Posted by Chanel Dubofsky
Last week, I wrote a piece at the Sisterhood about the current movement to reclaim and redefine feminism, and the need for establishing boundaries around that definition. In the piece, I talked about how a centerpiece for claiming a feminist identity must include active allyship in the queer community. There’s very little mention of Judaism in the piece, which you can read here: http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/133360/, but since the piece was published, I’ve been thinking about how deeply separate my Jewish and feminist identities have become, at least in a certain context.
I’ve given up the pretention that I’m traditionally observant, and I’m okay with that. It’s who I am (and am not) right now, and I’m glad I’m able to recognize that after all this time. Thankfully, I’m not feeling pressed to choose between my Jewish identity and my politics because I don’t place emphasis on halacha, which is where things get sticky. The definition of feminism I’ve articulated above might be a challenging place for traditionally observant Jews who struggle with the Torah and homosexuality. It’s hard for me to say that not everyone needs to be a feminist (although, really, I think everyone should be), but it is actually the responsibility of all Jews to be genuinely inclusive in their communities. It is literally the least we can do, and feminism, the genuine, unflinching sort, not the Sarah Palin kind, can be a roadmap to this. It gives the Jewish community the opportunity to look at itself through a lens that can unpack assimilation and anti-Semitism and ultimately, offer us a better way to understand our place in the world and the change we are capable of making.
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November 28, 2010 | 1:20 am
Posted by Lia Mandelbaum
Last month, at an event called Tikkunfest I met a bright young man who told me about his cousin’s recent suicide. He explained, “Jeremy was a quiet, studious boy, who loved sushi and Italian food. He lived in a small conservative Jewish community in France, and followed Judaism traditionally. He was studying Law in University, and would often get into heated discussions regarding human rights, and Civil Union Rights Advocacy. Yet even with many options and possibilities available to him he jumped from the roof of his university committing suicide only a few months ago. His last Facebook status screamed of despair and lack of acceptance. He felt that life had become unbearable. He had come out to his family six months prior, admitting that he was gay. This had put him under intense pressure from his parents to keep his sexual orientation under wraps, as they didn’t want to suffer social rejection. He was also told multiple times, that he was just going through a phase, and his feelings and orientation were not valid. He found himself wishing he was normal like everyone else. He would say to me “I wish I could be attracted to women, but I am not. I am attracted to men.” I tried to support him as best I could, and even flew to Europe to visit him last year, but sadly the environment, and attitudes of those around him ended up being too much for him to deal with.” After hearing this man’s tragic story, I kept thinking about how about how incredibly important it is that the Jewish community acknowledges that LGBT issues are very real and strive to be pro-active about learning the tools which can help prevent tragedies like what happened with Jeremy. I told my new friend about JQ International, which is a wonderful organization that provides social and educational programming for the Jewish LGBT community. JQ does amazing work, like going to different synagogues to train their staff and clergy to help their community become more LGBT inclusive.
Last week I sat down with JQ International’s Executive Director, Asher Gellis, to ask him questions and hear about his experience of what is going on in the Jewish Community regarding LGBT issues, which I would like to share with you.
I asked Asher, “What is the biggest issue you come across when working with the Jewish community?” Asher explained “I hear from people that their community is inclusive, and I ask them a series of five or so questions like, what specific programs they have for the LGBT community? What educational opportunities have you offered your community about LGBT needs? Have you offered commitment ceremonies or gay and lesbian marriages at your congregation? Do you have role models that are “out” in your congregation? Usually they answer no to all of these questions despite the fact they say that they are an inclusive environment. I believe that they sometimes confuse what it means to be tolerant with what it means to be inclusive. A tolerant community is one where a gay person isn’t going to fear for their life or fear the humiliation of not being respected as a human being, and that’s a far cry from being inclusive. An inclusive community is one that takes proactive steps to demonstrate that LGBT’s are valued members of their community and provides for what their Jewish needs are. I strive to help educate people on what the needs of the LGBT community are, how LGBT’s identify, and how to promote themselves in a way that lets LGBT’s know that their Congregation is an inclusive environment.
I then asked Asher, “Do you see LGBT issues within every denomination in Judaism?” He replied, “Absolutely. I see it more as an opportunity that there’s great room for compassion and expansion of tolerance and understanding about LGBT issues but I also feel that every denomination of Judaism is struggling with the issue. I think the Reform movement has done a tremendous amount of work towards creating an inclusive environment, however it is still a reality that a gay, lesbian or transgendered Rabbi are going to face a lot of discrimination in a job interview. While the Jewish community as a whole may be very tolerant towards gay and lesbian people, there’s a lot of “homosexuality is fine as long as it’s not my child” and “as long as it’s somebody else’s problem and not mine.” There are a lot of opportunities for increasing education and knowledge, and I think a lot of people are more open to being exposed to LGBT needs and it’s just a matter of being able to reach those people.”
