Tag Archives: arts & culture

I Am Proud to Be Me

Alexandra Kohl attended the Keshet/Hazon LGBTQ and Ally Teen Shabbaton this April. In the spirit of Pride month, she is sharing a bit of her poetry and thoughts on LGBTQ Pride.

Pride is not automatic.
It is not thrust upon us
like responsibility on a new parent,
nor handed to us
on a silver platter.

Rather, it is found.20140125_0077 Snow Day (427x640)
Bubbling in the depths of our soul.
It grows like the first buds of spring
hindered by the weather
but strong none the less
until it blooms into a full flower.

Why am I proud?
I was proud to be queer
when I first came out
and finally felt myself telling the truth
after a lifetime of lies
as if I had finally brought freedom to myself
instead of shying away
from the life I could live.

I was proud to be queer
when my younger brother came into my room
and said, “Alex, when did you know you weren’t straight”
and after a discussion on my bed
left by saying
“Well, it doesn’t matter”
then added
“I don’t know yet if I’m straight or not.”

I was proud to be queer
when a friend messaged me on Facebook
and trusted me with their biggest secret
“I think I’m bi”
and gave me insight into their life
that no one else knew.

I was proud to be queer
when DOMA and Prop 8 were repealed
and I sat with my friends
and cheered for a victory
that was finally mine
A victory that mattered in my life
A victory not only for me
but for everyone.

But more than just queer
I’m proud to be Jewish
I’m proud to have a community
that welcome me in my entirety
that doesn’t care who I love as long as I love my culture.

I was proud to be a queer Jew
when a transgender child
changed his name in Hebrew school
and then only question asked was
“How does he spell it?”

I was proud to be a queer Jew
when we discussed homosexuality in a Torah studies class
and the entire class agreed
that the Torah is not an excuse to discriminate.

And I am proud to be a queer Jew.
I am proud of the life I live
I am proud of the voice I’ve been given
I am proud of the fear I have destroyed
And I am proud to be me
in the purest, truest form
I am proud to be me.

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Posted on June 24, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Bringing a Rainbow (Cheesecake) to the Holiday Table

Next week marks the holiday of Shavuot. This holiday, which is celebrated seven weeks after Passover, marks the giving of the Torah. For a wide variety of reasons, Shavuot is celebrated by eating dairy. One reason I’ve heard is because having the Torah is as sweet as milk and honey. I’ve also heard that upon receiving the Torah the dietary laws of kosher became immediately clear –and the only dishes around were dairy dishes.

Regardless of the rational behind it, eating a whole lot of dairy has become the common practice for celebrating Shavuot. To celebrate the occasion I gathered a group of friends to try baking a rainbow cheesecake. Too often the LGBT experience isn’t accounted for in the Jewish community so what better way to introduce the idea of inclusion than by bringing some literal rainbows to the table?

cheesecake_rozensky (13 of 13)

To start things off we found a recipe for tie-dye cheesecake from the Disney Chef. Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • 1 package red velvet cake mix (plus ingredients to make it)
  • 1 1/2 lb. cream cheese
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 16 oz sour cream
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • food coloring in primary colors to make red, orange, yellow, green, teal, and purple.

Start by preparing the red velvet cake. You’ll find the directions on the package of cake mix.
cheesecake_rozensky (2 of 13)

After it’s mixed, pour 1/3 of the red velvet cake batter into a 9 inch springform pan. Then, go ahead and bake it according to the directions on the box. You can also make cupcakes with the rest of the batter, so nothing goes to waste.

cheesecake_rozensky (4 of 13)

Next comes more mixing. Set your electronic mixer to low and beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy.

cheesecake_rozensky (5 of 13)

Add sugar, a little at a time, and beat until creamy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well.

cheesecake_rozensky (6 of 13)

Add flour, vanilla, lemon juice, and sour cream and mix. 

Next divide the batter evenly into 6 bowls. Use food coloring to create your colors of the rainbow.

cheesecake_rozensky (7 of 13)

Next, spoon the colored batter over the red velvet cake (which should still be in the springform.) You can either try to layer the colors, or create a mosaic of colors when you spoon the batter onto the cake. Leave 3/4 inch of space (at least) between the top of the batter and the top of the pan.

