On October 17, 1975 the Chicago Reader ran the following ad:
“Gay Jewish Group – if you want to get together with other local gay Jews, call Tsvi …”
And so began Congregation Or Chadash.
It is hard to believe now, when most Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative congregations accept gay and lesbian Jews as members, feature LGBT programming, and even perform same sex commitment ceremonies, that less than 40 years ago, gay and lesbian Jews were marginalized in the Jewish community. In response , a number of LGBT communities founded their own synagogues -- Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in NYC, Congregation Beth Ahavah in Philadelphia, and Congregation Or Chadash, here in Chicago.
From a small group of mostly gay men, the congregation has grown to over 80 families, women and men, gay and straight and transgender, and of varying religious backgrounds.
Or Chadash’s first religious services were held in a bar in January 1976, with 40 people in attendance. The next year the congregation began holding regular services at the Second Unitarian Church on Barry Street, which served as our home for the first 25 years of the congregation. In 2002 the congregation moved to its current home, Emanuel Congregation, where services are held in what we have come to call the”Stonewall Chapel” --- in honor of the walls which resemble Jerusalem stone and of our history, and the Stonewall Uprising of 1969.
The name “Or Chadash” was chosen in 1976. The name comes from the prayer “Or Chadash al tsiyon ta’ir venizkeh chulanu meheira le ‘oro. Shed a new light on Zion so that we may all soon benefit from it.”
Milestones in Or Chadash History
- 1981: The Congregation purchased our own Torah
- 1982 New and permanent Shabbat prayer books were created based on CBST in NYC
- 1984: Or Chadash was officially incorporated in State of Illinois and joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now URJ) in 1984, the fourth congregation with a gay and lesbian outreach to do so
- 1997: Or Chadash installed our first rabbi, Rabbi Suzanne Griffel
- 2007: Or Chadash was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame