Tag Archives: arts & culture

The Ultimate Tzedakah: Being a Surrogate Mother

Keshet is pretty excited about The Guys Next Door, a feature-length documentary that tells the story of Erik and Sandro, a gay couple with two daughters birthed by their friend Rachel. (Check out the trailer below!)

sandro-erik-and-their-daughtersWe had the chance to chat with Amy Geller, who is co-producing and directing the film along with Allie Humenuk. Amy, who was the Artistic Director of the Boston Jewish Film Festival from 2012-2014, came across Erik, Sandro, and Rachel’s story through an alumni connection at her college, and was inspired to share their experiences.

Amy and Allie spent three and a half years filming The Guys Next Door—which includes, as Amy puts it, “the ultimate act of tzedakah.” Rachel, who is in her 40s and married to her husband Tony, has three biological children of her own. According to Amy, “by helping her gay friends to have daughters, Rachel makes a deeply personal decision that has political implications. With the support of Tony and their children, she affirms gay rights and same-sex parenting.”

Rachel shared how her Jewish faith inspired her to act as a surrogate for Erik and Sandro:

family-portaitI am Jewish and my parents raised me to believe in equality and giving to others in whatever ways we can. As a mother now, it is important for me to continue living the foundation of those (Jewish) values, and teach them to my children. My experience in helping my good friends, Erik and Sandro, be able to have children, symbolizes to me the notion of Tikkun Olam—my little part in helping heal the world. It struck me as incredibly unfair that my husband and I could so easily have children, and that for two gay men to have children would be such a hardship, particularly financial. I believe that being able to help them have their daughters not only benefits them, but also benefits my family, and really, benefits the world around us. My hope is that it helps people see that family can look like many different and wonderful things, and how two gay men, given the opportunity, can create a beautiful home filled with love and strong values, just as well as a heterosexual couple can.

We can’t wait to see the film when it’s finished! If you’re inspired by Erik and Sandro’s love—or Rachel’s act of tzedakah—you can help support the film through its Kickstarter campaign.

Like this post?

Posted on March 26, 2015

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

Heather and Her Mommies March into the 21st Century

Heather-Has-Two-MommiesHeather Has Two Mommies, the first of its kind children’s book about a child of two moms, is celebrating its 25th birthday!

The book, which caused quite the uproar when it was first published, is being reissued with updated text and new illustrations, including wedding rings on Heather’s mommies’ hands. The loving message of the book remains: “the most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love one another.”

You can read more about Heather Has Two Mommies here, as well as other works by Lesléa Newman, the book’s author! Lesléa has also been honored by Keshet as an LGBT Jewish Hero.

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

Posted on March 24, 2015

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

Hiddur Mitzvah: Enhancing Values with Art

0291_Keshet_141205

Kim’s art at Glimmer, photo by Tara Luz Stevens of TLS Images.

In December Keshet had a chance to work with Kim of Hebrica Judaic Art. Kim’s story—she’s a convert to Judaism who grew up in the segregated South—made quite an impression on me, so I welcomed the opportunity to chat more with the artist. We started our conversation with a question about why working with Keshet made sense for Kim’s Jewish (and artistic) values. “I feel very strongly about Jewish togetherness,” she shared. “All Jews, either born to it or having chosen it, all levels of observance, all walks of life. The Torah and all the holiness of Judaism belong to all Jews, equally.”

Kim’s personal story is intertwined with her discovery of Judaic artist. Her journey started in the segregated American south and involved converting to Judaism in order to find a new way of expressing herself.

Growing up in the segregated South, color and class distinctions were finely drawn, but Judaism was scarcely on the radar. I had Jewish friends, but I don’t think Judaism was well understood in the “buckle” of the Bible Belt. I didn’t really have a religion myself. And art was just something I did for my own amusement, or for friends.

All my life, I had always done some kind of art…pen-and-ink, pencil, charcoal…everything in black-and-white.