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If you’ve gone with the mosaic pattern (like we did) and you want to create a tie-dye effect (like we wanted to), use a toothpick to slightly swirl the batter.

cheesecake_rozensky (11 of 13)

Place in the middle of the top rack of the oven and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

cheesecake_rozensky (12 of 13)

An important thing to know about the baking process — it will take a while. After the initial baking time of an hour and 15 minutes has passed, prop open the oven door and leave the cake in the warmed oven for an additional hour. After that hour has passed, remove from the oven and allow it to cool to room temperature. After that, you’re still not ready to eat it.  Refrigerate the creation for at least 12, but ideally 24, hours. Then…. enjoy!

Posted on May 29, 2014

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Life After Love: Cher & Jewish Mourning Rituals

In October 2013, when I bought my tickets to see Cher’s Dressed to Kill tour, which would be playing down the street from my house in the then-distant future of May 2014, my mother asked with mock hurt in her voice why I hadn’t invited her to see the show with me.

David & his parents, marching with Keshet at Boston Pride in 2009.

David & his parents, marching with Keshet at Boston Pride in 2009.

At the time, I thought it was a bit of a ridiculous request. Although my mother had taken me to my earliest concerts in my pre-teen days, I couldn’t really envision her enjoying a stadium show at age 67. I imagined the show would be unbearably loud for her, and over the last couple of years, her health had slipped, and she just seemed too frail for that kind of environment. Plus, what interest did my mom have in the electronic dance diva that Cher has become in the most recent evolution of her career?

At the same time, I remembered a long-forgotten moment my mother and I had shared when I was in high school.  My mother had been my synagogue’s youth director, and USY was my number one activity, so we spent a lot of time together. While most teenagers might have bristled at having their mothers present in these settings, I never let the presence of my mother get in the way of my teenage shenanigans, whether that meant sneaking out of my room at a convention to surreptitiously hook up, dressing in a costume that was little more than underwear for a trip to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show, or, as I just remembered—playing Cher to my mother’s Sonny Bono for a lip sync contest in the basement of my synagogue. (Our “I Got You Babe” brought the house down. Sadly, this predated the YouTube era, and I’m not even sure if photographs were taken.) This same comfort and closeness served us well in my adulthood, and many of my friends from Keshet remember my parents marching with us in the Pride Parade in matching Keshet t-shirts.

My mom passed away at the end of December, and although she had been in declining health, her death was a shock. Judaism’s mourning rituals provide a gradual plan for coping, setting out an eleven-month process for children who’ve lost a parent that balances the need for solitude and grief with the need to stay connected to community.

One profound way our tradition makes this period distinct is by removing the mourner from “public joy,” meaning someone who has suffered a loss typically avoids parties (including weddings and b’nai mitzvah), theaters and cinemas, and concerts. As with many Jewish customs, there are loopholes, particularly if your line of work requires you to participate in these kinds of events: a wedding photographer, for example, isn’t expected to stop working for the year. As someone who’s semi-professionally involved in the theater, I knew I’d need to figure out what felt right in that arena for me. I gave away some tickets, made an extra effort to ensure that shows I saw were directly related to projects I was working on, and so forth.

The Cher concert was months away. I had time to figure it out. But I knew that I couldn’t miss it—not because I cared so much about Cher, but because it was one of the few things coming up in my life that I had shared with my mom in the last months of hers.

Going to the concert wasn’t the easiest choice I’ve made. My section was filled with women who reminded me of my mother, and the number of times Cher herself mentioned her age—one year older than my mom—kept bringing my mom to the forefront of my mind. But at the same time, enjoying the songs that had been part of the bond between my mother and me reinforced in a visceral way how I remain connected to my mother even though she’s gone. And of course, Cher’s stock in trade is songs about surviving and moving forward despite loss. And even thought I know she meant it in a different way than I heard it that night, Cher helped me believe in life after love.

