Two stalwarts of Atlanta’s Jewish community are being honored at the upcoming Purim off Ponce party for their work in support of SOJOURN: Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender & Sexual Diversity.
Rabbis Pamela Gottfried and Michael Bernstein will each be presented with the Michael Jay Kinsler Rainmaker Award at the event Saturday, Feb. 25.
“They both individually have such a rich influence on their communities,” SOJOURN Executive Director Rebecca Stapel-Wax said. “Whereas Rabbi Gottfried is a teacher in school and Rabbi Bernstein is the spiritual leader of a congregation, their history of supporting LGBT rights and equality isn’t dissimilar. So having them as a dynamic duo is a terrific announcement to the world. This level of commitment goes through all denominations.”
Rabbi Bernstein, who leads Congregation Gesher L’Torah in Alpharetta, is a longtime advocate for equality.
“The voices that have been raised come from every religious type, from different perspectives and political positions, so obviously, while there are those that take another view, the coalition of those who say this is a fundamental civil right goes across the spectrum,” he said.
Stapel-Wax said it is difficult for the two honorees to be in a position of authority while speaking out for a group “that has been historically scrutinized and oppressed. It’s only in the last 10 years that the Conservative movement has been relatively accepting of gay and lesbian people. So much has changed in that time, yet they (Rabbis Gottfried and Bernstein) have always been these comforting and accepting human beings.”
Both rabbis have actively opposed religious liberty legislation the past couple of years in the Georgia General Assembly. Such measures have been criticized by LGBTQ and civil rights organizations for potentially legalizing discrimination against LGBTQ people and others.
Rabbi Gottfried, the dean of Jewish studies and student life at the Weber School in Sandy Springs, has counseled students on sexual and identity matters since moving here from New York in 1999.
“Kids who were coming out would come to me for pastoral care. ‘I can’t tell my parents,’ that sort of thing,” she said. “For a long time I had Robbie Medwed (SOJOURN’s former education director) and Rebecca as my go-to people to make sure I was doing it right. I had Rebecca on speed dial. I knew what I was doing, but I was working a lot with students who were coming into their own and coming out of the closet and looking for guidance.”
One of those seeking counsel turned out to be Rabbi Gottfried’s own daughter, Shira. “It was totally different when it was someone else’s teenager,” the rabbi said. “It became personal that year and a really meaningful connection. It was about more than just being a good rabbi and a good ally.”
She said the Purim award from SOJOURN “was a complete surprise. We did all these protests and things down at the Capitol because we would do them anyway and never expected to be honored. It was really a shock.”
Stapel-Wax said Purim off Ponce, SOJOURN’s biggest fundraiser each year, is important “because we need to have joy. They cannot take away our fun or our celebration or our successes. It’s a time when people get together and put their stake in the sand and say, ‘This is who we are, and we’re not going anywhere.’ ”
What: Purim off Ponce’s 11th anniversary
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25
Where: Le Fais do-do, 1161 Ellsworth Industrial Ave., Atlanta
Tickets: $75 in advance or $100 at the door, with sponsorships beginning at $300; sojourngsd.org/purim