In South Florida’s transient LGBT community, a person may be a leader one day and gone the next day. A decade ago, our community’s most important religious leaders were the Right Rev. Grant Lynn Ford, Senior Pastor of the Sunshine Cathe- dral Metropolitan Community Church, and Rabbi Greg Kanter of Congregation Etz Chaim.
Next week I will follow Rev. Ford’s personal and spiritual odys- sey from Fort Lauderdale to Jack- sonville. This week I discuss Rabbi Kanter’s new career as the spiritual leader of a “mainstream” South Florida synagogue.
Rabbi Gregory J. Kanter served Congregation Etz Chaim as its rabbi from 1995 to 2002. After he left Etz Chaim, Rabbi Kanter founded and led Jewish Light, a now-defunct chavurah [Jewish prayer group] with an outreach to interfaith households, families, singles and couples regardless of sexual orientation.
Kanter also conducted wed- dings and funerals and performed other services for Jewish individuals and South Florida synagogues. Among those synagogues was Temple Sinai of Palm Beach County, a Reform congrega- tion in Delray Beach founded in 1978: “Temple Sinai hired me to lead a Pass- over Seder at a time when they were be- tween rabbis,” Kanter says. “It worked out very well and they kept asking me back to lead services on a part-time ba- sis. Eventually, they invited me for an interview when they were ready to con- sider hiring full-time again.”
The interview turned out well and Kanter was installed as rabbi on No- vember 14, 2008.
With over 500 members, Temple Sinai is a “mainstream” synagogue, with mostly straight members. Has Rabbi Kanter’s sexual orientation ever been an issue? “Not really,” he assures me. “I am completely out and I made sure it was on the table in my in- terview, and they were quite clear that they already knew and that it wasn’t a big deal. I pushed and made sure they knew that it was important that my partner was completely welcomed and we planned to start a family that I want to be a part of the synagogue and they couldn’t have been more thrilled. My office has pictures of my entire family on dis- play and, if anything, they wish the kids would come around more of- ten. It’s like they have a few hundred bubbes [grandmothers]!”
“Interestingly,” Kanter continues, “my ‘mainstream’ synagogue is com- pletely welcoming of everyone, while my previous LGBT congregation made membership a priority for LGBT peo- ple and was more reluctant to the idea of being more welcoming to a larger ‘mainstream’ membership. Temple Si- nai added a pride flag to their home page with a welcoming message andencourages me to partner with Com- pass, the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of the Palm Beaches. I loved the other congregations I served and I love Temple Sinai. They’re all different and that’s OK. Every synagogue is a little different and people just need to find the place that’s best for their needs, just like rabbis do. At this point in my life, Temple Sinai is the best place in the world for me and my family.”
On the other hand, Kanter does not think Temple Sinai’s LGBT mem- bers chose that synagogue because it has a gay Rabbi. “Members at any
temple just want to know that their Rabbi cares. Other things may be important to different people, but it all comes down to the same thing. I love Tem- ple Sinai.”
Now residing in Delray Beach, Rabbi Kanter shares a home with his partner, Mike, and two beautiful children.
“When I am not working, I spend every moment I can with my family. My family and Temple Sinai are my pri- orities. My kids are little, so since I work full-time, I like to be there for as much of their growing-up as I can. Being their father is the biggest ad- venture of my lifetime and I want to do it right. Honestly, between Temple Sinai and my family by the end of the day, I am happy and I am lucky if there’s time or energy for anything else.”
Rabbi Kanter’s love for the congre- gation that he leads is obvious to ev- eryone who encounters it. As he ex- pressed on the Temple Sinai Web site (Templesinaipbc.org): “It has been my privilege to officiate and counsel in a way that brings education, healing and comfort to communities and individu- als. I seek to share my love of Torah, Am Yisrael [the People of Israel] and Tikkun Olam [repairing the world] with the entire community.”
Rabbi Kanter’s devotion to Temple Sinai (and vice versa) is one that is sure to endure for many years to come.
Jesse Monteagudo ([email protected] com) is SFGN’s Senior Feature Correspondent.