BCC’s Newsletter in the Early Years

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Larry Nathenson

As many of you know, I compiled a history of BCC for our 40th anniversary.  It was serialized in this newsletter in six parts from September 2012 to July 2013 and can now be found on our website.  Having joined BCC in 1983, I had my own collection of primary source materials for the last three decades.  But for the first decade I relied on sources provided by others (in particular Stan Notkin) and on the work of Steve Sass, who wrote a history of BCC’s first decade for the 30th anniversary in 2002.

In February of this year, Jerry Nodiff, who joined BCC in 1974, gave me his collection of many of the early issues of this newsletter.  Since we are now required to shelter in place, I have had plenty of time to look through them.  In this article, and a few more in the months to come, I would like to share with you some of the more interesting things I found.

Here are the front covers of the issues from August 1974 and April 1976 (the newsletter was published monthly in those pre-internet days because it was the primary way we communicated with members who didn’t attend Shabbat services every week; we switched to bimonthly in 2005).

The first thing you may notice is that the front pages do not contain any articles.  The newsletter was printed on 8 ½ by 11 paper then, folded over, so that each page was only 8 ½ by 5 ½.  We didn’t switch to 11 by 17 paper until August 1984, when articles began to appear on the front page.

The next thing that jumps out is the logo.  In 1974 the BCC logo was a circle with the tablets of the law (Ten Commandments) and Hebrew letters aleph through yod, surrounded by the English words “religion,” “education,” and “fellowship.”  These correspond to the traditional three functions of a synagogue as a house of prayer (bet t’filah), house of study (bet midrash) and house of assembly (bet knesset) but give no hint that BCC was a temple for gays and lesbians.  By 1976 the logo was a Star of David with a lambda inside it, so we had come out a little more as a congregation.  

In August 1974 BCC was described as a “Metropolitan Community Temple,” reflecting our founding under the auspices of Rev. Troy Perry’s Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), the world’s first religious denomination specifically for gays and lesbians.  Soon after that, BCC was admitted to the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now Union for Reform Judaism), the first mainstream denomination of any religion to admit a gay and lesbian congregation, so the issues starting in October 1974 reflected that milestone.

The next interesting observation is that both covers simply say “Newsletter.”  The name G’vanim was not adopted until about 1980 (I don’t know exactly when because there are gaps in the issues I have).  G’vanim is Hebrew for hues or colors, and most likely reflects the rainbow symbol of our community.

Below the volume number and date, the August 1974 cover describes BCC as “formed to serve the spiritual needs of the homophile Jewish community.”  This quaint language did not last long; by 1976 we were “a Temple with an outreach to the gay Jewish community.”  Surprisingly, the word “lesbian” wasn’t added until 1982!  And nobody was even thinking about bisexual and transgender Jews until years after that.

My last observation about the covers is that at the bottom they both contain a candle and a pithy quote.  This was a semi-regular feature in the early years of BCC.  Here are a few more of these quotes that appeared on front covers.

Human Needs:

Some food, some work,

Some fun, some-one.

E.M. Walker (July 1975 issue)

As long as a person breathes,

(S)he should not lose hope.

Talmud J. (Jerusalem): Berakoth, 9:1 (December 1976 issue)

There is no room for God in the man

Who is filled with himself.

Baal Shem Tov (founder of Hasidic Judaism) (March 1978 issue)

 

Around 1981 the pithy quotes disappeared, replaced by stylized art in some issues.  Here is the cover from October 1982, with drawings for the fall holidays.

In the coming issues, I’ll take you inside a few of these early issues to see what our leaders were thinking and writing.

 

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