And then I converted to Judaism. Overnight, literally, I began working in color…paints, watercolors, pastels. It was so odd to me. I had always been such a black-and-white kind of gal (ask my husband; he says I don’t see any shades of gray). Where did this come from? Why did I suddenly start seeing the world in color? The truth is that I have no idea. I only know that it happened.

And then I went to Israel; Jerusalem, actually, for the first time, for a month. You might think there’s not much color in Jerusalem. After all, it’s in the Judean desert. And all the buildings are made from this kind of sandstone that goes from a light blond in the morning to blazing white in the heat of the day, to a golden glow in the afternoon. But colors, not so much. Yet, I saw them.

Jerusalem wasn’t Kim’s only source of inspiration. The idea of “hiddur mitzvah,” or doing a commandment beautifully, informs her art, as well as the texts themselves.

The sacred texts of Judaism inspire my creative work. The first time I saw a page of Hebrew, I was captivated and made up my mind to learn the language. The shapes of the letters are so beautiful, from the very precise Torah style to looser ones and even fonts I sort of invented.

Kim's art at Glimmer, photo by Tara Luz Stevens of TLS Images.

Kim’s art at Glimmer, photo by Tara Luz Stevens of TLS Images.

The pursuit of art draws me deeper into the text. That’s how I learn, and a papercut becomes almost a meditation on the subject. Some people are great at praying, or visiting the sick, or cooking for the oneg, or teaching in the religious school. I cut paper. And I hope that, when a piece is done, someone will look at it and say to themselves, wow. That really touches me. Or, I should look into that a little more.

Kim Phillips was certified in pararabbinics at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati and studied at Pardes Institute in Jerusalem. There, she found the creative spark for Hebrica, her Judaic art. Visit her website to see more of Kim’s art.

Like this post? 

Posted on January 14, 2015

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

Sitting Shiva: A Poem from Lesléa Newman

unnamedWe are honored to share a poem from I Carry My Mother by Lesléa Newman.

Lesléa Newman, known for her children’s book Heather Has Two Mommies, explores illness and death in her newest book. From diagnosis through yahrzeit (one-year anniversary of death), she grapples with what it means to lose a mother. To honor her mother’s memory, Lesléa Newman will donate $1.00 to the Cancer Connection for each book ordered by January 25 (her mom’s birthday).

SITTING SHIVA

Mirrors are covered
Wooden benches are set out
Have a good mourning

Where’s the coffee pot?
I ask my father, who knows
my mother would know

Welcome. Please come in.
Sit anywhere. Except there!
That’s my mother’s chair

Ancient Hebrew prayers
cannot bring my mother back,
so what good are they?

My aunt spills her tea
when I speak to her softly
in my mother’s voice

White coffee cup smeared
with my mother’s red lipstick.
Don’t you dare wash it.

Chocolate rugelach
my mother and I both love
clog my throat like mud

My mother’s old friend
cups my face with both her hands
Fingers wet with tears

My aunt stands to leave.
“Call if you need anything.”
I need my mother.

 

Like this post?

Posted on January 7, 2015

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 Jewish Themes Behind the TV Show “Transparent”

In honor of the annual observance of Transgender Day of Remembrance we are devoting space in our blog to posts about gender. Be sure to check out other stories of gender in our Jewish community including: “Transgender 101,” the personal reflections of two parents faced with the reality of gender roles at day care, a Tachlis of inclusion post entitled “How to Hire a Transgender Rabbi,” transgender ally-ship wisdom from the Torah’s patriarchs and matriarchs, and a father’s pride at being a dad to his transgender son 

Binging

In this image released by Amazon Digital, Amy Landecker, left, and Jeffrey Tambor appear in a scene from "Transparent," a new series on Amazon Digital.

In this image released by Amazon Digital, Amy Landecker, left, and Jeffrey Tambor appear in a scene from “Transparent,” a new series on Amazon Digital.

