Monday Media: Jay Michaelson’s God vs. Gay

Hot on the heels of the recent decision of the Conservative Rabbinic Assembly’s decision to allow its rabbis to officiate over same-sex marriages, we bring you a podcast from the Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival featuring Jay Michaelson speaking on his book God vs. Gay: The Religious Case for Equality.

This program was presented in partnership with the DCJCC’s GLOE: Kurlander Program for GLBT Outreach & Engagement. In his book, which recently came out in paperback, Jay tackles the contentious “God vs. gay” divide, arguing that religious communities should favor gay rights because of religion, not in spite of it.

As both a gay rights activist and religion scholar, he explores the moral principles that favor acceptance of GLBT people, contending that these values outweigh the ambiguous verses so often cited by conservatives.

Right click and “save link as” to download as an MP3
Or listen online here

Seven Questions for: Schmekel

Schmekel is awesome. The “100% Transgender, 100% Jewish schtick-rock band” does songs about important things, silly things, and thingy things.

“Schmekel’s bespectacled transsexual singer-songwriters are guitarist Lucian Kahn and keyboardist Ricky Riot. Mohawked bassist Nogga Schwartz yells loudly, and genderqueer drummer Simcha Halpert-Hanson carries two big sticks.” (Read more about ’em here.)

And they were kind enough to hold forth on the vital topics in our Seven Questions:

1) How would you describe what you do to someone from the 19th Century?

Lucian: Oscar Wilde has written a farcical, yet appreciative, song-cycle about the polymorphous perverse.  He’s a Jew from Bukovinia, and he’s got a Dynamophone.
Ricky: We are a band of openly Jewish inverts who play magical loud instruments. Three of us are short gentlemen who are rumoured to have even shorter organs. One of us is neither man nor woman. Our songs are gay and jolly yet not suitable for the faint of heart.

2) What did you want to be when you grew up?

Lucian: A rock star!  Or possibly a Ninja Turtle.
Ricky: Some kind of performer.
Simcha: Well, it varied.  From ages 3-7 I wanted to be a painter; ages 8-12, I desperately wanted to be a famous actor, like Claire Danes.  And then from age 13 onward, I passionately devoted myself to the quest of *indie* (I abhored corporate rock) pacific-northwest stardom (I abhored the east coast). Thankfully, I no longer find the east coast an abhorrence.

3) Is there a book you’re embarrassed to admit you’ve never read?

Lucian: I spend a lot of time singing about penises.  It’s hard to embarrass me.
Ricky: Lucian, I actually gave you a book about penises once. Did you read it? I hope you’re not embarrassed. Someone once lent me Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, insisting that it’ll change my life and help me understand her better. It was really dumb and I want those few hours of my life back.
Simcha: There are a lot of trashy teens-dying-of-cancer-while-falling-in-love books I am embarrassed to admit I’ve devoured.  Unless I am trying to prove my academic prowess or qualify my halachic knowledge base, I can’t think of any basic books I ought to have read by now and haven’t.

4) Woody Allen, Pro or Con?

Lucian: Pro early Woody Allen.  He understands the importance of a good egg salad recipe.
Ricky: Also pro early Woody Allen. Biased opinion though because I have an uncle who looks exactly like him.
Simcha: A natural anti-depressant.

5) What’s your favorite non-English word?

Lucian: I identify strongly with the word feygele.
Simcha: I really love the Yiddish language.  I guess of all the words and names I’ve learned thus far, my favorite would be Faraynikte Shtaten [Ed.: United States] because it’s so long and intimidating to read in Yiddish.
Ricky: Shlemazal is a funny word and a funny concept. It’s a person with really bad luck. Also Abra Cadabra is in Aramaic. It means, “as it is said, it shall be created”. And how ‘bout some Hebrew slang: “Lefasbek” is to add someone on Facebook. And I’ll conjugate it for you. Hoo mefasbek, hee mefasbeket, anachnu mefasbekim…

6) What issue do you wish other people knew more about?

Lucian: I wish more people knew and cared about the problems facing queer homeless teenagers and trans people seeking medical care.
Simcha:  I agree with Lucian.  I also wish people had more sensitivity to gender-identity and the bathroom.  Stress is a powerfully debilitating force.
Ricky: I wish that more people including myself knew more about the process by which a capitalist economic system makes people poor.

7) Historical figure, living or not, that you’d want to share a bagel with, and what kind of bagel?