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Posted on May 27, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Great Books for—and about—Jewish LGBTQ Teens

According to education theorist Rudine Simms Bishop, fiction should serve as both a mirror and a window. That is, books should both reflect the realities of their readers’ lived experiences and allow readers to see inside the thoughts and feelings of others. In this spirit, here are some of my favorite contemporary young adult (YA) books—that is, books for teen readers—that feature LGBTQ and Jewish themes.

stack-of-books2In “Princes” in David Levithan’s short story collection How They Met, and Other Stories (Knopf, 2008), 17-year-old Jon’s parents are hesitant about letting him invite the super-hot Graham to his brother Jeremy’s upcoming Bar Mitzvah. But Jeremy insists that everyone should be able to bring the date of their choice. Like all of David Levithan’s writing, this story is sweet, romantic, and a lot of fun.

In Believe by Sarah Aronson (Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner, 2013), teenage Janine, an aspiring fashion designer, survived a Jerusalem suicide bombing that killed both her parents. When a preacher from her past appears in her small Pennsylvania town, Janine and her lesbian aunt, a former officer in the Israeli army, are forced to redefine who they are and who they want to be.

Don’t forget to check out small independent presses! Grunge Gods and Graveyards by Kimberly G. Giarratano, coming in June 2014 from Red Adept, is the story of a girl and a ghost set against the backdrop of the 1996 music scene. While Lainey’s helping her ghostly crush Danny discover the identity of his murderer, she’s also coming to terms with her Jewish roots and her best friend’s unexpected love interest.

Starglass by Phoebe North (Simon & Schuster, 2013) takes place in a secular Jewish dystopia in outer space. (Yes, really.) Growing up on the spacecraft Asherah, Terra has never known anything other than the rigid rules of her society . . . until she stumbles on something that changes everything. Characters juggle love (gay and straight), friendship, and emerging adult responsibilities in a futuristic world where well-known Hebrew words and expressions have subtly shifted meanings. A sequel, Starbreak, will be released in July.

Numerous other YA books feature Jewish themes and minor characters who identify as LGBTQ, including Forgive Me Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick (Little, Brown, 2013), Intentions by Deborah Heiligman (Knopf, 2012), and the older If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson (Putnam, 1998).

If you’re a Jewish LGBTQ teenager, you can see your own priorities, challenges, and triumphs mirrored in these terrific YA books. If you’re not, they provide a window for learning about diverse identities and experiences.

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Posted on May 21, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

From Our Table to Yours: Rainbows & Matzah

Rainbow Passover (11 of 11)

After the fun we had with Rainbow Hamantaschen, it seemed like the gauntlet had been thrown. At the Keshet office we began to wonder: would it be possible to find some way to make a rainbow food for each major holiday? The challenge was on. The brainstorming began. Would it be matzah ball soup, with each matzah ball a different color? A rainbow of gefilte fish? A mix of dips and spreads in ever color imaginable?

Even though Passover is a holiday already pretty full of traditions and ritual, I thought it would be okay to try something new. So, I turned to my friend Stephanie, and together we came up with Rainbow Chocolate Covered Matzah.

Rainbow Passover (1 of 11)

The goal was simple: take a plain ol’ piece of matzah and jazz it up, rainbow style. With that in mind, we created our recipe, one that was well within the dietary restrictions of Passover, while still allowing for a little rainbow fun.

So, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Six 1/2 cups of white chocolate chips (a 1/2 cup for each color created),
  • A box of matzah,
  • A small splash of milk (as needed for drizzle consistency) per color,
  • A box of food coloring,
  • A spoon for the drizzling and/or a basting brush for painting,
  • & a small sauce pan to melt the chocolate.

Your first step is to place the first 1/2 cup of white chocolate in a small sauce pan over a low heat. You’ll want to stir pretty constantly, because you don’t want the chocolate to burn. While you’re stirring splash in a little milk- just enough to help give the chocolate that proper drizzle feel.

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Once you’re feeling good and melted, add food coloring to the chocolate for your first batch of color. The amount of food coloring is up to you, just be sure to make it bright!