In the days following Yom Kippur, I found myself wondering why we cannot just space out the holidays a little. Why does Sukkot follow so immediately after the consuming intensity of the High Holidays? While Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur offer ample opportunities to transform oneself and modify one’s less healthy behaviors from the past year, this year I returned immediately to my bad habit of binge TV watching, thanks to the arrival of Transparent.

I had been eagerly awaiting this TV series ever since Jill Soloway, the uber-Hipster Jew and screenwriter, released the pilot of this story of a Jewish family. The show’s witty banter, carefully developed characterizations, and clever plotting of familial drama drew me in. Finally, both the Jews I know fully realized for television, and an honest portrayal of transformation and its affect on one’s family and community.

What distinguished this show as uniquely captivating were the very present Jewish elements and themes. As I binged my way through episodes two and five between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and then in an even more accelerated pace after Yom Kippur, I finished season one just in time for Sukkot, starved for more.

Each of Transparent’s Pferffermans, a wholeheartedly Jewish family, strive to transform their lives, their relationships, and their selves through an exploration, re-creation and reformation of their personal histories. Their individual paths may diverge from my own, yet their hunger for connection, meaning, and teshuva feel very close to home.

 Transparency

Transparent provides ample relational drama and sexcapades in the vein of the millennially inspired Girls, but for an audience born before 1980. Beyond its often outlandish hipster quirkiness, Transparent’s greatest treasure is its title’s namesake, Maura Pfefferman, whose process of transition and revelation to her family, and herself, drives the narrative from the first episode.

Not merely a plot device, Maura’s revelation that the Mort—the man that her family, and the world, have always known—is and always has been a woman, provides the soulful impetus for the entire show’s transition from a quirky family comedy, to a deeply meaningful and enrichinTransparent-300x206g journey. With each episode, Maura becomes more fully visible to us. She transforms in her family’s eyes, and even our own eyes, from their beloved father Mort to the woman that she has always been.

The story of Maura’s gender identity begins long before we first meet the Pfeffermans, illustrated by carefully woven flashbacks and revelations. Very quickly and clearly, the show becomes transparent that Maura’s gender identity has long been transient, and nowhere near as permanent as it appeared to those even most close to her, who only knew her as the man, Mort. Maura’s joy and pain, discovered in bringing greater permanence to her more transient external self, delivers the show’s driving soul and spirit.

It is through Maura that we truly appreciate that healthy return to one’s primary state of being, in the true sense of teshuva, ferments out of the recognition and acceptance that one’s seemingly permanent structure are truly merely temporary structures, which are much more adaptable and flexible than we often perceive.

Fostering Trans Inclusion

For more than a decade I have been striving as an activist, educator, and rabbi to foster greater inclusion for those in our community whose journeys towards healthy transformation has been blocked because they are LGBT.

In Transparent and its Maura, I have found a worthy hero who calls out for us to care for her, understand her, and include all those who live within our lives and communities as transgender people.

Available research tells us that approximately 0.25%-2% of our population experiences some degree if gender dysphoria. Transgender people encounter a great deal of pain: to their psyche, to their relationships, and their lives.

Joy Ladin, a professor at Yeshiva University, elevated the conversation of the Jewish community when she came out as transgender. Her brilliant, poetic, and often painful book, Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders, paints a vivid picture of Joy’s journey of transformation, and the deeply Jewish path this journey became. Her announcement opened many doors for conversations about gender identity, and she has even served as consultant for LGBT inclusion and the creative team behind Transparent. (Editor’s note: If you haven’t read this book, carve out time to do so. It is one of the most honest and beautiful books you will ever read.)

Taking Action

For years I have worked with Keshet, and I hope to continue to change and grow with my community. We need to take every opportunity to align our religious and spiritual language. We need to support those who come out and provide them with the transformational power of Judaism to support their personal journeys. With Transgender Day of Remembrance only a few days away, we need to support a Jewish community that embraces people of all gender identities.

Like this post?

