LGBT Rabbinic Reflections

LGBTQ+ Rabbinic Groundbreakers: Rabbi Don Goor on Opening Doors

This Pride Month, the Central Conference of American Rabbis is lifting up an important community within the Reform rabbinate: the groundbreaking LGTBQ+ rabbis who were amongst the first rabbis to express themselves openly, who paved the way—and often fought for—LGBTQ+ acceptance and inclusion in the Reform rabbinate and in the Jewish community.

Generations of LGBTQ+ Jews have lived closeted lives because of outright discrimination and more subtle forms of bias and rejection that have dominated much of Jewish history, including the history of our Reform Movement and the CCAR itself. We are committed to continuing to learn how to rectify the erasures of the past and to embrace all of our colleagues.

While the Reform Movement has advocated for LGBTQ+ inclusion for decades, for many queer rabbis, the personal experience of navigating sexuality in rabbinical school, or being the first out rabbi at a synagogue, in an organization, or even in their city or community, was a fraught, sometimes painful experience, often marked with judgment, shame, or even overt discrimination. 

We share these moments of truth, and we also share important moments of joy and hard-won milestones. We honor the experiences of queer Reform rabbis, their meaningful contributions, and above all else, we thank them for showing up as their authentic selves and bringing diversity and wholeness to the rabbinate and to their communities.

“Neitzei hasadeh—Let us go forth and let our message ring out, that God loves us all, that we love us all, and that love conquers all.” [Based on Song of Songs 7:12]

When I was ordained in 1987, all I could see in my future were doors that were closed to me.  

When I applied to Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), I hid the fact that I was gay. I feared that being discovered would bar me from any opportunity to be ordained, let alone allow me to find a position upon ordination. While the seminary accepted me, the door to true acceptance was locked shut. 

When Evan and I first met, we hid our relationship. We did not communicate with each other at HUC-JIR for fear of discovery. Instead of speaking at school, we left messages on each other’s voicemails so that we could meet (always clandestinely), away from eyes that might lead to the door of ordination being shut in our faces.  

I went into placement confident that I could only ever find a position in a synagogue as a closeted “single” man. When I did accept a position in the New York area (this was so Evan and I could be close; he had one more year before being ordained as a cantor), the senior rabbi asked if I was gay. (At the time, the CCAR had a task force on accepting gay rabbis, so it seemed like an innocent question.) With a quivering voice, I answered, “Yes”! He then told me he couldn’t have me on his staff. He didn’t want a rabbi who would be lying about his identity to the congregation and, at the same time, wasn’t willing to hire an “out” rabbi. The door that I feared would be slammed shut in my face did in fact close, in an emotionally devastating moment.  

In follow-up interviews, I was careful to keep the door completely shut and avoid the question of sexual orientation at all costs. As an act of self-preservation, I was complicit in keeping that door closed tightly.  

At Temple Judea in Tarzana, California, I spent many years as assistant/associate rabbi, sharing a home with Evan—my “roommate”! We were careful to build an impenetrable barrier between our professional and personal lives.   

When the senior rabbi position at Judea became available, I knew it was up to me to open the door so I could serve the congregation with a sense of wholeness and integrity. Over the period of a few months, I met with congregational leaders—past, present, and future—to share my story and to come out to them individually and in person. None of them were surprised; all were supportive. Doors began to open. 

Rather than go through an open search, the congregation hired consultants to help them understand what they were looking for in their next senior rabbi. While they quickly reached the consensus that I would be a great match, I’m told that the more senior members of the congregation expressed concern that younger members would be uncomfortable, while younger members were nervous that older members might object. Over several months my personal life was discussed openly by hundreds of congregants. Would Evan and I kiss on the bimah? Would we dance together at synagogue events? It was more than uncomfortable and not at all an easy process. And yet, the door slowly creaked open.   

At the time, it seemed that I was the first openly gay rabbi to be appointed senior rabbi at a mainstream congregation, a story interesting enough for The New York Times to cover. While the synagogue celebrated, protestors attended my installation, and a famous radio personality spoke about abomination on his nationally syndicated program. I’m forever grateful to my teachers and mentors, Rabbi David Ellenson and Rabbi Richard Levy, z”l, for supporting me quite publicly. While the door was slowly opening, there were those trying to slam it shut again.  

A number of years later, as same-gender marriage became legal, Evan and I, at long last, celebrated a chuppah surrounded by friends, family, and congregants. The Shabbat before our ceremony, we were blessed on the bimah at Temple Judea, after which one family resigned. It turns out it was okay to have an out, gay rabbi, but they didn’t want it “shoved in their face”!   

Eventually, despite facing hurdles, I was welcomed for twenty-six years as the rabbi—not as the gay rabbi. I was blessed to share fully in the life of the congregation. 

While the journey to full acceptance and welcome within the community wasn’t an easy one, I never imagined during my time as an HUC-JIR student, hidden deep within the closet, that my career would be so fulfilling and so meaningful. While doors were closed to me along the journey, I’m pleased and proud that, over the years, more and more of those doors swung open. The seminary that wouldn’t have ordained me had I been out invited me to teach and mentor students. The world of synagogue life that was originally closed to me embraced me, and Evan, in the end. They opened doors and hearts, allowing me to serve as their rabbi with complete openness and integrity. I feel privileged to have shared my professional journey with a loving partner, caring friends and family, and a supportive community. Together we forced open the doors so that future generations of rabbis could walk through them with their heads held high. 

