Am Tikva had its start in the late fall of 1976, holding its first meeting at Boston University Hillel House.It would fill the void left when B’nai Haskalah disbanded after three years of services and gatherings in Old West Church on Beacon Hill.

The second meeting was attended by an enthusiastic group of Jewish men and women anxious to create a welcoming comfortable organization. Initially there were social gatherings consisting of potluck dinners and desserts. The group agreed on “Am Tikva – People of Hope” – a name with no chaf’s or chet’s and easy for all to pronounce. And so the hopeful process began of bringing gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Jews together in prayer and social celebration.

From the beginning, Am Tikva worked on being open to all people, and undertook special efforts to address issues that had created barriers to the participation of women and others in the past. Throughout our history, membership and leadership have been well-balanced between men and women.

As Am Tikva expanded and built a more public image it moved from a member’s living room to public meeting space at Northeastern University’s Eli Center. About a year later, it moved to Cambridge, first to MIT’s gay lounge and then the MIT Hillel House, where Am Tikva stayed for some time. We left the college scene and moved to Beacon Hill’s Hill House. It was some time before we moved to Brookline, a center of Boston area Jewish life. For several years our home was at Workmen’s Circle. Then, in 1991, after exhaustive search for wheelchair accessible space, we found Temple Sinai’s Weintraub Auditorium in the heart of Coolidge Corner.

In January 2003, at a member retreat in New Hampshire, we decided it was time to move to the next level and become a formal congregation. As such, we needed a Sefer Torah. Fundraising began that Rosh Hashanah and we read from the new Torah the very next year!

In the mid 1970s, LGBTQ Jewish groups around the U.S. and abroad banded together to form The World Congress of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Jews. Am Tikva takes pride in its many members who have taken leadership roles in the World Congress. Am Tikva has led workshops in how men and women in a community co-lead an organization, and for many years participated actively in regional and international conferences. In 2003, we hosted a Northeast regional conference in Provincetown.

Over the years, Am Tikva continued to flourish. We developed a regular program of Friday night services and holiday observances and celebrations, as well as a variety of discussions and social programs. A regular newsletter was published; a website and regular (and irregular) e-mails were added to facilitate communication within our community. We have had adult education classes, and Bar/Bat Mitzvah classes all led by volunteers. Our service and liturgy committee created new services for Pride and Yom Ha Shoah, including a Liberation Seder that served as a model for other LGBTQ congregations. Am Tikva has taken its place in the LGBTQ and Jewish communities by participating in interfaith activities and in Jewish community events.

New people constantly joined with lots of energy and ideas, and new programs and services have been initiated. Through the years, even when it seemed like a thankless task, someone rose to the occasion because they cared that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Jews should have their own place to go: to welcome the Sabbath, discuss their common experiences, or find a friend or potential partner. There has always been a phone number to call for all the new folks, the visitors, the people who just moved to Boston, and those just coming out of the closet, whether young or old.

Am Tikva changed and grew. We had a regular contingent of attendees for all of our Shabbat services. We had a full calendar of events for the Jewish year, and established a high profile in Boston’s Jewish and its LGBTQ communities. We offered a place to have a commitment ceremony, name a new baby, remember a departed loved one, and to spend the High Holidays.

For many, Am Tikva has been like a family with whom we have spent many holiday celebrations. We have come to see Am Tikva’s way of doing things as our own, establishing our own traditions, our own minhagim. The words and melodies at Am Tikva may have seemed strange at first, but now seem right. Am Tikva has become our own expression of our Jewish identity.

As mainstream congregations have become welcoming to the Jewish LGBTQ community, Am Tikva has changed. We are no longer the only place where folks can be both openly queer and openly Jewish. Nonetheless, Am Tikva continues. While we do not have regular Shabbat services, we do have holiday parties, and most importantly, we continue to observe the High Holidays together with our offering of evening services. The liturgies we created decades ago for the LGBTQ Jewish community are part of our heritage now, and we hope will become the custom for people recently joining us. New friendships continue to be formed and new traditions continue to get started. Whether we have many fond memories or few, each of us has great hopes for the future of Am Tikva and queer Judaism.

The history of Congregation Am Tikva continues, like a tree holding fast with strong roots and spreading beauty with broad branches.