Transgender Day of Remembrance is November 20th. How will your Jewish community observe the day?

Posted on November 13, 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

Bleed Through, a Novel by Ayin Weaver

We’re grateful to Ayin Weaver for sharing a behind the scenes look at the inspiration for her debut novel, Bleed Through. Bleed Through follows 4 families through 200 years of their history.

The title Bleed Through, is a painting term and metaphor for the layers of discovery experienced by the main character. Being an artist myself, I created Rita’s talent, perceptions and imagination using my own artistic gifts and skills.

bleed throughI began writing this novel many years ago after a particularly difficult break-up. I had grown up listening to Jewish stories told by my parents, who themselves were first-generation Americans. They spoke Yiddish and English at home where I learned from intonation, the nuances of a culture that was at a crossroads. I also learned some of the cornerstones of Judaism, not that my parents were religious—they were more culturally Jewish. But they lived a Tikkun Olam sensibility—through their world view and progressive activism. While I greatly appreciated the outlook they inspired, it was not enough for me.

As I reached adulthood I had feelings of being in the wrong body—after coming out I dated women some butch, some fem—never quite being able to figure out a comfortable sexual identity. I was unaware in the 1960’s of any possibility of living as a different gender. I cut my hair, wore boys clothes, drove a cab, painted houses—did whatever possible to feel comfortable in my skin. Later, I began to search for a deeper spiritual understanding to find the root of the pain I felt.

What transpired was a spiritual journey that lay beneath the surface of my confusion. Slowly over the years I came to understand a broader soul connection with people I met and began to accept myself as having both a feminine and masculine side. I was able to integrate these feelings through my politics, art, parenthood, teaching and intuitive abilities. I began to write poetry, short stories, write down my dreams as well as sculpt and paint more. The more I gave myself permission to be creative, the more joyful and intuitive I became. I read books on history, religion, spirituality, quantum physics, mysticism and alternative medicine, the latter bringing me to the study of Reiki. In 2003, after training for many years I became a 6th generation Usui Ryoho Reiki Master.

I used my healing training, dreams, art, and many books and research on spirituality and history (including African -American, Native American, Irish and Jewish history) to write Bleed Through. My intent was to tell a tale that highlights the absurdity of prejudice. In someways, I feel it is a simple story of love and courage—a bit like my own. But it is also a way of looking at the issue of gender identity, sexual orientation, sexism, racism and anti-Semitism that may have a positive impact, that says we are one, and that for me comes full circle to what I learned a long time ago—Tikkun Olam.

Like this post? 

 

 

Posted on August 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

The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew

Casual copyKeshet is thrilled to have the inside scoop on the recently published  The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper JewEli Glasman shared his inspiration for penning the work, and offered us a taste of the novel. Take a look!

My debut novel, The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew, is about, Yossi, a young gay teenager living in the Melbourne Orthodox Jewish community, as he comes to terms with his sexuality and learns to reconcile his religious beliefs with his sexual orientation.

I wrote the novel because someone very close to me has been in this situation. It was my love with this person, which made me feel frustrated by the implicit and often explicit homophobia within the Orthodox life. The laws against homosexuality was one of the major things which encouraged my movement away from the religious lifestyle.

When I started the novel, I was going through a period in my early twenties, which I think we all go through, where I was rethinking my upbringing with an adult perspective. This book was in large part a way for me to reconnect with Judaism in a way I’d not allowed myself to in the past.

Through Yossi, I could feel the love of Judaism and a belief in God, which I hadn’t felt since I was teenager. Yossi is far more passionate about religion than I was at his age, and I must say, that a lot of his love of Judaism rubbed off on me.

Check out this excerpt from The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew that author Eli Glasman has shared with us:

Boys Own_Cover (412x640)READING AN ARTICLE online from one of New York’s Jewish newspapers, I found an advertisement offering a Jewish alternative to homosexuality. I followed the link and read through everything the website had to say. The administrator of the website was a guy named Rabbi Pilcer. It took me three weeks to get up the courage to send him an email asking if I could speak with him.

