One of the highlights of Sunday's Equality Florida's 2013 Broward Gala: a fundraising appeal by Andrew "Drew" Tabatchnick, known throughout South Florida as wedding singer Drew T.
Tabatchnick told his personal story of how he has performed at about 10,000 weddings but can't marry the man he loves, Ira Baer, CFO of Baer's Furniture.
Accompanied by family members including his son, Adam, Tabatchnick described his and Baer's "Modern Family," with two dads, two Tabatchnick children and three Baer daughters.
Here's my article about Tabatchnick and Baer's love story, which originally ran in the Miami Herald on May 21, 2005:
Out of the closet, into the cause
BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
"Hineini: Here I am, " says Andrew "Drew" Tabatchnick, newly out of the closet and preparing to lead a mission of gay American Jews to Israel.
Best known as wedding singer Drew T, Tabatchnick has for years been a prominent Jewish fundraiser. Now, as a gay man building a new life with a partner instead of a wife, he is refocusing his commitment to United Jewish Communities.
Tabatchnick, 43 and the father of two, is Southeast chairman of UJC's national gay pride mission to Israel, scheduled Aug. 14-21.
"I'm leading this mission because I'm involved in Federation. I care about acts of love and kindness, moral ethics, tzedaka (which is being righteous) and tikkun olam, perfecting the world, " said Tabatchnick, whose grandfather founded a New Jersey kosher soup empire.
"This is what being a charitable person is. This is what Judaism is, " Tabatchnick said. "The gay community may be left out of this loop. They're unaware of it. They haven't been embraced."
After Tabatchnick outed himself last month in a column in The Herald, he braced for community and family reaction.
"I performed last night for 250 people. They all asked me how's my life, how are things going? One guy called me, my Mercedes dealer. He said, 'How are you doing? Everything's cool, ' " Tabatchnick said one recent Sunday morning.
"My kids went to school. They didn't have any issues. My wife, even though she was upset - she didn't talk to me for a week - she's OK now."
Tabatchnick's evolution as a gay man (and aspiring gay-community leader) came after 14 years of marriage.
"I fell in love with my best friend and he fell in love with me, " Tabatchnick said.
The best friend - Ira Baer, a vice president of Baer's Furniture and fellow UJC board member in Broward County - is now his partner. Baer, 40, is getting a divorce and lives with Tabatchnick in Weston.
United Jewish Communities includes 155 Jewish federations in the United States and Canada. Tabatchnick became involved 15 years ago as he built his orchestra business, which he began in 1979 while a student at the University of Miami School of Music.
"It was a natural fit for me to get involved in Federation, where 90 percent of those people are my customers, " he said. "It was smart of Federation to get me involved."
Tabatchnick first served on the UJC Men's National Young Leadership Cabinet. "That was the training ground, " he said. "They create leaders who can give back to the community - movers and shakers."
In 2001-02, Tabatchnick chaired UJC's Broward fundraising campaign. He then became an executive board member.
And after a lifetime of attraction to men, Tabatchnick slowly came to terms with being gay.
"That's when I had the relationship with Ira, " he said. "For me, the story about being gay is about loving someone. Love is love and it's the most powerful force in the universe."
After coming out, Tabatchnick began to consult with Orthodox Rabbi Steve Greenberg, a gay man in New York.
"Drew and I, during the process of his discovery and struggle to make sense of it, spoke several times and we became friends, " Greenberg said. "Drew wasn't quite asking me for advice about what he ought to do."
Greenberg, who came out of the closet in 1999 at age 42, will be rabbinical advisor for the UJC gay pride mission to Israel.
"I see this as a gay pilgrimage to Israel that does the same thing as other pilgrimages. It's about renewal and reconnecting with the people of Israel and the land of Israel, " Greenberg said. "It's particularly important because this is a group of people who, for all sorts of reasons, felt isolated and exiled from the Jewish community."
In South Florida, there are several synagogues that welcome gay worshipers, including Congregation Etz Chaim, a gay-oriented Wilton Manors shul that describes itself online as for "Jews of the Rainbow."
Today, many gay Jews join mainstream synagogues.
"The notion of openly gay Jews is something we're learning about the last two decades, " said Miami attorney Robert Glazier, a gay man seeking to become president of Temple Israel of Greater Miami. "We're still sorting it out."
At Temple Israel and other Reform synagogues, there has been a "virtually complete integration" of gays and lesbians into the congregations, according to Glazier, 46.
"Most Orthodox synagogues are not accepting and Conservative synagogues are struggling greatly with this, " he said.
The UJC mission originally was to coincide with World Pride Parade, an international gay festival scheduled for August in Jerusalem. That event drew protests from a coalition of clerics in Israel, who claimed it would interfere with religious tourism there.
Because World Pride Parade would happen at the same time as Israel's planned pullout from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank, Jerusalem police said they couldn't guarantee the gay participants' safety. Last week, organizers announced they would postpone the Jerusalem festival until next year.
The UJC pride mission will go on as scheduled, according to Tabatchnick, who hopes to attract 300 attendees. So far, about 100 have signed up.
"The trip is still going to happen, " he said. "That's very different."
Tabatchnick sees himself as a man with many roles in life.
"Today, I'm a father taking my kid to a hockey game. Tonight, I'm Drew T the bandleader. Tomorrow, I'm a partner to Ira. Later, I'm an ex-husband who's helping his wife in moving."
His UJC work has taken him around the world, "from Russia to Israel, " he said.
"It made my heart bigger, " he said. "And as I developed my relationship with Ira, I said, 'This is what life is about.' I don't care what the world thinks."