Lucian: I would like to share an everything bagel with Paul Celan.
Simcha: I’d share a garlic bagel with Rebbe Schneerson and find out whether he is actually Mashiach. 😉
Ricky: Thelonious Monk, because that dude was nuts and probably really interesting, and might have taught me a few things about music. Onion bagel, toasted, with olive cream cheese and lox.


Catch Schmekel on May 20 at Chief Ike’s with GLOE, as part of the Washington Jewish Music Festival.

Read all of the Seven Questions interviews.

Yom Hashoah and the Pink Triangle

By Halley Cohen
Director, GLOE – GLBT Outreach & Engagement

credit: US Holocaust Memorial Museum

This Thursday, we observe Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, but for decades, LGBT people were not recognized among the groups of victims, and omitted from the Day’s observances. This erasure is why, when we now say, “never forget,” it needs to specifically include those who wore the pink triangle in the camps, the designation of “homosexual.”

The colors were not just for sorting, but rather, each functioned as a quick visual cue of your ranking in the hierarchy of the camps. The ranking had implications for your treatment and the likelihood of your survival. Homosexuals ranked at the bottom with Jews, both receiving the worst treatment and a mortality rate estimated at 50-60%.

However, unlike the Jewish prisoners, at the end of the war homosexuals were not released from the camps.

We never want to weigh suffering among groups to create some kind of hierarchy of pain. Still, for those of us who fall into both of these “worst treatment” categories, Yom Hashoah is particularly resonant, knowing that after the war, as the world “discovered” what had been happening to the Jews in the camps, that the horrors were not yet over for LGBT people.

Still seen as deviants or criminals or ill, gay prisoners often were either not released, or immediately put into prisons for the crime of homosexuality.

These “criminals” were not pardoned by German lawmakers until 2002.

That is, if they managed to survive the war in the first place. Not only were they a favorite of the German soldiers for target practice, for the hardest work details, and for surgical experiments (similar to the Jewish experience), gay men were also routinely beaten to death by fellow prisoners.

It is little surprise that we know much less about their experiences than those of others in the camps:

“Reading the many reports and asking the prisoners’ committees (which still exist today) about the prisoners with the pink triangles, one repeatedly learns that they were there, but nobody can tell you anything about them. Quantitative analysis offers a sad explanation for the extraordinary lack of visibility: the individual pink-triangle prisoner was likely to live for only a short time in the camp and then to disappear from the scene.” -Ruediger Lautmann, in his sociological research

We can only imagine how long those of us who would’ve worn a pink and yellow star would’ve lasted.

In their memory, we can all learn about – and make part of any Holocaust remembrance conversation – what happened to all of those who had another color triangle sewn to their yellow one.

Speaking for the “Broader Jewish Community”: On Trans Rabbis

What's a rabbi supposed to look like?

Over sandwiches, enjoying the gorgeous weather on a Dupont Circle patio, my friend told me about his exclusion from rabbinical school.

He was told in fairly clear terms that his rejection notice came not because he is a Jew by choice or that they questioned his depth of Jewish learning, but because he’s trans.

The school, considered one of the more “liberal,” was just not so sure about him – Had he really fully developed all his ideas about being a man yet? Was he a “transsexual” rabbi or a rabbi who was trans? Has he considered that maybe he just wasn’t sure about being a man yet?

And did he really think the “broader Jewish community” would accept him?

Yeah, he really does think that they would.
As do I.
As do a lot of people.

This worry about the “broader Jewish community” came from faculty and administrators who, at one time, were themselves rejected from rabbinical schools because they are women, or people of color, or Jews by choice. They, themselves, had others concerned that the “broader Jewish community” would never want them. That their difference was “too much.”

Beyond the fact that they had no right or reason to question how sure he was about his gender identity any more than they’d question anyone else’s, their questions hit at something much deeper:

At what point do we stop throwing each other under the bus in regards to difference? When do we stop letting others work hard to gain acceptance for pieces of our own different identities, and then turn around and try to shut the door behind ourselves? Each step we take forward does not have to come at someone else’s expense – a lesson trans people know all too well, from within the LGBT community itself – because we are so worried about some imaginary version of the broader community and what we think it will accept.

That is not my version of the Jewish community.

As a Jew, I am deeply offended that these people presume such a level of bigotry in the broader Jewish community, especially when I see so much evidence to the contrary around me, in communities ranging from secular to observant. It’s insulting to all of us who care about social justice and equality and valuing everyone, AND see them as vital tenets of our Jewish identities.