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To transfer the colored chocolate to the matzah, we went with two different rainbow-ing techniques: the Jackson Pollock drizzle and the more solid stripe technique. For the drizzle, you’ll simply use a spoon to start covering the matzah in your own crazy pattern.

Rainbow Passover (5 of 11)For stripes, use a basting brush to slowly paint on a solid strip of color. Once you’ve got your red color on (whether it be stripes, drizzled, or both) repeat the process with each color of the rainbow.

Rainbow Passover (6 of 11)Be sure to wash your sauce pan, brush, and spoon between each color, and keep on painting!

Rainbow Passover (7 of 11)

We weren’t honestly sure which technique would prove successful—or if we’d end up with a big ol’ mess on our hands. However, they both turned out pretty fantastic.

So go ahead and give our Rainbow Matzah a try! It’s as delicious as it is fun to make. Send us photos of your process and finished product!

Rainbow Passover (9 of 11)

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Posted on April 14, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Looking Back on a Year with The Purim Superhero

Get a copy of The Purim Superhero, the first Jewish children’s book with LGBT characters, in time for PurimAnd, if you are a family participating in the PJ Library program, be sure to request your copy of The Purim Superhero by March 13, 2014!

Dear Nate,

Purim SuperheroOne year ago this month, the world got its first look at you. The truth is, though, I’d had some version of you in my head for over a decade before that: I’d wanted to write about a kid with a Purim costume dilemma ever since my days as a Jewish day school librarian, looking for holiday books to read aloud in class. Then, when Keshet announced its picture book contest in 2011, you came a little more clearly into focus: you’d be a kid with same-sex parents, whose struggle to be true to yourself at Purim echoed your dads’ experiences as gay men. Your personality really crystallized one day when my friend’s son, bored at being dragged along to his mom’s writing date, started tossing ideas at me, and some of his unique imagination (and his interest in aliens) was infused into you. And, of course, I didn’t know what you looked like until I saw Mike Byrne’s adorable illustrations for the manuscript.

 8-year-old Ella, who was inspired by Nate to be an Airplane Superhero this Halloween.  Photo by Kristi Tredway.

8-year-old Ella, who was inspired by Nate to be an Airplane Superhero this Halloween. Photo by Kristi Tredway.

Over the past year, I’ve been honored to hear from GLBT parents, and other nontraditional families, that you’ve provided a way for them to see their family life affirmed in the pages of a book, and from many “traditional” parents that your story has given them a chance to see the diversity of their neighborhoods or congregations reflected in a Jewish book they can share with their kids. You’ve been part of the celebrations at birthdays, baby showers, at least one wedding, and, of course, at Purim festivals all over North America. You’ve even inspired some Halloween costumes!

I’ve been heartened by the warm welcome you’ve experienced in the Jewish online and print world, and by the support I—and you—have had from other writers at venues like the Jewish Book Council event I attended last June, or the LimmudVancouver conference where I presented just last week. I’m grateful that you came into the world at a cultural moment when you can be recognized and celebrated for all of your identity—as a Jewish kid, as a kid in a same-sex-parent family, and as a boy who finds a way to honor the unique interests that make his heart sing, even while he wants to be part of his group of friends.

It’s that last part that I’ve seen resonate the most strongly with kids, especially kids around your age. Over and over, at school visits and author readings, they’ve wanted to talk about how you feel pressured to dress as a superhero like the other boys in your class, and how hard it can be to be different from your friends, and how important it is to find a way to be yourself anyway. Your story certainly isn’t the first time that theme has been sounded in a children’s book, but you’ve helped bring it to life for a lot of kids—whatever their religion or family structure.

So, happy birthday, Nate—and chag Purim sameach! I’ve been thrilled to share this first year with you, and I’m excited to see where your future will take you. You are a super friend to many, and I hope you’ll continue to fly high.

Your author,
Elisabeth Kushner

You can follow Elisabeth Kushner on Twitter at @elskushner. Read an interview with her here.

