LGBT congregation calls straight conservative scholar “‘perfect fit’
Congregation Beth El Binah will install Jeffrey Leynor as its first permanent rabbi during services on Jan. 11. Leynor was formerly the rabbi of Congregation Beth Torah in Richardson.
Leynor was ordained in 1989 by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.
Beth El Binah, the only predominantly gay and lesbian Jewish congregation in Texas, has been a member of the Union for Reform Judaism since 1991.
Leynor was married and has three children, ages 15 to 21. His wife, Karen, died in 2004. For the past two years, Leynor has conducted holiday services, some Shabbat services throughout the year and classes.
Leynor says he doesn’t particularly think of Beth El Binah as just a gay and lesbian congregation because “it’s open to everybody.
Leynor says he was happy to leave large temple politics and to find a small group that is “friendly, accepting and warm. People have a great sense of humor, which I enjoy. Plus I get to do the service with my guitar,” Leynor says.
Before entering the seminary, Leynor toured with the rock band Stanky Brown for 10 years. He did vocals and played guitar for the group. They recorded three albums in the 1970s, which hit the Billboard charts.
After graduation from rabbinical school, Leynor moved to Richardson and served the north Dallas Conservative synagogue for 16 years. In addition to his new duties with Congregation Beth El Binah, he is police chaplain with the Plano Police Department and is a bereavement coordinator and chaplain at Century Hospice in Dallas. He is also a registered suicide intervention trainer for the military and police.
When considering the choices for permanent rabbi, congregation President Diane Litke says sexual orientation “never even crossed our mind. We look at the person, not the orientation.”
Litke says that over the years, guests have included gay rabbis, lesbian rabbis and heterosexual women. She says Leynor was just a perfect fit.
Former congregation president Nancy Jessula Clark says, “We’re a predominantly gay and lesbian congregation. We know that. We don’t need to be told that.”
Jessula Clark adds that gay and lesbian rabbis all want to do “the gay sermon. We’ve heard it already.”
She says, “We need a rabbi who understands that we take our Judaism seriously but we don’t take ourselves seriously.”
Both Litke and Jessula Clark agree that Leynor has brought a new dimension to services that had previously been lay led.
Litke adds, “And Jeffrey’s just radical enough for us.”
Congregation Vice President Barbara Rosenberg says, “Being a beneficiary of the Black Tie Dinner has given us the financial stability to engage a permanent rabbi.”
In addition to services, Leynor conducts conversion classes. Conversion to Judaism can take several years of preparation. His first group of Jews by Choice at Beth El Binah went to the mikvah, or ritual bath that is part of the conversion ceremony, on Dec. 27. Leynor estimates he has performed almost 500 conversions in his career. He delights in this being his first all-lesbian group.
In December 2006, rabbinical leaders of Conservative Judaism approved a resolution allowing the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis and same-sex unions. But Leynor says he is happier with his new affiliation with the more liberal Reform Judaism.
The Reform movement has been an advocate for gay and lesbian rights since it passed its first resolution calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1965 and has since declared all anti-gay ballot initiatives immoral. In 2000, the rabbinical manual’s “Same Gender Officiation” ceremony changed its wording from “union” to “marriage.”
This year, the Reform seminary graduates its first transgender rabbi.
Leynor will be installed as permanent rabbi of Beth El Binah at the Jan. 11 Shabbat service. Services are held at the John Thomas Gay and Lesbian Community Center, 2701 Reagan St., at 8:15 p.m.
At the same time, a new, inclusive prayer book will be dedicated and the 2008 board of directors will be installed. Services are open to the community.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 4, 2008