Further, by using that phrase, the school’s committee members separate themselves, saying that their reputation for being more open and welcoming may exist, but that “other Jews” wouldn’t be so open-minded.

Our actual Jewish communities include many rabbis and leaders who do not look like some stereotypical version of what a rabbi “should” look like – we are Jews of color, women, non-Ashkenazi, Jews by choice… and yes, even lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender or genderqueer (LGBT). To think that the “broader Jewish community” wouldn’t accept such a rabbi, erases the existence of other queer and trans folks as members of our communities already.

When they thought of “Jewish life,” their image clearly didn’t include any LGBT people as part of that life. If they had, it would’ve been obvious to them that there are plenty of people who would be interested in my friend as their rabbi – not just because he’s warm and intelligent and spiritually-engaged – but precisely because he’s trans.

Part of the reason that GLOE exists is because in too many places Jews have been made to feel that they can either be Jewish OR that they can be LGBT; we stand as evidence that these pieces are far from mutually exclusive.

It is not incidental that we are part of a larger Jewish organization.
That we are embraced by that larger Jewish organization.
That we are active in all parts of both Jewish and LGBT life here – still LGBT in Jewish spaces, and we bring our Jewishness to LGBT life in the city.

This year, at GLOE’s National Rainbow Seder, we will highlight heroes of various freedom and equality movements throughout history. Many of those heroes were queer Jews, though frequently that fact remained unknown in their lifetimes. They understood that Passover’s lessons of working toward freedom don’t exist in a vacuum, separate from who we are. Rather, those intersections are where we  – where we all – gain strength and gain power.

To pretend that it is anything less critical, less significant, hurts everyone. That is to say, it hurts the broader Jewish community.

Shabbat Surfing: What We Talk About When We Talk About Women

International Women’s Day (IWD) this week prompted the blogosphere to challenge what we think about women, and who we call women.

In fact, this challenge is covered in the questions from the Jewish Organization Equality Index survey, which is currently trying to hear from every Jewish organization in the country on questions of gender and sexuality inclusivity. As Jewish organizations, in what ways do we embrace those in our community when they don’t express their gender in the most common ways? Do we make people check boxes when asking questions about gender, or is it a fill-in line? Do we give everyone something as basic as a safe place to use the restroom?

We often use the phrase b’tzelem elohim, that every person is created in God’s image, and kavod habriyot, that everyone deserves basic dignity and respect. Some trans women and allies took their communities to task this IWD, about how it seems trans women are often excluded from that respect when we police gender in our women’s communities.

Relatedly, Huffington Post featured an excerpt from Joy Ladin’s new memoir, Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders, which explores her transitions with her wife and God and career as a professor at Yeshiva University. Regularly, Joy’s wife asks what is so bad about being a man.

“There’s nothing so bad about being a man.” I try to sound like I’m joking when I add, “as long as you’re a man.”

A body is there, but it’s not yours. A voice is coming out of your throat, but you don’t recognize it. The mirror contains another person’s face. When your children wrap their arms around you, they seem to be hugging someone else. Every morning you wake up shocked to find that parts of you have disappeared, that you are smothered in flesh you cannot recognize as yours. That you have lost the body you never had. This isn’t me, you say to yourself. This isn’t me, you say to anyone you trust. Of course it isn’t. There is no “me,” no body that fits the map, no identity that fits your sense of self, no way to orient yourself in a world in which you exist only as an hysterical rejection of what, to everyone around you, is the simple, obvious fact of your gender.

This week was also Purim – the holiday that includes plenty of joyous play around bending gender and celebrating the power in creating different views of ourselves and each other. Though trans identities are obviously more complex that simply Purim costumes, as we honor the women of our communities this week, my hope is that the drag-tastic embrace of Purim can spill over into how we think about women – all women – and the joy found therein, in that inclusiveness.

 

You Had Me at Shalom: LGBT Jewish Speed Dating

In a town where everyone seems to know everyone (or claims to), we managed to make hundreds of new matches among 125 queer Jews (and our friends) in the DC area.

“You Had Me at Shalom: LGBT Jewish Speed Dating” gathered GLOE‘s singles for schmoozing at the Hotel Palomar in Dupont Circle on Saturday night, February 4. Most people showed up in first-date finest with open minds and ready to see who would sit down at their tables. The mood was light and everyone got chatty pretty fast.