 

Posted on February 20, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Sarah Tuttle-Singer on Jewrotica

There’s a new player on the Jewish blog scene, and it’s not holding back. Jewrotica is a “pluralistic and sex-positive organization that explores the intersection of Judaism and sexuality through essays, literature, erotica, and in-person programming.” Keshet caught up with Sarah Tuttle-Singer, former social media outreach coordinator and current contributor, to ask about what it’s like to write for Jewrotica, and what the existence of this new site might mean for LGBT Jews.

Sarah Singer-Tuttle

Sarah Tuttle-Singer

You’re a writer for a variety of Jewish publications – in what ways (other than the very obvious one) is Jewrotica different? 

I’m a big believer in authenticity – in “owning your sh*t.” In other words, if you’ve got something provocative to say, then say it boldly, and don’t cower behind cheap metaphor. Writing for Jewrotica is a literalization of this – because unlike publishing on Kveller and Times of Israel (two sites which I adore!) not only is the content I submit on Jewrotica potentially problematic, but explaining the article in the context of the site also invites a secondary conversation. (Just ask my dad.) Continue reading

Posted on March 29, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Why “The Purim Superhero” is the Book I’ve Been Waiting For

I’ve always believed quite firmly that what is on our kids’ bookshelves, and what we, parents and children together, share at bedtime, makes them who they are. I was particularly excited to hear about the publication of a new children’s book, The Purim Superhero. This story of a little boy, and the Purim-costume dilemma he faces, along with the help of his fathers, feels like the children’s book I’ve been searching for a long time.

Jenni Person and her kids

Jenni Person and her kids

Books have fundamental power for our kids. Story time is a way to compellingly deliver the values we wish to instill in them. Books come alive, ideas flooding into minds, fueling connections and other ideas, feelings and sense memories. Expand the power of these books with the participation of a parent and children’s literature knows no bounds. And so I seek books that reflect and reinforce the reality and true diversity of my kids’ world, which we can share together. So, as I’ve written about in columns and blogs before, it’s always been important to me to have plenty of books about Jewish families and experiences. Then within that, we need winter scenes that involve palm trees and beach rather than snow, because, like other Jewish kids here in Florida, my kids don’t know from a white Chanukah and they do tashlich barefoot on the beach. Continue reading

Posted on March 1, 2013

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Schmekel: 100% Trans Jews

They invented the term 100% trans Jewcore, and as Schmekel they are rocking our world! Keshet caught up with the members of the band – Lucian Kahn, Ricky Riot, Nogga Schwartz, and Simcha Halpert-Hanson – to talk about musical influences, what they’d love to see in the Jewish world, and what the heck “Jewcore” is, after all. We’re bringing you a longer post than usual, but you know what they say: one band, four Jews, lots and lots of opinions!

Which of you came up Schmekel band memberswith the term “Jewcore,” and can you please define it as a musical genre? Can you discuss some of your various musical influences?

RR: “Jewcore” loosely refers to anything within the rock realm that has Jewish influences. It is a description that makes sense for us in this fortunate era of complicated genre classification. For me, the Jewish part of it is liturgical and other traditional tunes, and Israeli songs. As of a little more recently, I’ve been listening to klezmer bands, like the Klezmatics. The rock part of it is pretty eclectic. I listen to some classic rock, like the Doors and Jimi Hendrix, and as of more recently punk bands like the Dead Kennedys and Limp Wrist - yes I know, I got into punk way after the fact. I also like the Israeli riot grrrl bands Hamachshefot (The Witches) and Poliana Frank. The artists whom I would actually call influences though, meaning ones I have listened to long ago enough for them to be considered an influence, are the Smashing PumpkinsNine Inch NailsSleater-Kinney, the Distillers, the Smiths, and They Might Be Giants. But oddly enough, I grew up on showtunes and most of my music collection consists of jazz.

