Shabbat Surfing: Ahava

Mazel tov to Vice President Joe Biden, who danced the Horah at his daughter’s interfaith wedding to Jewish surgeon Howard Krein.

Actress Drew Barrymore also married one of our own in a Jewish wedding ceremony, officiated by her new husband’s rabbi and featuring a custom-made chuppah.

If there wasn’t enough love to go around, the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards—the Conservative movement’s authority on halachic policy—has unanimously approved ritual guidelines for same-sex weddings.  

This announcement came just in time to celebrate at Pride this weekend. Israelis flocked by the thousands to Tel Aviv’s 14th Gay Pride Parade today.  We’ll be celebrating locally this weekend in the Capital Pride parade and street festival.  

“AHAVA – LOVE – Israel Museum” by Brian Negin, on Flickr

Have a LOVEly weekend. Shabbat Shalom!

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.

Orthodox Gay Marriage? Yes.

Rabbi Areleh Harel, a Yeshiva teacher in the West Bank, is matching up traditionally observant gay men with lesbians so that they can marry and remain in their Orthodox communities.

Interviewed by TIME, he says that it’s “healthier if both spouses are in on the secret.” Both spouses come to Harel of their own free will, to be matched with someone from whom they don’t have to hide their sexuality.

I get that. In trying to see it from his side, I do see a few benefits. It is better than lying to your new spouse about who you are. It allows people to stay within the home communities they love.

So it is a step in the right direction; Harel has not tried to “de-gay” or vilify anyone. It also gives me hope that he is a teacher, and perhaps when the subject of homosexuality comes up with his students, he would speak up against the more hateful lies about the characters of gay people that often come up, because he doesn’t appear to believe them, from what we can see in the interview.


It is still encouraging people to live unhappy lives. They are in communities they love, but not with whom they love. To state the obvious, if you are not in a relationship with someone whom you truly love – romantically – you are not setting a very strong foundation for your marriage, an important institution within Orthodox life. Of course there is more to a marriage than sex. But a strong marriage relationship also builds from that kind of connection.

People are driven by what the heart wants. Sure, other factors are important, too – of course – but by saying that a marriage can work between a gay man and lesbian who are not interested in one another, we are setting them up for failure, for cheating, and for being a terrible relationship model for their children.

Harel marries them with the expectation that the couple will be monogamous, but also acknowledging the likelihood of cheating. Which is high.

About a year ago, a group of Orthodox rabbis issued their “Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community,” which proclaimed that everyone is to be treated with respect, and that queer Jews should be welcomed as full members of the community. I think what Harel is doing both follows the proclamation, and also does not.

By not encouraging and supporting the people and organizations of the Orthodox LGBTQ community in open and honest ways, we say, “Sure, we want you, but only if you’re not really you.”

Eshel is an organization in the US that works “to build understanding and support for lesbians and gays in traditional Jewish communities,” which includes a much-loved Shabbaton weekend program. Their partner organizations join to provide an effective model for those who want to live both honestly and traditionally.

Plus, I’m guessing that the Eshel programs are probably going to be a more compelling “matchmaking service” than the one Harel is opening up next month…

Banning Gay and Bi Men From Donating Blood is Bigoted and Homicidal – or, Why the FDA Wishes There Were More Virgins

By Halley Cohen
Director, GLOE – Kurlander Program for GLBT Outreach & Engagement

If you are a man who has slept with another man since 1977, or, if you are a woman who has slept with a man who has slept with a man since 1977, you are ineligible to give blood in this country.

So sayeth the FDA.

And therefore, so sayeth every organization that runs blood donation services, which are required to follow the FDA’s guidelines and recommendations. (Section E, 1)

There is a critical blood shortage in this country. We need all the blood we can get.

Shortages are more likely in the summer, when businesses and schools run blood drives less often, and these past two months have apparently been the slowest in twelve years. Any quick search on “US blood shortage” will bring up thousands of recent articles.

There is a large, active, socially-conscious LGBTQ population in DC.

Many of us are ineligible to donate blood. Not for having any disease or traveling to “dangerous” countries or having the sniffles that day.

Being gay is an immediate disqualification.

Wait, I take that back – because they say it’s about behavior, not sexuality. So as long as you are a virgin who remains celibate, you can be gay and donate blood.

Gee, thanks.

Were they actually being logical about this screening question, ANYONE who has had sex with ANYONE would not be allowed to donate.

A virgin-only blood supply.

Because you don’t know all the partners of your partners. Like your high school sex ed teacher explained, you’re sleeping with everyone that person has ever slept with, and so on and so on.

But they probably figured out that using only celibate virgins would make the blood shortage worse, at a time when only 3 out of every 100 people in theUS donate blood. Maybe not quite a realistic solution, though it is the logical end of their argument.

The FDA policy to exclude men who have slept with a man comes from the early 1980s, when we were still figuring out HIV/AIDS and our tests for it weren’t so great.

Our tests now are pretty good. And all blood gets screened anyway.

Let me say that again:
All blood donated gets screened for HIV/AIDS anyway.

Health and Human Services could’ve changed this policy last year, but chose not to.

Non-gay men have HIV/AIDS, too. This statement should not be news to anyone (except, perhaps HHS).

In DC, where1 in20 people is infected with HIV/AIDS, it is criminal to perpetuate the stereotype that it’s “the gays” that get AIDS; this screening question does exactly that. It tells people that if you aren’t in that risk group, you can relax a little. That stereotype was why for years the rate of HIV/AIDS was going down in the LGBTQ community, while it was rising everywhere else (though there is a current resurgence).

Dawson students promote awareness for End the Ban during the blood driveI am incredibly moved by stories of gay and bisexual men (and the women who have slept with them), who have to lie on these screening questions because they know that they are as healthy as anyone else and they know how desperately the blood is needed, just so they can donate anyway. These are especially moving here in the DC area, where someone needs blood every 17 seconds.

Today at the J, there is a blood drive, from 4:30-8:30. Please know that I fully believe in blood donation and would never tell anyone not to donate when they see a local organization holding a blood drive. Many members of the blood banking industry “support a data-based reconsideration of deferral criteria.” In other words, not kicking out people just for being a guy who has slept with a guy. Or being a woman who has slept with a guy.

I am eligible to donate. Frankly, I’m healthy, have awesome veins, and am not particularly bothered by needles. I am even type O, the universal donor.

And I’m incredibly torn by this issue. I hate participating in bigotry, even bigotry by silent assent. Especially by silent assent.

Yet, not donating punishes only sick people. Not donating wouldn’t cause a shortage that might make the FDA notice; it would only make an existing shortage worse. As Jews – as people – we have the responsibility to save lives where we can. And also a responsibility to speak up for those who have been wronged.

Perhaps the FDA should consider that, in this time of the worst blood shortage crisis in over a decade, cutting out millions of potentials donors is a terrible, homicidal idea.

A 22-year old man was turned away from donating blood in Gary, Indiana this week because the workers thought that he looked gay.

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