Julia Winston is a REALITY alumna. She serves the corporate world as Chief Culture Officer at Alpine Investors and the social justice world as Director and Co-Creator of The Rainbow Letters, a project that generates healing and empathy for the LGBTQ community around the topic of family through the art of letter writing. Julia describes Pride Shabbat as an evening of art, community and storytelling to celebrate families of all constructs. She hosted the event with the support of TableMakers, a Schusterman initiative that helps REALITY alumni to create and host dynamic Shabbat experiences for their peer

“What’s one thing that sets your family apart that makes you feel proud?”

This is what each guest was asked to write in a short letter on colorful paper as they entered Pride Shabbat on June 16, 2017, at The Laundry, an art gallery event space in San Francisco. 

For me, the answer comes down to two things: having a non-heteronormative family and being Jewish. 

Julia Winston and her family

My father came out as gay when I was young. Coincidentally, my best friend’s mom came out as a lesbian several years later, and our straight parents started dating. Miraculously, when we were in high school they got married, bringing two Jewish LGBTQ families together in a delightfully unexpected way - not to mention my best friend became my step sister! I started The Rainbow Letters as a way to hear from others who grew up with LGBTQ parents and to foster a sense of community for a group of people that has no collective identity within the LGBTQ community.

Pride Shabbat was the official launch of The Rainbow Letters and a celebration of family diversity, attended by 70 community members who support Jewish life and the LGBTQ movement - including my family, who flew from Texas. My fellow REALITY alumni, Loyall Hart, a photographer, flew in from Atlanta to co-host and take portraits of guests.

Our intention was to recreate the REALITY values of diversity, equality and inclusion by inviting all of us to celebrate “Pride” in the image of our families and ourselves - no matter our race, religion or sexual/gender orientation.

 guests received a “Rainbow Letter” template and were greeted by musicians as they arrived

As guests entered Pride Shabbat, they were greeted by Israeli musicians and invited to visit a colorful, costumey photography station where photos were printed in real-time, as well as to have professional portraits taken by Loyall, who had subjects write their chosen words of pride on a chalkboard. 

As the evening progressed, guests strung their letters and photos on a brick wall, which led to us collectively building a Rainbow Letters wall.

The Rainbow Letter wall, created real-time as a collective art project

When it was time for dinner, guests went downstairs to a colorful dining room to be seated for the Shabbat rituals and meal. Loyall and I shared background on The Rainbow Letters and Schusterman. We also heard from our partners at Keshet, a national organization that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life.

We heard from other guests including my mother, who is a Jewish storyteller; Maayan Igvi, an ROI alumna, who sang a beautiful song and led us in a community candle-lighting and my sisters, who led the blessing over the wine. Then, the blessing over the challah revealed a surprise - a rainbow challah!

Rainbow challah!
 

Chef Lee of Made2Gather served a meal that represented all the colors of the rainbow through sustainably and locally sourced dishes, including a decorate-your-own-cookie dessert made of pink beetroot icing. The food, wine and conversation flowed through the night, leading to after-dinner dancing and more photography.

Chef Lee Davidson of Made2Gather, taken by Loyall Hart at the portrait station

The experience of honoring the LGBTQ community, celebrating diversity, inclusion and intersectionality, and bringing together friends and family from the REALITY community and beyond was nothing less than a peak moment in my life. I’m grateful to Schusterman for helping this vision become a reality.

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.