SHH: I think we all collectively came up with the term “Jewcore” as a way to describe our sound to inquiring minds. Our community in Brooklyn has coined the term “Transcore” to refer to bands like ours that have all trans* members and sing about trans* experience, so we just took that to the Jew level. That asterisk, by the way, denotes that the word “trans” in this context does not just mean “transsexual” but all folks that identify under the “transgender” umbrella – there’s great information here. I use the term “Jewcore” to reflect the unlikely combination of Jewishness with punk rock, rap, or hardcore – like what Schmekel does or what our friends Yiddish Princess does or what Moshiach Oi or SoCalled does. When you think “Jewish music,” you don’t think the kind of sound that we or the other bands I mentioned make.

In terms of influences, I love bands that think outside of the genre-box that they’re categorized in, like Against Me!, the Dresden Dolls, Modest Mouse, and Tool. I think it’s artists like those – that play with genre and keep genre flexible, that produce really interesting and ever-relevant sounds.

NS: I don’t know who came up with the term “Jewcore.” I have referenced our sound as queercore, transcore, and “yidcore.” Lucian has used the term Schtickrock to describe us as well. I guess it doesn’t matter what you call it really. Our music is influenced by a large catalog from punk to polka, klezmer, and even some good ole rock and roll. Our lyrics talk about our experience as queer, trans* Jews. I would say that that more or less can define some aspect of “Jewcore.” My personal influences come from classic rock and lots of punk and ska, I could list some here but it hurts my head to think of all the bands and musicians I pull from.

LTK: Frank Zappa, Oingo Boingo, Tom Lehrer, Sondheim, Gang of Four, The Red Elvises, and most recently a prog-punk band from Chicago called Paper Mice. And Stravinsky, always Stravinsky.

Schmekel in Original Plumbing magazine. Photo by Amos Mac.

Photo by Amos Mac for Original Plumbing magazine.

Can we talk for a moment about the infamous matza photo shoot with Amos Mac? What was that like? What were the responses – in general and, you know, from your mothers?

LTK: Dirty jokes are the matzoh meal that holds my family together, so even my grandma laughed at the pictures. Actually, she’s a psychologist and used to be a sex educator back in the ‘70s, so it’s hard to shock her with something as innocuous as a bunch of half-naked Jews covered in unleavened bread. As for the rest of the world, I was surprised that some of our fans interpreted those pictures as sexy. In fact, The Advocate called us sexy and reprinted one of the matzoh shots. Personally, I was going for ridiculous. Is sex really a viable option when there are dry crumbs involved?

RR: I’m sure my parents have seen these pictures but we never mentioned them. Honestly they do scare me a little because my other career is teaching, so I just hope they don’t get into the wrong hands. But hey, you live once; how many people can say they posed naked for an international magazine with matzohs?

NS: I felt like a schnitzel by the end of that shoot. Before we did the matzoh photo, we took a photo of Ricky pouring wine into my mouth and I got covered in it. Then we rolled around in matzoh… plus the lights, I was ready to be served. On the plus side, my boyfriend really enjoys the picture.

SHH: I have to admit I was pushing a lot of my boundaries posing for that shoot – there were more than a few moments with that picture in particular in which I felt, exposure-wise, like I was at the gyno. We all sang Echad Mi Yodeah [Who Knows One, a traditional Passover song] for most of that photo, to loosen up (of course). The shoot was in a massive warehouse with dividers between studios, so the entire first floor heard us singing about knowing one G-d, two tablets, etc. It was a unifying moment for me with the band — being stark naked on the floor with matzoh shards, singing about HaShem.

I’ve heard you’ve been upset after certain interviews that focus more on your bodies then your music. Do you get tired of educating the public on gender issues?

LTK: To be honest, at this point I just find it boring, which is actually a privilege. I’ve been pretty much done with physical transition for over two years, and I’ve been with the same boyfriend for almost as long, so I don’t have to think about the fact of my trans body on a daily basis anymore. It still comes up in random ways, such as dealing with doctors or bureaucratic paperwork, but since I’ve mostly come to peace with my body, I don’t feel like talking about it all the time. I’m definitely at a different place now than I was when I wrote the lyrics for the “Queers On Rye” album.