He replied immediately, despite the time difference, saying that we could talk on Gmail chat. I double-clicked his name, wrote Are you there? and hugged myself as I waited for him to respond.

I’m here, he wrote back. What’s your name?

I drew in a deep breath, took the rubber band off my wrist and rubbed the tender welt that had formed on my skin. Flick the rubber band every time you have a sexual thought about another man, the website had advised. You’ll associate the pain with these thoughts and soon they will stop.

It hadn’t worked at all.

I pocketed the rubber band and squeezed the bridge of my nose. I felt uncomfortable giving a stranger information about me, especially over the internet, but I had to know if there was something he could do.

Yossi, I replied.
Hello, Yossi. What’s on your mind?
I scratched the skin around my thumbnail. Maybe he wouldn’t be able to help, I thought. He was a rabbi, after all. What would he know about this? Although, I figured, just because he was a rabbi, it didn’t mean that he didn’t have another qualification. He could have been a psychologist or something as well.

The rubber band thing isn’t working, I wrote.

The curser blinked in the text box for a few seconds before Rabbi Pilcer entered his next sentence.

So, you believe you’re a homosexual.

I winced at the sight of the word ‘homosexual’. Maybe I shouldn’t be telling him this.

I leant forwards and rested my head on my hands, knotting my fingers into my mesh of curly hair, accidentally causing my Yarmulke to fall off and land on the keyboard. Feeling the air against my naked hair made me uneasy. I put my hand on my head while I picked up the Yarmulke and nestled it back into place.

Yossi? Are you there? the rabbi wrote.

I stared at his question for a few moments and then sighed. Even with the safety of distance and anonymity, I felt uncomfortable talking about it.

I closed the chat box and set my laptop to sleep. I then stood up from my desk and dragged my feet across the carpet to the other end of my room, building up static in my fingertips that was zapped out with a gentle prick as I touched the metal handle of my window and pulled it open.

From outside came the noise of traffic and chatter, and the smell of smog. We were positioned on Carlisle Street, the shopping strip of the Melbourne Jewish community, between a Jewish bookstore and a bakery.

I’d lived in this house my entire life. I belonged here. My place was amongst other Jews, keeping alive traditions that were centuries old. I couldn’t imagine a life where each day bled into the next with nothing more to punctuate existence but payday and a piss up on the weekend. A life with no God, no holy days, no prayers, no significance to food or clothing.

I rubbed my wrist again, feeling the slight lump on my skin. I knew that there was only sin in acting on my impulses, not simply in being the way I was. And yet, just having these terrible feelings made me feel like less of a Jew.

At that moment, a droning buzz broke into my thoughts. I turned to my desk to see my iPhone light up. I looked at the screen, rolled my eyes and walked out of my room and down the hall until I reached the front door. I opened it to find Menachem standing there with his phone at his ear.

‘Why don’t you just knock like a normal person?’ I asked.

‘This is more efficient,’ he replied, ending the call. ‘If I prank call you, I know you’ll be the one to answer the door.’

Menachem stepped inside and peeked down the hall towards the kitchen. I could hear my father in there. I figured Menachem was scared my father would see him here and tell his parents he’d been playing violent video games, which was, after all, the reason he’d come. All the public libraries were closed and his family was too religious to have internet in the house, so he had to come to mine to fulfill his gaming needs.

Menachem tiptoed into my room and I followed close behind.

As soon as the door was closed, he started a game of Grand Theft Auto. I didn’t like to watch those sorts of games, nor listen to them, so I made him play with the sound off.

For ages he sat hunched in front of my laptop, hardly talking, while I lay sprawled on my bed singing Jewish hymns into a handheld electric fan. I liked the way the spinning blades chopped my voice so that I sounded kind of mechanical.

Like this post? 

