When the last known gay Jewish Holocaust survivor, Gad Beck, died in 2012, it was a poignant reminder that both Jews and LGBTQ people simply cannot depend on survivors to tell the stories of the Shoah. The responsibility for remembering Holocaust-related history falls upon all of us. Within the Jewish community, it has been standard to commemorate the Holocaust for decades; within the LGBTQ world, rituals are still emerging.
Holocaust Remembrance Day, known in Hebrew as Yom HaShoah, falls this year on April 8th. For those of you interested in adding some LGBTQ content to your observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day, we bring you the following resources.
- Watch “Paragraph 175,” a documentary film with unforgettable interviews with gay survivors and the punishments they suffered even after the war ended. The title refers to the law that made homosexuality illegal in Nazi Germany. (You can catch the trailer here.)
- Read The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals, for a comprehensive history of how the LGBT community was targeted by the Nazi regime. Continue reading
Jews read sections of the Torah each week, and these sections, known as parshiyot, inspire endless examination year after year. Each week we will bring you regular essays examining these portions from a queer perspective, drawn from the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible and the Torah Queeries online collection. This week, Rabbi Jill Hammer takes comfort in the promise of eventual redemption in Joseph’s bones.
Joseph is a popular biblical character to “queer” — because rabbinic midrash claims he curls his hair, paints his eyes, and is as beautiful as his mother, Rachel (Genesis Rabbah 24), and also because he is one of the rare biblical men known for not sleeping with a woman (the lovely wife of Potiphar, who attempts to seduce him). But it’s not the living Joseph I want to queer — it’s the dead Joseph. Joseph’s bones, to be exact.
At the end of Parashat Vayechi, the very end of Genesis, Joseph lies dying. He has moved his entire family to Egypt to save them from famine, and he has rescued the whole land from hunger. Though his father, Jacob, was buried in Canaan, Joseph will be buried in Egypt. He is, after all, an Egyptian vizier. However, Joseph commands his family to take his bones with them when they eventually leave Egypt and return to the land of Israel: “When God has remembered you, you shall raise up my bones from this place.” (Gen. 50:25) Continue reading
I’m a white gay Jewish man. Up until a few years ago, I didn’t even know what “cisgender” meant.
Three weeks ago, I went to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in Germany with a group of LGBT Jews. At Sachsenhausen, gay men or those accused of being gay were forced into isolated heavily guarded barracks in order to prevent “infection” of other prisoners. These men were tortured, castrated, and used in scientific experiments.
Their families denounced them. They had no support network for food or care. When a gay man entered the camp his life expectancy was ten weeks. For Jewish homosexual men, it was a week. When the guide told us this kernel of information, as a group of mostly gay men, we were stunned. How could people do this to each other?
Later on in the week, one gay man reluctantly asked me, “Why do we have to include the ‘T’ in LGBT?” It sounded like a chore. I almost choked on my curry.
And then the next question: “Why should a gay man care about trans issues?” Gulp. “What is a gay man’s responsibility to trans people?”
This wasn’t light dinner conversation. No one intended to be rude. It just wasn’t obvious. He knew to include the “T” but didn’t know why. To satiate their hunger for an answer, I put down my fork.
After reviewing all the arguments in my mind, the complexity was reduced to this:
While I am a trans ally, it’s really that I’m a human ally. Trans people are people. I firmly believe that every person should live with full dignity and have full access to opportunity regardless of whether or not they fit within society’s restrictive and rigid binary code for gender or sexuality. I firmly believe people should feel safe expressing themselves fully in their community. Every person deserves the right to be visible and heard. As a human ally, I want a world where my future children see every person treated with respect and are taught to do the same. I want my children to live and succeed, not just exist and recede into seclusion. They shouldn’t feel alienated, be called freaks, or attacked for being true to themselves.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to be a human ally. Trans issues resonate with me more strongly as a gay man. Not only can I understand a feeling of terror at the thought of telling my friends and family about my “dark, deep secret,” but I can identify with feeling oppressed and repressed. In middle school, I was taunted for having a “high-pitched” voice. In high school, I was made to feel like an outsider because I didn’t play a sport, which didn’t conform to preferred gender norms. This type of homophobic gender policing is directly connected to transphobia. It is tied to a fear of gender variance.
Fortunately, as a gay man, I can identify with a sweet relief of having a safe and welcoming environment where I can relate with others who’ve also felt this way. I understand how much stronger I feel when I’m surrounded by allies who are willing to walk with me.