RR: Yes. I get tired of it both with the public as a performer, and as a regular person. I also happen to occasionally do some educating at LGBT Jewish retreats and I don’t mind educating in a time and place where that is the intended goal. I just don’t like being asked about my body in a casual social setting, or when press is more interested in our transitions than our music.

NS: The focus that many non-trans people put on trans and gender non-conforming bodies is sometimes overwhelming. As Ricky said, when there is a time and a place, sure we can talk about it. We are people also and do other stuff. In this case we are a band that performs and plays music about many subjects besides our bodies.

SHH:  Because I identify as transgender/genderqueer and thus outside of a recognizable gender, I am often pigeonholed as a man or a woman or depicted using language similar to the term “a he/she.”

This happens, unfortunately, within the queer community as well as out in the general public.

I recognize that I will forever have to qualify myself to people who have never before met a trans* person and that until olam haba [the world to come] becomes olam hazeh [this world], educating will be a fact of life, but I am especially tired of teaching specifically transmen about why I’m not one of them and qualifying the existence of genderqueer as a separate gender. It’s really disheartening to me that so many trans* people have internalized the sexism and binary mentality that made it difficult for them to realize themselves to begin with.

Can you discuss the queer Jewish music scene? Where can people go to find new bands and artists?

RR: The Shondes, Athens Boys Choir, Y-Love, Isle of Klezbos, Metropolitan Klezmer, Yiddish Princess, Gay Panic, GLTR PNCH (pronounced “Glitter Punch”), and Evan Greer are all great artists to check out. And I’m sure I could name more if you give me some time. Some of those are queer and Jewish, some just queer, some just Jewish. Where to go is wherever they are playing.

NS: There is an amazing NYC/Brooklyn queer and queer Jewish music scene. Multiple nights a week one can find a venue playing rad music .

SHH: I feel really lucky to live in New York City and be inside what I consider the pulse of queer Jewish music. The big names in klezmer — the Yiddishist scene in general tends to feel pretty queer — are all here playing in synagogue basements and concert venues around the city. A lot of Jews For Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) events, like their annual Purimschpiel, bring in queer Yiddishist artists and klezmorim. As far as how to find out about new bands and artists, I’ve found Facebook groups an immensely helpful tool to get to know my community and all the innovation happening in it. Currently, I belong to Young Jewish Brooklyn, Brooklyn Jews, Thursday Night Chulent, Trans* and Judaism, and Punk Jews and all of these groups in one way or another have turned me onto artists and musicians I hadn’t previously heard of touring both across the country and around NYC.

I’d love to get more personal about what being a part of Schmekel means to you – to be making music as part of a Jewish gender non-conforming group.

LTK: If we’re getting personal, to me being part of Schmekel means having three siblings to rock out, celebrate the holidays, get through hard times, go on road trips, and joke around with. Schmekel is home to me, which is probably not a sentence that a lot of people have uttered.

RR: This didn’t start out as a political statement, but Jewish trans visibility is certainly important. Mostly, I like making the kinds of music I like and singing from a queer perspective at the same time. And also everything Lucian said.

NS: Ditto to what Ricky and Lucian said. I am not actually a musician at all… I picked up the bass for the first time in 10 years to get to make music with these folks. Ricky and I were in a band when we were 17. It kinda sucked in that awesome high school garage band way. I continued to always want to be a rockstar… but never thought of pursuing it, till Schmekel happened.

SHH: Schmekel to me has been an experience of pushing myself to take my art and my identity in two presently disparate groups seriously. It has been a process of coming together with three other people with varying degrees of shared experiences in the Jewish world and in the trans* world and working together to build bridges with each other and others around us. It’s been an amazing opportunity to have come to such a family space with this band and to have seen the fruit of that relationship be a Yeshayahu-worthy vision of Jewish unity across religious convictions and personal identities.

Given, amongst all of you, your many and varied experiences of inclusion and exclusion in Jewish community: what would you like rabbis, teachers, and other leaders, to know?