Posted on August 5, 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

Just Your Typical Interfaith, Interethnic Two-Dad Family

Last week on the blog, S. Bear Bergman of the Flamingo Rampant Book Club issued a call for children’s books that feature diverse LGBT families. He emphasized the need for books in which diversity itself isn’t the core issue of the plot. That is: “Let these people take trips! Let them have adventures, let them solve mysteries, let them celebrate things, let them worry about other things besides their identity–moving, new school, going to the dentist, any number of interesting childhood challenges that can be overcome.”

Well, Bear, you (and everyone else too!) are in luck: Your post comes just at the moment that author Dana Alison Levy introduces her debut novel for middle grade (ages 8-12) readers, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher.

familyThe family at the heart of The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher is made up of two dads, four adopted boys, and various pets. They’re Jewish and Christian and Hindu, white and African American and of Indian descent. They’re interested in soccer and ice hockey and turtles and imaginary friends. They have seriously mixed feelings about homework. And they’re constantly getting into a variety of hilarious scrapes.

Jill Ratzan caught up with Dana Alison Levy to ask her some questions about her book’s inclusion of same-sex parents, religious diversity, and zany humor.

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher is being hailed as a contemporary take on the classic middle grade family story. What inspired you to modernize this familiar genre? 

I grew up adoring novels that I now know are called “middle grade” but I thought of as just kids books. Books like Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy Quartet, Sydney Taylor’s All of a Kind Family series, and of course Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books were among my favorites. I also loved the ones that had a little magic thrown in, like Half Magic and Magic by the Lake by Edward Eager. (My sister and I called them “Cheerios books” because we’d reread them again and again, usually while eating Cheerios out of the box.)

When I thought about writing the Fletchers, I wanted that same kind of story, but set in the world we live in now. And the world we live in has many more diverse types of families than ever before. Still, the core of the story is the same as these books written dozens of years ago: a loving family and the shenanigans and trials they go through in a year.

The boys in The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher struggle with various “issues” like whether or not to try out for the school play, how to approach a grumpy neighbor, and how to repair a damaged friendship. The fact that they have two dads is never itself an issue, though. What made you decide to take this perspective?

That’s a good question, and a hard one to answer. I guess in part I believe that kids, if they’re lucky (and the Fletcher kids are really lucky), get to live in a bubble for a while. In the bubble, they don’t have to pay a lot of attention to the big issues of society, be it race, or socioeconomic inequality, or sexual orientation. Nobody gets to stay in the bubble for long, but for this book at least, I wanted the Fletcher kids to have the luxury of taking their life for granted.

I worry about this element of the story, honestly. I know that our world is not colorblind, nor blind to differences in sexual orientation. Most kids like the Fletchers will, at some point, experience some challenging and hurtful moments related to these issues. I would hate for kids or parents to feel that, just because the book doesn’t focus on those moments, it erases those challenges. But I wanted to avoid writing an “issue” book and instead let the more universal and mundane hurts and conflicts rise in importance.

One of my hopes in focusing the story on the everyday challenges in the Fletchers’ school year is to normalize and universalize the experiences of a family that might look different on the outside. Hopefully I was able to do that without ignoring what makes them unique.

One of the Fletcher dads was raised Jewish (“bar mitzvahed and everything!”), while the other is Episcopalian. They want to honor these traditions while making sure that their sons’ African American and Hindu birth backgrounds are also recognized. The family loves creating holiday celebrations that can “belong . . . to everyone,” like hosting elaborate Halloween parties and leaving a plate of latkes for Santa Claus. Again, why did you choose to bring this aspect of interfaith families to your story?

This part of the book came pretty close to my life. I was raised Jewish, though not religious, and my husband comes from a Catholic background. Both of us have strong ties to our traditions, but neither feel that the organized religion quite represents us. So the question becomes: how can we maintain traditions and a sense of spirituality without organized religion? Many of our friends also struggle to answer this question with their families, merging different religious traditions into something new.

