Two Torah scrolls, flanked by the flags of Israel and the United States, plus the rainbow-striped flag that is the symbol of gay pride.
They come together each Friday at Temple Beth Torah — symbols of a rare arrangement between the standard Conservative synagogue and Congregation Etz Chaim, a liberal group that ministers mainly to gays and lesbians. Leaders say it's a good move.
"Anything that strengthens our community and brings us closer together is good," says Jerry Berkowitz, a member of Beth Torah and cantor of Etz Chaim.
Congregation Etz Chaim held its first Sabbath service in Tamarac on June 1, after moving from its double storefront in Wilton Manors, where it had worshiped for seven years.
Beth Torah, which has 400 families, holds Friday services at 6:30 p.m. in the main sanctuary. Then Etz Chaim uses the chapel starting at 8 p.m., using its two Torahs and displaying the rainbow flag. It also hangs up its own ark covering, a cloth with a silver treelike calligraphic design spelling out "Etz Chaim" on a woven lavender background.
Etz Chaim will keep Rabbi Noah Kitty as its executive director. She says she's "delighted" with the move.
"The rabbi and leaders at Beth Torah could not be more accommodating," says Kitty, who was ordained in the liberal Reconstructionist Jewish movement. "This relationship allows us to maintain our corporate and religious identity. And to access opportunities that a large synagogue building can offer."
The arrangement allows Etz Chaim to follow its members, many of whom had already moved to western Broward County. It also lets them worship in a more recognizable "ritual space," Kitty says.
"Instead of walking into a storefront, people could walk into a synagogue," she says.
Beth Torah is also sharing its kosher kitchen, with separate refrigerators and a professional gas stove.
The Conservative Jewish movement, standing between the Orthodox and Reform movements, tries to strike a balance between traditional faithfulness and adaptability to changing times. Its movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards voted to allow ordination of gays in 2006. And in May, the committee approved two model same-sex ceremonies that rabbis could use.
The arrangement was born when people from both congregations brought the matter to Beth Torah. Rabbi Michael Gold decided the idea fit with Beth Torah's recently launched "Keruv" program, which aims to reach out Jews in Broward who aren't affiliated with synagogues.
"We decided to include spiritual seekers, including gay and lesbian people," he says.
The rabbi admits that some Beth Torah members questioned the wisdom of allowing a gay/lesbian synagogue to worship on the premises. They asked if it meant the temple was endorsing something the Torah forbids. Gold's answer: The Torah doesn't forbid people, just "certain acts."
He says the plan to host Etz Chaim wasn't that radical, because Beth Torah has already had a number of gay and lesbian members, and once hosted the bar mitzvah ceremonies of children of two men.
"[Etz Chaim leaders] weren't asking to do gay marriages here. They just wanted a place to worship and call home."
Beth Torah leaders had a longer discussion on the fact that Etz Chaim is a nontraditional synagogue, Gold says. Among the adjustments: Etz Chaim was asked to conform to the Conservative practice of lighting candles before the Sabbath starts.
For Berkowitz, the Beth Torah-Etz Chaim relationship is a positive step in Jewish unity. "Everyone is shifting a bit, and the association is becoming more solid. And more people are owning their Jewish life."
JDDavis@Tribune.com or 954-356-4730.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times