The numbers should match last year’s — San Francisco Pride again expects more than 1 million people for its two-day celebration this weekend. And, once again, members of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav will be among the 20,000 marchers expected in the parade.
But the 46th annual SF Pride celebration — promoted as the country’s largest gathering of LGBT people, their families and friends — won’t be like last year at all.
“Pride weekend this year feels different,” said Rabbi Ted Riter, interim rabbi at Sha’ar Zahav, the city’s first LGBT synagogue. “In one year, we went from marriage equality to the tragedy in Orlando, so we’ve had huge highs and devastating lows.”
Laura Lowe, president of the Sha’ar Zahav board, agreed. “I’m guessing that will put a different tone on the parade because we all are in mourning,” Lowe said. “But I do think it will swell the ranks. I also think we’re going to see more of the anger and calls for action we saw during the AIDS epidemic, because people are really fired up.”
Diana Buchbinder, vice president of Sha’ar Zahav, voiced concern about security at the two-day event.
“As a Jew, as a lesbian and as a member of a minority group, in particular in this political climate, I am always concerned any time there is a big gathering,” Buchbinder said. “This year I would say for me it is more a heightened awareness than a deep concern. We can use this opportunity to be more present, rather than afraid.”
SF Pride announced this week that there will be security screening and metal detectors at all points of entry to the Civic Center site on June 25 and 26. Organizers said bags are highly discouraged, and that only soft bags with a maximum size of 18 inches by 18 inches will be permitted. The San Francisco celebration comes two weeks after the June 12 massacre in Orlando, Florida, where a gunman shot to death 49 people at Pulse, a gay bar and dance club.
The theme of this year’s Pride weekend is “For Racial and Economic Equality.” Buchbinder, 63, remembers marching in her first Pride parade in 1984.
“I walked with my daughter, who was just born, with my partner and our 1-year-old son,” she said. Buchbinder and other Sha’ar Zahav members will walk in the Union for Reform Judaism’s San Francisco Bay Area Community contingent.
“It’s particularly rewarding to participate with the synagogue, because it’s fundamental as a Jewish family that we give our kids a sense of community and belonging,” said Buchbinder. “Marching together is an opportunity to be proud and public about who we are.”
Martin Tannenbaum, a longtime Sha’ar Zahav member, board member and LGBT activist, will walk in the parade with his husband, Alex Ingersoll, a past president at the synagogue.
“There is something particularly interesting about Pride weekend in San Francisco,” said Tannenbaum, 63, who spent 30 years in Boston. “It feels like a city where it’s the Jews who are not out, not very visible — certainly less visible than in Boston.”
Five or six years ago, Tannenbaum wore a kippah in the parade here, a decision that he said “felt very courageous.”
Before the weekend gets underway, Sha’ar Zahav will hold two special events on Friday night, June 24. The congregation’s 12th annual Pride Seder begins at 5:30 p.m., with a vegetarian potluck followed by a Pride Shabbat service. Cantor Sharon Bernstein noted the service is “the biggest event of the year outside of the High Holy Days.”
In 2005, Sha’ar Zahav congregants wrote their own Pride Haggadah, reflecting on the meaning of Pride weekend. This year, for the first time, participants will have an opportunity to share their own stories at the Pride Seder.
In past years, the Pride Shabbat service has drawn more than 200 people. One big draw is Siddur Sha’ar Zahav, a prayer book “oriented toward LGBT community solidarity” that congregants published in 2009.
“This will be my first Pride Seder and Pride Shabbat at the synagogue, because I got here last July,” said Riter, the interim rabbi. “Even then, people were already talking about this year’s events. The importance of our Pride Shabbat can’t be overstated.”
Riter, 48, said he anticipates a “powerful 90-minute service,” with a special liturgy that includes reciting Hallel. “These are songs of celebration, and our synagogue uses it for our Pride Shabbat,” he said. “I believe the service will be a wonderful, moving, enriching, powerful and comforting experience.”
In addition to Sha’ar Zahav members, at least two Jewish LGBT groups will march with the URJ contingent in Sunday’s parade. They are A Wider Bridge, a pro-Israel organization “that builds bridges between Israelis and LGBT North Americans and allies,” and Keshet, a national organization that “works for full LGBT equality and inclusion in Jewish life.” And the San Francisco Jewish Community Center promises a “rainbow trolley” as part of its contingent in the parade.
Here is the basic schedule for SF Pride events:
SATURDAY, JUNE 25: The celebration begins at noon with a festival at Civic Center Plaza. Entertainment is scheduled on a main stage and more than a dozen community-produced stages and venues.
SUNDAY, JUNE 26: The parade starts at 10:30 a.m. at Market and Beale streets and ends at Market and 8th Street. Following the parade, a second celebration will be held at Civic Center Plaza, with entertainment on the main stage and on 20 additional stages and venues.
At 2 p.m., the Official SF Pride VIP Party starts in the City Hall Rotunda. The event features three rooms of entertainment, appetizers and drinks. Tickets cost $50.
For complete information, see www.sfpride.org