Rabbi Donald Goor was ordained in 1987 at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. In 1996, Rabbi Goor was appointed the first out, gay rabbi to serve a mainstream congregation. Rabbi Goor served on the faculty of HUC-JIR in Los Angeles for many years and is rabbi emeritus at Temple Judea in Tarzana, CA. He made aliyah in 2013 and now serves as the rabbinic liaison at J2 Adventures—planning trips to Israel for rabbis and synagogues—and on the boards of the Israel Religious Action Center, Shutaf—a program for special needs kids—and the David Forman Foundation. Rabbi Goor is married to Cantor Evan Kent, his life partner of over thirty-five years. 

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L’chol Z’man v’Eit – The Time Has Come For A New Life-Cycle Guide

When I was ordained in 1987, Rabbi Alexander Schindler presented each of us with a Rabbi’s Manual. Over the years the binding of my manual split as I added favorite poems and creative pieces of liturgy.  Since the publication of THE RABBI’S MANUAL – MAAGLEI ZEDEK much had changed in the Jewish community and in the lives of individual Jews. So in 2010, a terrific group of colleagues came together to create a new rabbi’s manual which would allow for more creativity on the part of each rabbi.

With the following words we first articulated our mission:

Our shared work together is the creation of a new CCAR rabbi’s manual that will help Reform Rabbis develop and enhance meaningful ritual moments in the lives of those we serve.  This new manual, in both book form and as an on-line resource, will provide CCAR members with a collection of liturgy for essential life cycle moments, as well as new, creative liturgy for less traditional rituals, reflecting our time and the diverse community we serve.  While welcoming innovation the liturgy should maintain a strong tie to our tradition.  Our work will be to cull the best of existing liturgical material while updating and adding new material where necessary. 

Our work was guided by Rav Kook’s text:  הישן יתחדש והחדש יתקדש – The old will be made new and the new will be made holy.

Kavanah for Birth Chapter
Kavanah for Birth Chapter

As rabbis we know that Jewish rituals are continually being renewed and developed as we, members of the Jewish community, realize there are moments in our lives that need to be sacralized.

We also invited a group of cantors from the ACC, led by Cantor Michael Shochet, to work with us so that this new publication would become one that both members of the CCAR and of the ACC could use for life cycle and other sacred moments.

We are blessed that the rabbis of our tradition have bequeathed to us practices that continue to have the power to touch our lives.  Often these rituals succeed as they have for generations. However, often they have become routine and we must envision these practices anew in order for them to remain relevant in our world.

We also recognize that our personal and communal lives are not fully reflected in the rituals of our tradition.  There are holy moments that have not been recognized by our tradition.  Rather than merely relying upon the rituals of our past, our goal was to be open to the creation of new rites and ceremonies that reflect our lives and our world.

This new Life-Cycle Guide is designed to allow the officiant to create a meaningful ritual that follows the outline of the tradition while inviting flexibility and creativity.

Here are some of the features you will discover when you open your copy of L’chol Z’man v’Eit – The CCAR Life-Cycle Guide:

  • From the start we realized our charge was to create more than a manual.  We are not plumbers or electricians who utilize a manual to install new pipes or refrigerators.  Rather than using the familiar term “rabbi’s manual,” we have entitled our book L’chol Z’man v’Eit – The CCAR Life-Cycle Guide.
  • L’chol Z’man v’Eit does not present complete life-cycle services for our central ritual moments. Instead it enables the officiant to choose from among options for each stage of the ritual.
  • The opening of each chapter features a List of Sections that reflects the structure of the prototypical ritual. Within that structure you will find multiple options. Many are included within the printed volume, with additional options available online. These different choices reflect a variety of messages, theologies, and styles, as well as .gender variations.
  • The loose-leaf format allows the officiant to select the pieces for a given life-cycle event or ritual, and then to order them within the binder according to your needs.
  • The online version offers additional choices that can be downloaded, printed, and added to your binder as needed, or used on a portable electronic device.
  • L’chol Z’man v’Eit has a much greater emphasis on healing, recognizing the role of the clergy in helping congregants dealing with a wide range of issues.
  • Throughout the volume there is material that deals with the realities of contemporary life, ie natural disasters, stages of aging, being in or having loved ones in the military, and even a ritual of changing name upon changing gender identity.
  • A section on Community includes different kinds of blessings for moments in communal life, such as the installation of a new Executive Director, or honoring donors.
  • At the front of each chapter in the on-line version there is a kavanah for the rabbi’s personal use. It is our hope that these kavanot will help up prepare ourselves for the life-cycle event or ritual that we will be leading, thus enhancing our experience as an officiant.

One major innovation of this book, in addition to what is listed above, is the approach we have taken in the wedding section. There is now no differentiation between same sex and opposite sex marriage. A variety of options are presented from which the rabbi may choose based on the needs and wishes of the couple.  This decision was based upon the idea that Reform Judaism recognizes every wedding to be sacred.

הישן יתחדש והחדש יתקדש – The old will be made new and the new will be made holy. My prayer for each of us:   May לכל עת connect us deeply with that which is meaningful from our tradition.  May it also open to us new horizons through rituals that reflect our time.  And may we, through this volume, be blessed to bring holiness to the lives of those whom we serve.

Order your copy of L’chol Z’man v’Eit now, either the print book or the PDF, or both.