JUNE 21, 2018, SALEM – For many, the North Shore is a lucky place to live.
“I am incredibly lucky,” said Rabbi Jillian Cameron of Salem. “I know that, and I think about it on a regular basis.” A second later, she reiterated: “I’m very, very, very lucky.”
“I feel so fortunate to be born in Massachusetts, to be born and live on the North Shore,” said Bruce Silverlieb of Marblehead. “That’s why I want everyone to move here.”
Cameron and Silverlieb consider themselves lucky because as members of the LGBTQ community, they have felt welcomed and embraced by the North Shore. On Saturday, June 24, they’ll have an opportunity to show their appreciation.
Cameron will march in the North Shore Pride Parade as part of the Jew(ish) Tribe for Pride on Saturday, June 24, on Salem Common. Silverlieb cannot march because it falls on Shabbat.
This is the second year for the Jew(ish) Tribe for Pride, which puts parentheses around the “ish” as a gesture of inclusivity. Last year, 30 people marched in Salem with them, and this year, they’re expecting 50. The Jewish Family & Children’s Service, BBYO, Epstein Hillel School, InterfaithFamily, and Congregation Shirat Hayam of Swampscott have sponsored the group.
Laura Shulman Brochstein of Salem is marching to celebrate and to educate. “Pride is about gathering together in celebration and saying, ‘We’re proud of who we are,’” she said. “It’s a joyful, celebratory thing.” At the same time, she wants to call attention to the injustices that remain.
“Just last week, a gay woman was beat up in Malden,” she said. “It’s not like everything is OK. And there have been many attempts to roll back rights.”
Cameron and Silverlieb echoed the concern that much of the progress of the past few decades is being systematically undermined. “Those of us who live in this [lovely, liberal] bubble have started to feel the cracks in that bubble,” said Cameron. “I feel it around us. There’s a sense of permission given to be more open about bigotry, homophobia, racism, sexism – all the lovely ‘isms’ that exist in our country.”
“I want to call attention to the rolling back of civil rights,” said Silverlieb. “There’s still so much persecution. Look at this terrible, terrible decision with the wedding cake.” Silverlieb was referring to the Supreme Court’s recent decision in favor of a wedding cake decorator who refused to bake a cake for gay customers.
“If we follow this same path, there’ll be whites-only restaurants again,” he said.
Cameron also wants to march in support of transgender rights, which lag behind those for gays and lesbians. “As far as the LGBTQ community has come, it’s been much better for the LGB and not so much for the T,” she said. “We need celebration, not just tolerance.”
For Rabbi Cameron, this message can be found at the very beginning of Genesis. “When God was creating the world, the most important part of the creation of human beings is that we’re all created in the image of God – b’tzelem elohim. We’re all created with purpose in an image greater than us.”
Shulman Brochstein grew up in a Jewish family in Newton. She didn’t know she was gay until she was in college. When she came out, her family and friends were supportive. At the time, she was a women’s studies major at Bates College, and she credits a progressive climate for a relatively stress-free coming-out. In 1993, gay rights had come a long way, but acceptance was less widespread than it is now.
Shulman Brochstein now lives in Salem with her wife, whom she met at a mixer at Keshet, a Boston-based organization that builds community and fights for inclusion for LGBTQ Jews.
“I give Keshet lots of credit,” she said. “They’ve done lots of work to build acceptance within the Jewish community. They’ve made a huge difference in Boston.”
Now the North Shore outreach manager at Jewish Family & Children’s Service, Shulman Brochstein and her wife have become progressively more involved with the Jewish community, which she has found to be welcoming and supportive of them and their children. Her only wish is that more Jewish and LGBTQ families lived on the North Shore.
“We’re very involved in the Jewish community, but you sort of forget the gay part because very few other people are,” she said.
Cameron grew up in an interfaith household in New Jersey. Her father is Jewish and a New Jersey native and her mother is Catholic and originally from Ipswich. She didn’t know that she was gay until her mid-20s, when she fell in love with her first girlfriend.
“It took me getting to the point of standing in front of another person and thinking, ‘Oh, this makes so much sense,’” said Cameron. “Of course, hindsight is 20/20.”
She immediately told her friends, but waited a few months to see if the relationship was viable before coming out to her family. Since her younger sister had been out for a while without any issues, she was confident that her family would accept her news. When it was clear that she and her girlfriend were on solid ground, she told her family, and as expected, they gave her their full support. “People just wanted me to be happy,” she said.
Cameron felt embraced by her religion as well as her family and friends. At the time, she was studying to become a Reform rabbi, and knew that the Reform tradition had welcomed both LGBTQ members and clergy since at least the 1970s. She knew other LGBTQ Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis. “I knew I could be a rabbi – I knew I could be part of the community in any way I wanted,” she said.
Today, Cameron lives in Salem, a city she loves for its quirkiness and hearty embrace of all differences. She is the director of InterfaithFamily/Boston, an organization that helps interfaith families interested in leading Jewish lives.
Silverlieb never really had to come out. “I was born to exceptional parents and grandparents, so it was never an issue,” he said. “I didn’t have the same trauma a lot of people had, and I attribute it to being born in the right state, the right town, and the right family.”
When he was 16, his grandfather asked him if he had a girlfriend. When he told his grandfather that he preferred men, the response was only: “OK. Let’s go shoot some pool.”
Silverlieb grew up in Swampscott, and now lives in Marblehead with his husband Mark, whom he met at Congregation Am Tikva, an LGBTQ synagogue in Boston. Silverlieb and his husband have been together for 23 years, and were the first same-sex couple in Marblehead to get a marriage license. Because Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004, Silverlieb and his husband were among the first gay couples in the country to be married.
“I’m not even sure I got the magnitude of it,” Silverlieb said. “In my mind I had been married forever.”