Pre-matching by a secret team of romance mavens assured that no one dated their ex or anyone else they indicated on their “Hell no!” list when registering. (We may have called it something less inflammatory…)

Daters could indicate their levels of Jewish observance (or non-observance, or cultural Jewishness, or that they were “non-Jewish/Jewish-in-spirit”), and who they were open to being matched with. They could also add things about age range, sexuality and gender identity, and a few other basics.

Now, there was also another box for important other information that didn’t fit anywhere else. We were pretty clear about what this box was for.

Still, we got several epic tomes in this box about wanting to be matched with someone who liked long walks on the beach every 3rd Thursday, worked out a lot but not too much, listened to Chicago-style blues but not New Orleans-style, and was interested in Hegelian dialectics only so far as they are related to metaphysics. Oh, and they have to be hot. We could arrange that, right?

We assured these people that these would be excellent topics of conversation for the actual speed date.

Our drag yenta emcee, Silvia Sparklestein, kept everyone in line, and by the end of the night plenty of matches were made, including through the “caught my eye” option at the bottom of the dating card. Many eyes were caught that evening.

We hope people read the naming clause at the bottom of registration, wherein any pets that come from couples made at You Had Me at Shalom must be named after GLOE. Like, GLOEy the retriever. Or, Glo-glo the pomeranian.

One thing we heard, over and over again, was how happy people were to have this kind of event – that there’s Jewish speed dating and LGBT speed dating, but not where they intersect.

Since GLOE lives in those intersecting spaces, we loved being able to help people in the community meet. And we also loved being able use the phrase “drag yenta emcee,” as often as possible. So, win-win.
A few initial photos below…

(Also, check Metro Weekly’s great shots of the event, and their hilarious video interviewing our daters, asking, “What makes a first date special?“)


(Photos credit: Josh Siegel)

Seven Questions for: Silvia Sparklestein

Silvia Sparklestein comes to You Had Me at Shalom: LGBT Jewish Speed Dating this Saturday* night with GLOE, as the fabulous drag yenta emcee of the event. Not only will she be helping to make romantic connections among the daters and schmoozers, she’ll also be performing a few numbers… and making sure everyone is eating enough.

Joining us from Queens, Silvia answered our seven most important questions in the world.

1) How would you describe what you do to someone from the 19th Century?

I wear fabulous clothing. I sing and dance. And I sparkle. I’d be the perfect actor in any Shakespeare play (female roles, of course).

2) What did you want to be when you grew up?

A Jewish mother. Definitely a Jewish mother. It’s every Jewish girl from Queens’ dream! Grow up. Have lots of Jewish babies. And guilt them into calling me everyday for the rest of their busy lives as doctors, lawyers and accountants.

3) Is there a book you’re embarrassed to admit you’ve never read?

Two books. I would say the book I’m most embarrassed to have not read is Kosher by Design – Short on Time by Susie Fishbein. It’s supposed to be a fabulous Kosher cookbook with simple recipes. I love reading Kosher cookbooks to pass the time!

The other book I haven’t read is The Debutante Divorcee by Plum Sykes. After reading her book Bergdorf Blondes I truly felt like Plum connected with my inner soul the way no other writer has. (And with a first name like Plum! Oy Vey! Delicious!)

4) Woody Allen, Pro or Con?

Woody and I go way back. Although he grew up in Brooklyn, our families always used to get together for the Pesach Seder at my parent’s house in Queens. I still wonder why he doesn’t use his real family name “Konigsberg.” Well, at least I kept my family name!

5) What’s your favorite non-English word?

“Kreplach” for a number of reasons. The most obvious is, who doesn’t like kreplach?! I eat kreplach everyday for breakfast. Definitely the breakfast of champions in my humble and modest opinion. Another reason I like the word kreplach is because of the yiddishe “chhhhhh” sound at the end! I love hearing goy-toys choke as they try to say it.

6) What issue do you wish other people knew more about?

That Barbra Streisand recorded a Christmas Album in 1967. Who knew a nice yiddishe meidella from Brooklyn knew anything about The Lord’s Prayer and Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire?!

7) Historical figure, living or not, that you’d want to share a bagel with, and what kind of bagel?

Definitely Wendy Williams! She and I have a lot in common, like, our shoes size! I’m a plain Jane so I would order a plain bagel (no seeds that can get stuck in your teeth) with low-fat cream cheese schmeared on one side and low-sodium lox spread on the other, extra cream cheese and extra lox spread. Wendy would order a cinnamon raisin bagel with butter… low-fat butter.

Read all of the Seven Question interviews.

 

%d bloggers like this: