My Pathway to a Jewish LGBT Life in San Francisco

A few weeks ago, I sat with my fellow Pathways program members in the pews of Congregation Sha'ar Zahav to hear the history of LGBT and LGBT Jewish San Francisco. We could not have been more aptly located – right in the center of LGBT Jewish life in the city.

I came to San Francisco a little over a year ago and wondered if, even in the city known for its embrace of anyone from any walk of life, there was a place for a gay religious Jew looking to find a way to do something good. Indeed I found that, even for me, there was a place and I now feel fully linked in to the colorful and complicated San Francisco patchwork. One part of feeling like you belong is knowing who built the communities you belong to. This, at least in my eyes, has been a theme in the Federation’s Pathways program and was a special focus of that night of learning our history. If we can know the names and see the faces of the trailblazers that helped carve out a space for our communities, it can help us know where we fit in the unique fabric of the communities as they exist today.

What debt do we owe the trailblazers? How can we ever really know what they had to go through to build the places we enjoy and sometimes take for granted? How do we take anecdote and historical facts and give them new life and relevance for those of us in the now who are trying to appreciate, understand, and carry on their legacies? The first step is to listen – which is what Pathways gave us an opportunity to do. The second step is to question – to fill in the holes, connect the dots, and wonder why, with whom, and what then? Finally, when we embrace our shared histories – of Jews, gays, immigrants, Californians, politicos, and the list goes on – we should all think of how we will use that history to shape the future.

This thought brought me to my question that night: whether the LGBT community will continue to "make" history both internally and for the rest of the world. When the battles are all won and the glass ceilings have all been shattered, what milestones will there be left to reach, other than the slow creep towards full acceptance and fully just and equal treatment? Does the history of a community ever end and, if so, when does that happen?

There are lots of questions to ponder as we get into the next portion of the Pathways program. Hopefully we can use the collective experience of the group to get some answers. Till then!

Emanuel S. Yekutiel is a member of the Federation’s first cohort of LGBT Jewish leaders in its Pathways to Jewish Leadership program.

For more information on the LGBTQ Pathways to Jewish Leadership program, contact Katherine Tick at or 415.512.6265.



February 11, 2014


Emanuel S. Yekutiel