A Rabbi Power Couple
It’s Sunday morning in the basement kitchen of Beth Ahabah. About a dozen congregants look on as Rabbi Andrew Goodman passionately serves up helpings of a traditional Jewish beef stew.
Goodman is teaching a cooking class in preparation for the High Holy Days.
“It’s delicious!” one woman says.
Goodman’s husband Rabbi Jesse Gallop looks on – Gallop is the congregation’s assistant rabbi. He jokes that he’s fortunate Goodman loves to cook.
The couple moved to Richmond in July 2010 when Gallop took the position at Beth Ahabah.
They met as rabbical students at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem during the summer of 2003 and continued their studies together at the college’s New York campus before becoming neighbors in Brooklyn.
After ordination, they moved to different cities, but stayed in close contact realizing that their friendship meant much more. The couple married in October of last year.
Moving To Richmond
Even faith communities have been hit by the recession. Gallop says in his profession, you have to jump and be able to relocate when an opportunity opens.
“The Rabbi market is tough right now,” Gallop says.
They were hesitant to move to Virginia after a professor in New York expressed concerns about legal rights for same-sex couples in the Commonwealth – but both have been pleasantly surprised.
“Moving to the South was a scary idea, but it’s been amazing,” Goodman says.
With that warm reception to Richmond, Gallop and Goodman bought a house together in the city’s Fan District. The two love to play host, so they are excited to be able to interact with more neighbors and congregants.
Gallop says his congregation treats him and Goodman the same as other families – allowing his partner to be on the same insurance plan and assisting with Goodman’s moving costs.
“They respect that we’re a family – they did what they knew was the right thing,” Gallop said.
They also received a blessing from the congregation for their wedding back in October.
When Goodman moved with Gallop to Richmond, he was still looking for full-time employment. He says they’ve been fortunate to be in a situation where they can make their relationship a priority.
“You can’t cuddle up with a diploma at night,” Goodman jokes.
In the middle of that busy summer of moving into a new home, the University of Richmond appointed Goodman the first director of Jewish life and first Jewish chaplain on the campus.
“We’ve been very lucky to find two rabbi jobs in the same city,” Goodman said.
“Doing what we love,” Gallop adds.
Becoming Part Of The Community
“We’ve picked communities that haven’t needed to be inclusive, but they’ve both gone beyond the call of duty to make us feel welcome,” Goodman says.
He says there’s been a strong diversity initiative to raise the visibility of the Jewish community at UofR.
“It shows where the university is going,” Goodman says of the campus’s multifaith initiatives.
Gallop gives credit to Richmond and the faith communities for being progressive. He gives an example of his congregation working with a Baptist church saying they hear and respect different voices.
“In Virginia, there seems to be this gentility. People aren’t going to be confrontational,” Goodman says. “They’ll be present and polite and take the opportunity to meet and get to know you.”
“There’s room here to build relationships and dialogue,” Gallop says.
Goodman sees responsibility in being a positive role model in the community
“Prior to UofR, I had a very strong separation of personal and professional – our personal lives weren’t relevant,” he says. “I do feel my obligation is different at UofR because it’s so easy to be closeted, gay, and Jewish.”
This month, Goodman works with the William Byrd Community House on the Hans Falck Lecture Series – the topic on “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity across the Life-course.”
“I don’t want to be seen as the gay rabbi, but this rabbi that happens to be gay and contributes great things to the community. There’s a complexity to me that goes beyond my sexuality,” Goodman says.
Gallop echoes, “Part of my identity is being a gay person. I have no interest in hiding or being disconnected from it. I’m not a political person in general, so I believe it’s about relationship building. It’s more than sexuality. It’s how to look at life in a diverse way. I want to be known for more than being the ‘young rabbi’ as well.”
With the new home, they plan to stay in Richmond and hope to build their family in the future — but don’t want to start talking about that piece for at least two years.
Right now, both are focused on careers and stay busy with their terrier-chow Clancy. The guys describe their 3-year-old pup as a 38-lb. muppet.
“We’re fortunate to be in a community where we can have a positive home life and personal life that not only supports Jesse, but also us as a family,” Goodman says. “So much of the subculture is focused around sexuality, but we’re building a family life. I hope that’s the next chapter [in the greater dialogue].”
Through Beth Ahabah, Gallop has been working to build a support and social structure with the greater Jewish community through a new group called J-Town. The group hosts events throughout the year for young Jewish professionals.
Gallop says his congregation has been amazing. “They see my essence.”
“Working with older congregants, they didn’t know how to refer to us [as a couple]. They’ve become so comfortable with us, it doesn’t matter. Being married to a rabbi, they couldn’t second guess ‘is it ethical, holy, proper?’”
Both note their unique positions as public figures.
“The clergy title brings weight with it,” Goodman says. “We were told we’re the first gay ordained rabbi couple. I joke about being a rabbi power couple.”
“As clergy – people open up to me and let me into their life. You realize there’s a beauty in that and can’t let things get in the way,” Gallop says.
“That’s the holiness of it.”
The 2011 Hans Falck Lecture is on Tuesday, October 11, 7 p.m. at St. Andrew’s School Auditorium, 227 S. Cherry Street. For more information, click here. For more information on Beth Ahabah or J-Town, visit http://www.bethahabah.org/.
Kevin Clay is the editor and publisher of GAYRVA.COM. He is a Richmond native, loves the city and knows it's on the edge of greatness. Don't hold back RVA. You can follow Kevin on GAYRVA's Twitter or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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