NS:  Hold the judgement. It is the purpose of people in leadership positions to help facilitate a supportive environment and assist those in search of a relationship with community and G-d. It is not their, or any other person’s, place to judge or dictate how one should pursue their path. Leaders and teachers and rabbis are there to present halacha, discuss, assist, and support. Not to shut down, excommunicate or pressure an individual in any specific direction. Also, take the time to educate yourself: it is hard to self-advocate all the time. When someone is coming to you, they are probably coming for support and guidance, and it is worth it to be in the know about what the community needs are to better help.

RR: That gender is complicated. I would love for rabbis to read some gender theory books and talk to queer and trans people and the doctors and therapists who deal with us, and formulate an informed opinion about how they want to define gender. There is a movement of acknowledging gender in Judaism as a social category and not just a biological one among halakhically committed Jews, and that movement also has insightful things to say that I would love for other rabbis to check out. Let’s face it, our existence presents a challenge to their observance. It also presents a choice to either take the easy route and dismiss our experiences and insist that our queer and trans identities aren’t real, or do the work that it takes to keep us Jewish and to keep us safe and emotionally healthy. They don’t need to compromise their religious practice, but the Jewish thing to do would be to learn about our experiences and respect us as human beings. I would like for teachers to know that teachers often gender-police their students without being aware of it, and it is damaging. I encourage them too to educate themselves about the experiences of their queer and trans students.

SSH: I would like Jewish leaders to know that kol yisroel arevim zebazeh [all Jews are responsible for one another] applies to all Jews everywhere and that “Jew,” thank G-d, comes in many profoundly different manifestations — all of them Torah sanctified. Education — Trans* 101 workshops, learning about queer sexuality, patriarchal oppression as well as how gender is a mutable idea rather than a static fact — has to be a priority to understand each other. HaShem put us all together as Am Yisrael — the idea that the mere existence of one Jew invalidates the existence of another is not a productive way to bring about the messianic era and will only deter the healing that klal yisrael [the entire Jewish community] was created to bring about for the world.

You can catch Schmekel at:

Werk Those Pecs: Valentine’s Edition
Saturday, February 16th, 2013
SlateNY, 54 W. 21st St.
Doors at 9pm

A benefit for Werk Those Pecs, an organization dedicated to raising trans visibility by funding gender-affirming surgery, supporting queer businesses, and showcasing queer artists.

Posted on February 1, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

The Ongoing Legacy of Heather and her Mommies

A girl, her two moms, and the woman who created this now famous book

Heather Has Two Mommies_coverWhen Heather Has Two Mommies, a children’s book whose title character has lesbian parents, hit the bookshelves in 1989, its author, Lesléa Newman, did not expect too much. She had trouble getting a publisher and never imagined the book would ever see the light of day.

The book itself is a sweet story about a little girl named Heather. One of her moms is a doctor, the other, a carpenter, and together, they do the kinds of things all kids love to do with their families: hang out at the park on nice days, bake cookies on rainy days. Heather learns in school that families come in all shapes and sizes: some of her friends have step-parents, some have only one parent, and some have brothers and sisters. To those of us (like this blogger) who grew up in a post-Heather world, it can feel a little strange that this charming child caused such an uproar.

This groundbreaking book just celebrated its 23rd birthday!

LGBT-inclusive children’s books published since Heather’s debut owe a debt of gratitude to Lesléa Newman for paving the way. (See our earlier post about the first Jewish children’s book with gay characters, The Purim Superhero, that was just published this month.) Indeed, Heather Has Two Mommies has had a permanent effect on children’s literature, for all its ongoing controversy – and that controversy has had an effect on its author: “All the protest against Heather Has Two Mommies inspired me to become an activist…. My work in the world is to do tikkun olam, to repair the world, make the world a safer place for others, and I take that very seriously.”

Listen to Lesléa Newman share how Heather Has Two Mommies came to be.

Lesléa is the author of more than sixty books for readers of all ages including picture books, middle-grade and young adult novels, poetry collections, and short story collections. Her latest book, October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepherd, came out this past September. You can see a video preview here, and read more about the book here. For her work, Lesléa was honored by Keshet as an LGBT Jewish Hero.

 

Posted on January 30, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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