Maitland – Congregation Ohev Shalom, the oldest synagogue in the Central Florida area, will now perform and recognize same-sex unions. The synagogue’s Executive Board made the decision unanimously with the full support of the Board of Trustees of Congregation Shalom in Maitland, Fla.

“I anticipated there might be a number of people that would see this as a turning wave from being a traditional congregation,” Senior Rabbi Aaron Rubinger said.

However, he said not a single congregation member had reservations during the process leading up to the approval of same-sex unions.

While in Florida there is a ban on recognizing same-sex marriages and civil unions, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards adopted a ruling in 2006 which normalized the status of LGBT individuals. A follow-up ruling introduced rituals and documents for same-sex couples within Conservative Judaism.

“I think there’s a perception out there that the [Jewish] Conservative movement really doesn’t have a place for the LGBT community,” Rabbi Rubinger said. “But we are indeed one of the first in Florida – and even throughout the country – that has adopted this type of policy.”

Rabbi Rubinger said this change stemmed from various reasons and sources, but three in particular stand out. He knows there are a number of families with gay or lesbian family members who were looking for a synagogue they could participate in and feel welcomed. He held a Bar Mitzvah, where the parents were a lesbian couple and the biological mom was involved in the synagogue. He also held a class with discussions on the topic, where many felt it would be a great step forward to become more “user-friendly for the LGBT community” within their congregation and the overall Jewish community of Orlando.

Before, the rabbis of the congregation could perform unions outside the synagogue, but now they can also be performed inside and allow for recognition of civil unions that have been already performed. Rabbi Rubinger hopes it allows for LGBT members of the Jewish community and his congregation to find a place where they can feel wanted and allow them to explore their spiritual side.

“We suspect other congregations will be following our lead, and [the policy] will have implications beyond Orlando,” he said.