Like the Fletchers, we believe in marrying rituals and traditions from all faiths, melding them and shaping them to become our own. When writing the book I wanted to include the Hindu festival of Holi, which takes place in early spring and involves a massive color fight, and I also wanted to include Sukkot, which I think the Fletchers would really get behind (An outdoor house for all meals? Of course!). But I just ran out of room!

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher is full of anecdotes of everyday family zaniness, including a series of Thanksgiving cooking mishaps, an ice rink surprise, and a memorable incident involving a sandwich, a dripping-wet cat, and a pair of underwear. Do you have a favorite Fletcher family moment?

I confess, the scene of Zeus the cat falling into the bathtub then racing around the house dripping wet while being chased by Frog [the youngest of the boys], wearing only his underwear and a cape, was one of my favorites to write. I will not speak to whether a version of this story happened in my household, but leave it up to the readers to wonder.

I hear that a sequel is in the works! What can you tell us about it?

Yes!! I’m so very delighted that I get to spend more time with the Fletchers! I am working on the sequel now, and it will come out in the spring of 2016 (In theory at least. Publishing works in mysterious ways). While I won’t say too much, I will say that we pick up pretty much where this book ends, with the Fletchers heading out to their beloved Rock Island for summer vacation. Rock Island is a place where time stands still, except this year, the boys must tackle some unexpected changes — on the island and even in themselves.

Dana Alison Levy was raised by pirates but escaped at a young age and went on to earn a degree in aeronautics and puppetry. Actually, that’s not true—she just likes to make things up. That’s why she always wanted to write books. She was born and raised in New England and studied English literature before going to graduate school for business. While there is value in all learning, had she known she would end up writing for a living, she might not have struggled through all those statistics and finance classes. You can find Dana online at www.danaalisonlevy.com or on Twitter and Facebook.

Like this post? Join the conversation through MyJewishLearning’s weekly blogs newsletter.
Want to learn how to help your community be more LGBT inclusive? Sign-up to learn more!

Posted on July 29, 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

The Flamingo Rampant Book Club

At Keshet we know how important it is to provide diverse resources for families. Last year we worked with author Elisabeth Kushner to create the first Jewish themed picture book featuring an LGBT family, The Purim Superhero.  When we heard that S. Bear Bergman, Jewish educator, author, and storyteller, was creating an LGBTQ2S-themed book club, we knew we needed to learn more. Read on to get the scoop on the Flamingo Rampant Book Club, which features picture books for 4-8 year olds. Joining the book club means you’ll receive six books throughout the year. Bear is currently raising funding to support the project. 

smalllogoWhat was your inspiration for the Flamingo Rampant Book Club?
The truth is I was reading to Stanley, my four-year-old one night before bed. We had some new LGBTQ2S themed picture books, which my husband, who’s an expert on the topic, had ordered. These were out of print or from small publishers. Stanley asked if we could read the new books, and I said “sure, why not?” But every single one of them contained really difficult, extended descriptions of bullying. We read a couple, but eventually he looked at me and said, “I don’t want this anymore. I don’t like these bully stories.”

And all of a sudden I started thinking: “What are we sending our kids to bed with? What are the last images and stories that we’re offering them to carry into their dreams?”

The books we’d just read were fairly horrible–I mean, everything turned out all right in the end. But the descriptions of bullying we’re so substantial, they almost seemed like manuals for taunting, ostracization, and harassment. I’m a writer, and a lecturer; I do a lot of work around questions of gender and sexual orientation and I have for more than two decades. I am fortunate to be married to a guy who, among his many sterling personal qualities, is an expert on creating celebratory and inclusive classrooms for people of all genders and sexual orientations.

The answer was relatively plain to both of us: we need to make better books. And so, we got started.

The books in the Flamingo Rampant Book Club include full stories of people of color written by people of color. Why was this important for you?
My family, which includes my chosen family, is fairly racially diverse and certainly diverse in terms of genders and sexual orientations. And my artistic community, ditto. We really wanted books that represented the world in which we actually live, and we also wanted to contribute positively to the experiences of families of color–especially LGBTQ2S families of color. At the moment, there are–as far as we know–only three or four books anywhere at all that feature lesbian or gay or bi or trans families that are anything other than white.

