I started coming out as a nice Jewish gay boy in 1965 at the age of 13. It started in April with me asking my Hebrew School teacher if there was a blessing for two men to get married. That was when we were learning the ritual of breaking a glass at a Jewish wedding; and I was exploring my options.
My Bar Mitzvah was on the last weekend in June of ’65, when I was supposed to donate a Torah that Opa, my mother’s father, brought from Germany to my parent’s synagogue in Queens, NY. I had the unique experience of being the son of two refugees with a Torah stored in my bedroom closet.
But after the tumult from my Hebrew School teacher, I knew that I would not be staying at my parent’s synagogue when I grew up. So we drafted a contract stating that the Torah would only be loaned to their synagogue; and that I could take it back on 90 days notice. You could already see that I would become a lawyer when I grew up.
In 1965 I fantasized that one day there would be a “Gay Synagogue” that would let me marry the man of my dreams; especially if I joined the congregation with my own Torah.
Four years later, I went to the University of Buffalo and in 1970 I started the Gay Liberation Front at my school. By then many people knew I was gay, and I had shared my dream of a Gay Synagogue with my parents. In 1973 when I was home over Spring Break, my mother saw an article in the newspaper about a “Gay Synagogue” starting in Chelsea, and told me to get dressed to go to services. So I did. It was the beginning of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (CBST) and I have been going to services ever since. Eventually I gave my parent’s synagogue the 90 days notice, and brought the Torah to CBST, where it remained for years.
In a future installment of this story I will describe how the Torah was returned to Germany, to promote a gay-friendly Liberal Congregation in the city where my father’s father grew up. This story will also include why I became a German citizen, my work with various Memorials in Augsburg and Brooklyn, how my dad was both an inmate in Dachau and an American soldier that liberated Dachau and finally why I formed a Jewish group to march in the German American Steuben Parade in NYC.
Photo Legend: L-R: Richard Landman’s grandfather in the 60’s, Landman in 2005 standing next to the Torah, Landman’s Bar Mitzvah photo at age 13