I care about Trans Day of Remembrance because I have lived with the fear of being other and because I have glimpsed what it feels like to have a supportive community. I’ll hold a lit candle for trans people who’ve faced violence, been murdered, or committed suicide just because they refused to be invisible. In my mind, as a Jew, I will remember the denial of humanity which resulted in 6 million Jews murdered and countless more for being “other.” I will praise those courageous enough to be visible and my fellow allies who refuse to compromise on protection from abuse and discrimination.
I ask you do to the same. It is scary to speak up and to be an effective ally is hard work. It’s worth it; for the sake of seeing a society in which each person is guaranteed the right to live a dignified life with the ability to make choices about their own body, health, and pursue happiness as they see fit.
Thank you for walking with me. I feel stronger already.
It seemed obvious to me that Celebrate Bisexuality Day is supposed be a celebration and featuring a list of notable Jewish bisexuals on the Keshet blog seemed like a great way to do that.
As it turns out, easier said than blogged. My local library didn’t have any card catalog listings for “famous bi Jews.” There’s definitely stuff out there on the Internet, but searching for information on bi Jews isn’t as easy as finding stuff on gay Jews or LGBT Jews in general.
The sampling below is far from comprehensive or complete, but it is our contribution towards celebrating bisexuality, bisexuals, and the notion that there are, indeed, a lot of notable bi Jews out there – if only we remember to look.
It’s important to include the person who actually wrote the book on bisexuality. Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics garnered major praise for its hopeful tone and smart challenge to all sorts of bi-stereotypes. (She also got a lot of deserved praise for writing a book about bisexuality, period.)
This comedic lady is out, loud, and proud. Raised in a Jewish household, she even lived on a kibbutz for a short time in her late teens (wonder if they thought she was funny?). It’s not everybody who can tell David Letterman on live TV, “I know Madonna and I know Sean Penn and I’ve been with both of them!”
This famous composer and conductor not only had the distinction of leading symphonies at the most prestigious opera halls across the world, writing the music for such musicals as West Side Story and Candide — he also conducted the inaugural concert of the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv! Though Bernstein’s relationships with men were well known, he also married a Chilean actress with whom he had three children. According to many accounts, their marriage was happy, so we’ve included him here! Bernstein was also a collaborator with another artist on our list, Jerome Robbins.
This sweet-toned crooner and actor has the distinction of being black, a convert to Judaism and reportedly bisexual (his relationships were the subject of speculation). It’s a testament to his immense abilities and talents that despite belonging to a minority-within-a-minority, he was immensely popular as a singer and an actor.
This frankly dark novelist is very straightforward about her bisexuality, though her Jewish roots — explored along with the rest of her family history in her memoir The Mistress’s Daughter — make for more complicated writing fodder.
What’s a list of famous bi Jews without a rabbi? Rabbi Debra Kolodny wrote the seminal book on bisexuality and faith, Blessed Bi Spirit: Bisexual People of Faith. She is the Executive Director of Nehirim and was previously the spiritual leader of Pnai Or in Portland, OR and led ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal for nine years.
The proud mom of kids she’s choosing to raise Jewish (the children’s father, Nixon’s exDanny Mozes, is Jewish), Nixon has been the Pride Shabbat speaker at the New York LGBT synagogue, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah. After breaking up with Mozes, Nixon made waves not only by dating her (female) partner, and becoming an outspoken advocate for same-sex marriage, but for such public statements as, “I’ve been straight and I’ve been gay, and gay is better.” Try not to be star-struck when you see her in shul on the Upper West Side of New York.
Robbins – or Jerry Rabinowitz, as his parents called him – was an award-winning dancer, director, and choreographer. Though probably best known for his stunning choreography in West Side Story, Robbins also worked on a number of Jewish-themed Broadway hits, including Funny Girl and Fiddler on the Roof. Robbins’s long-term relationship with actor Montgomery Clift is known, and he’s often referred to as bisexual.
Although we know about a number of Sontag’s relationships with women, including her decade-long relationship with photographer Annie Leibovitz, Sontag was not very public about her sexuality, telling Out Magazine, “Maybe I could have given comfort to some people if I had dealt with the subject of my private sexuality more, but it’s never been my prime mission to give comfort, unless somebody’s in drastic need. I’d rather give pleasure, or shake things up.”
The daughter of acclaimed author and activist Alice Walker is a noted writer in her own right. Her 2002 memoir, Black White and Jewish, explored many aspects of her identity, including what it means to be biracial – and bisexual. For Walker, fluidity is key to understanding herself, and that extends to her sexual orientation, as well.
That’s our short list! We know it was brief — so tell us who we forgot!