The industry average for representations of people of color in children’s books in 7%. To me, that’s a really shameful number. The prevailing wisdom within publishing directly mirrors the inequalities that already exist in our society–girls will read books about boys, but boys won’t read books about girls. Parents will buy books featuring white children or families for their Black, Indigenous, or Of-Color children, but white parents won’t buy books featuring Black, Indigenous, or Of-Color children or families for their white children. The result of all this is that the overwhelmingly majority of picture books center on white children; mostly boys.

So much of LGBTQ literature for kids focuses on stories of overcoming bullies and challenges centering on their (or their families) LGBTQ identity. The books in the Flamingo Rampant Book Club take a different approach–how has this shifted the narrative of the book club?
There are so many other things to talk about! That’s the thing that I find so bewildering. Let these people take trips! Let them have adventures, let them solve mysteries, let them celebrate things, let them worry about other things besides their identity–moving, new school, going to the dentist, any number of interesting childhood challenges that can be overcome. Flamingo Rampant Book Club’s mandate is positive representations. If people really feel that they urgently require a book that is about bullying in order to bring some realism, there are plenty of books for them already.

If a family isn’t LGBTQ, is this the right book club for them?
Absolutely. This book club is a good fit for any family regardless of sexual orientation, gender, family size or style, race, ethnicity that wants their children to grow up with positive messages about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit, queerer, or gender-independent people. That’s all that’s required. Whether your family knows LGBTQ2S people or not, these books all center around a story. So there’s plenty to hold the attention of a young person, and plenty of opportunity to open up conversations about issues of gender or sexual orientation without it seeming abstract, or like it’s coming out of nowhere. Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, who does a lot of work and writing around parenting and spirituality and was an early supporter of Flamingo Rampant’s first project, told us that her favorite thing about those books was that they gave her a way to talk to her children about gender roles that was based on something they had just positively experienced together.

I also got the following email recently from a friend, who had just received it from their friend:

Do you remember the book you gave [our daughter]–The Adventures of Tulip, Birthday Wish Fairy about Transgender children? We had a friend visit who is trans and we read the book to [our daughter] so she could better understand who [our friend] is. [Our daughter] got very excited after I read the book to her, saying ” so [our friend] used to be a girl and now he is a boy” I said yes and then she said very happily: “so that means Fairies are real” That’s life with a four-year-old.

What has surprised you during this process?

Bearheadshot2 (1) copyHonestly, I have been surprised at how many people have marginalized this series as something that would only be of interest to LGBTQ2S parents and families. Of course, it’s lovely to have affirming books to show our children that represent our family and family like ours. But my kid sees positive images of families like ours every day-he lives in one! Think about the child who doesn’t get any specifically positive images of LGBTQ2S families. That kid is left with whatever filters through from media, and whatever kids say on the playground. I hope progressive, feminist parents will also recognize this book series a powerful tool for positive change in their families, schools, libraries and so on.

What’s next for you and for the Flamingo Rampant Book Club?
Well, the next 20 days will be devoted to getting enough people to sign-up that we can make this project happen. If 450 families don’t sign up for subscriptions, or if we don’t get the equivalent in funding, then there will be no books for anyone. So right now, I’m hustling to make sure we get the most media exposure that we can manage to make sure that the message reaches as far as I can get it to reach. After that, a nice nap. And after that, I’ll be doing some dates with the Jewish Book Council this year to various Jewish Book Festivals across the United States, continuing to perform and lecture at universities and festivals, trying to figure out the kindergarten drop off and pick up schedule, and trying to make some progress on my novel.

Like this post? 

Posted on July 25, 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

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.

Like this post? Join the conversation through MyJewishLearning’s weekly blogs newsletter.

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