT International Film Festival, will follow.

A Wider Bridge also will have a booth at the June 30 celebration following the parade, in part to promote the third annual LGBT trip to Israel set for this fall. For a complete listing of the group’s upcoming Pride Month events, visit www.widerbridge.org/category/programs/upcoming-programs.

• On June 28, Palo Alto’s Congregation Etz Chayim will hold Gay Pride Shabbat services with a talk by congregation member and longtime counselor Sooze Protter titled “Nurturing Our Gay Teens: How the Community Can Support Their Journey.”

In preparing for the talk, Protter got in touch with people who came out to her when they were teenagers — she’s worked with Jewish youth on the Peninsula for more than 30 years — including former students now well into their 40s.

“There’s absolutely been progress [in terms of acceptance], and I actually think the Jewish community is leading the way,” said Protter, who also teaches eighth-grade students at the congregation. “In the last decade, there’s been much more openness, more teens feeling like Mom and Dad can love you for who you are.”

• Many other congregations have had or will have Pride-themed Shabbat services, several featuring guest speakers. Among them are Cotati’s Ner Shalom (June 2, the same day as Sonoma’s Pride Pa-rade); Piedmont’s Kehilla (June 7); Santa Rosa’s Beth Ami (June 9, an interfaith Pride service); Berkeley’s Chochmat HaLev (June 14); Los Gatos’ Shir Hadash and Saratoga’s Beth David (in a joint service at Beth David, June 21); Berkeley’s Beth El (June 28); and San Rafael’s Rodef  Sholom (June 28).

Emma Silvers

Emma Silvers is a former J. staff writer.