Shabbat Surfing: Tu B’Av – It’s All About the Love!

If you’re feeling an extra bit love and affection floating around today, it’s the effects of Tu B’Av, the Jewish holiday of love.

(Or as other Jewish denominations pronounce it, lurve.)

If you want to pass along the love, you can send a free Tu B’Av ecard to your special someones, designed by contest winner, Rachel Scheer.

Tu B'Av ecard by Rachel ScheerAnd isn’t a Day of Love the perfect time for a Kiss-In?

The Jewish community was recently polled to find that 81% support equal marriage for all. Some will be celebrating the today with National Same-Sex Kiss Day, in support of equality for all, and in response to Chik-Fil-A’s Chickens for Bigotry* campaign. It seems all expressions of affection (kisses, hugs, holding hands) will be welcome, as will as any and all who would like to come and kiss.
*Not the actual name

Whether you are celebrating with a quiet dinner at home, or a huge white party with hundreds of your nearest and dearest, our Tu B’Av wish is that you know how much we love our readers and all who join us at the DCJCC.

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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.

No apologies for accepting same-sex couples in the Jewish Community

by Halley Cohen, new director of the Stuart S. Kurlander Program for GLBT Outreach & Engagement (GLOE)

The New Jersey Jewish Standard released a statement on Monday apologizing for the “pain and consternation” caused by a same-sex couple’s wedding announcement they had published last week. They have promised not to run any more such same-sex announcements in the future, saying that, “The Jewish Standard has always striven to draw the community together, rather than drive its many segments apart.” Well, all except the gays, of course. Apparently, this “community” they want to bring together does not include same-sex couples. Perhaps gay people individually, just as long as they aren’t too loud about it or want to draw any attention to themselves or their families or their lives.

This is why our children kill themselves.

In this ongoing spate of publicized suicides by young queer (or perceived queer) people, we grasp at any explanation to try to understand the tragedies. Is it because technology makes bullying and exploitation easier now? Maybe all of society is more polarized to the extremes in politics and actions. Or perhaps kids are just meaner to each other these days? I call “bullshit.” It’s too convenient to blame the kids. The kids aren’t without culpability, but if we’re going to trace the blame back to its source, then it has to rest on our own adult shoulders.

Every time we, as adults, decide that it’s fine to say something negative against people of different genders or sexualities, our children see that. They also see when we don’t speak up against other people who say anything to the effect of, “Gay isn’t okay.” And they see that everywhere – from politicians who win votes by preaching hate as a family value, to those who want LGBT teachers out of their schools. More broadly, every child has something within herself or himself or hirself that will separate that child from whatever is more common. If we don’t embrace big-D Difference, that child grows up fearing or hating her/his/hir own, both within and in others.

And we’re making it worse.

When papers like the New Jersey Jewish Standard cave to the interests of the “deep sensitivities within the traditional/Orthodox community,” they aren’t doing anyone any favors. Their actions fracture the Jewish community further because they make it seem like all traditional/Orthodox Jews are hostile to the LGBT community. Luckily, there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary. The DCJCC is proud to host DC Minyan, which identifies itself as, “fully traditional and fully egalitarian,” and invites people to celebrate the aufruf of two female members this coming Shabbat morning, among other inclusive events. Plus, there has been movement in national Orthodox groups, as well.

On October 20, GLOE will be welcoming Miryam Kabakov and her book, Keep Your Wives Away From Them: Orthodox Women, Unorthodox Desires, to the DCJCC through the Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival. The element that struck me most was the sheer variety of experiences within an Orthodox or traditional setting:  women who are out of the closet and in; married, “married,” single, dating; in the happy aftermath and in the ongoing negotiations with family. Being queer is only incompatible with an Orthodox life if individuals decide it is. Often, they don’t.

I shouldn’t have been so surprised. I might have had a blind spot about the Orthodox because I figured, “I’m Jewish; I know what they believe.” It seems so many Jews have different rules for whoever they think of as “the Orthodox,” treat them differently (positively and negatively), even if only in their thoughts. The newspaper went so far as to change their editorial policies because a portion of that population was upset, even though the paper also mentioned letters of support for same-sex marriage announcements.

Keep Your Wives Away From Them gives images of lives that are often invisible or purposely ignored on multiple levels. It works against this trend that says to queer youth, you don’t exist here and are not welcome. By creating visible Jewish community, it says the opposite. The book says, “community” means same-sex couples, too.

More talk, more publicity, more ink in newspapers is what the issue needs. Not statements of apology for acknowledging the lives of queer Jews.

Regina Spektor Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg for the 2008 Washington Jewish Music Festival

I had in my hands for a short little while today the final printer’s proof of the program for the 2008 Washington Jewish Music Festival. It is going to be awesome. The hard copy won’t be back for a couple of days, but you can check out the program on-line here.

The Festival’s opening day is June 1 and if you read regularly, then you already know about Regina Spektor headlining the main stage at the humongous (and free) Israel @ 60 Capital Celebration on the National Mall. Oh yeah, and it also includes Mandy Patinkin–I hear he can sing a little. And Mashina, Israel’s long-standing kings of rock. Oh, and Oscar the Grouch with his Israeli cousin Moishe Oofnik— and we all know that there’s nothing cooler than Sesame Street, and no one kicks it old school better than His Grouchiness.

It is sort of impossible to write an over-view post covering the entire festival, so for the moment I’ll focus on the performer who I think has the most in-common with Regina, and that would be Rachael Sage. Rachael SageShe’ll be performing on Wednesday, June 4 at DC9 Nightclub. Both Regina and Rachael share roots in the New York folk (or anti-folk) scene and combine vivid lyrical styles with a musical adroitness that is at once accessible without sacrificing melodic ambition. What exactly do I mean by that? The music sounds as good as the smart lyrics that accompany it. While both are mainstream artists, neither has shied away from their Jewish identity, neither in their musical subjects (Spektor’s “Samson” and Sage’s “93 Maidens” being just two examples); nor in their public personaes, Spektor’s cover photo for Begin to Hope features her prominently wearing a Star of David necklace and Sage’s press materials describe her early musical efforts thusly: “When I started I was writing a lot of music that sounded like Elton John – if he’d been a nice Jewish girl from a long line of Russian cantors.” Rachael Sage is being presented in partnership with the 16th Street J’s Kurlander Program for Gay and Lesbian Outreach and Engagement (GLOE) and Regina Spektor will be back in DC later in June for the True Colors tour which raises awareness and funds for various GLBT organizations.

Take a listen for yourself and check back often for more information about the 2008 Washington Jewish Music Festival.

Click below to hear Rachael Sage’s My Word from her upcoming album, Chandelier

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