It’s not every day your local rabbi is recognized by the queer community, but for Rabbi David Lazar, it’s actually happened twice — and on two different continents.
Lazar, the current chief rabbi of Stockholm’s Jewish community, was honored last week by the Swedish GLBTQ Magazine, “QX”, as its Årets Hetero (straight person of the year) at a star-studded gala, Gaygalan.
This is Lazar’s second such award. While still a pulpit rabbi in Israel, the American immigrant received the Yakir Hakehila award from Tel Aviv’s homo/lesbian community.
“I could probably be in the Guiness Book of World Records,” chuckles the fifty-four year old during a short trip to Israel this week. “I’m the only rabbi with a gay award on two continents.”
Lazar wasn’t able to receive his Israeli award in person as the show unfortunately fell on Shabbat. This time, as a nominee in a foreign country, Lazar felt he should make every effort to attend, and the father of five brought his wife Sascha too: “I realized that if I get this, I’d better look the part and show up with a woman.”
Pleased “just to be nominated,” the modest rabbi hadn’t really entertained the notion of winning, but he prepared a short statement in Swedish just in case.
“Five minutes before the award was announced I was still looking up the word ‘honor’ in Google. I was nervous, it was very Hollywood-y, and this is such a huge honor.
“But really, it’s not my honor as much as an honor for the entire [Jewish] community.”
Lazar, a leading figure in Israel’s Masorti Movement, has been on the frontlines of gay rights in Israel since the 1990s. In the early 2000s, he was the first rabbi to marry same-sex couples in the Holy Land. When asked to take his current position in Sweden in 2010, Lazar told the hiring board he had every intention of continuing on this path.
“For me, it’s a matter of human rights, ” Lazar said in a television interview in Sweden after receiving the prize. “Every human being was created in the image of God… we see God in each other… Nobody is abnormal; everybody is part of normality.”
Lazar was interviewed with Swedish soccer player Anton Hysen, who is only the second player to come out of the closet while still playing. The first player, Justin Fashanu, came out in 1990 and tragically took his life in 1998.
“I am worried that young people are afraid to be who they are… We can’t let young people lose hope like that,” said Lazar on Swedish television. And so, since taking his new pulpit at Stockholm’s Great Synagogue, Lazar has implemented a Rainbow Kabbalat Shabbat and initiated numerous ecumenical programs working against hate crime, prejudice and hate speech.
Lazar, who is the head of the entire Stockholm Jewish community, says that in general, he has received positive feedback from his flock. “Even members of the Orthodox synagogues congratulated me the next morning.”
He sees this award as the beginning of the next stage in the relationship between his community and the GLBTQ community. Seeing as he plans to stick around for the long run, he asks, “Does this mean I’m Swedish now?”