I asked Asher, “How would you do a training for an Orthodox, Conservative or Reform community?” Asher replied, “With every training I do, I sit down with the staff or clergy and find out if issues have come up in their community, what their experience has been, and try to determine their level of knowledge and experience in supporting LGBT community members. I try to find out exactly what their needs are and tailor a program directly to those needs. If an Orthodox community comes to me and asks how I can help them increase tolerance and create a healthier environment without actually condoning this lifestyle, I would create a program on how to be an ally, and why it is important to be supportive of people who are different. I help them address why it is valuable to have diversity within a community and why it is important for us as Jews to be supportive to all our community members regardless of their needs and lifestyle choice. I have also gone into communities and created programs with parents who want to ask me serious questions about gender identity and how they can be more supportive of what their children are going through. I also do trainings with clergy to help them learn about what resources are available in the greater community. What do they do when a parent comes to them with an issue? What Jewish texts are available for education, and how can they help someone who is gay or lesbian find an environment where they feel like a productive part of the community. Each community has different needs. It is essential to really listen to what they’ve gone through, what their experiences are, and what they want to do in the future. In each situation, I try to tailor a program to fit their specific needs.”
I asked Asher, “Do you think that it’s hard to get parents to come forward and talk about LGBT issues?” He replied “Parents will often imagine what they want for their children as opposed to really taking a look at what their children are going through. How well a parent directly responds to a child’s LGBT needs will have a direct impact on their healthy or unhealthy identity as an adult. The more they are rejected or not supported by their family, the more likely they are to be involved in at risk behaviors, like drugs or alcohol and are more at risk of committing suicide.”
I asked Asher, “Do you think that the recent “Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with Homosexual Orientation in Our Community” written by the Orthodox Clergy, scholars, educators and mental health professionals has helped?” He told me, “It’s a major step in the right direction, only ten years ago the Orthodox community would not even discuss this matter, and even the Conservative movement was very shy about the subject. Ten years later, there are now conversations around Shabbat dinner tables and conversations going on within the community. The Orthodox community is beginning to embrace the idea that the focus should not be on whether being gay is a choice or not, but rather on if someone is choosing to hide who they are ultimately causing themselves more harm. It is about reframing the questions. The Orthodox community is taking important steps towards treating LGBT Jews with respect and dignity and recognizing that they have Jewish souls and needs. Many gay Jews strive to feel like part of a community, and often feel disconnected, which has been misinterpreted by some as LGBT’s turning their backs on Judaism. Many Orthodox gay and lesbian Jews are very spiritually connected and committed to Orthodox Judaism, but there are many issues within the Orthodox community that conflict with Halecha and the traditional ideal Jewish family structure. It is comforting to see that the Orthodox community is taking steps towards respecting gay and lesbian individuals, and seeing them as members of their community.”
I asked Asher, “Which Jewish texts do you refer to when dealing with LGBT issues?” He replied, “There are a number of texts in the Torah and various scriptures in Judaism that talk about different types of gender identity and it’s not necessarily a binary. It is not black and white, it is about being able to step away from an easy yes or no, male or female, gay or straight reality, and recognizing that there are many levels of identity that are not binaries. A person’s existence is very complicated, but Tselem Elohim; We are all made in G-d’s image. G-d is a very complicated figure in Jewish life as are G-d’s creations. When people see in black and white, it minimizes the beauty of G-d’s creations and the complexities of what G-d has created. I also believe kol Israel aravim zeh ba zeh, all of Israel is responsible for one another and I think that there’s an obligation to those individuals who have a harder course in life.”
Lastly, I wanted to know, “when kids witness their parents being judgmental and unsupportive of the LGBT community, what kind of a message do you believe it sends them? Asher responded, “It is a hard job to be a parent today and parents are constantly put in situations where they speak without realizing the affect it could have on their children. Parents must teach their children that it is not acceptable to discriminate against anyone. Parents should embrace the opportunity to speak to their children about the values we have as Jews, and the love we should feel for all people regardless of race, creed, religion, or sexual orientation. Children inherit their parent’s beliefs, and love for another, and contempt for another are passed from generation to generation. I was very blessed to be raised by parents who would never say anything against gay or lesbian community members, and placed me in an environment where I had gay and lesbian role models. It was still hard for them when I came out, but I knew that they had never said anything negative, and they would be supportive and would love me no matter what. When I came out, I had the blessing of my loving parents who lived by very strong Jewish values. The question is, what do parents really want for their children? Would they rather their child be gay and healthy or do they want their child to be forced to lie about who they are?”
My interview with Asher made me feel hopeful with the change that is being experienced within the Jewish community. We must continue to stand strong, embrace each other and meet each other where we are. Let us honor my new friend’s cousin Jeremy and all the others who have taken their own lives by striving to be a little more tolerant, loving and accepting each day.
You can write to JQ International by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
November 25, 2010 | 11:15 am
Posted by Kalil Cohen
Today I am thankful for having a supportive, inclusive, and culturally diverse Jewish community. Last Friday in Los Angeles we commemorated Transgender Day of Remembrance at Beth Chayim Chadishim (BCC) in collaboration with JQ International’s Trans Inclusion Committee, of which I am a member. This event was transformative for many people who attended, including long-time BCC congregants, trans activists and allies. Coming together to celebrate and mourn as a community is so crucial to maintaining a healthy understanding of life cycles, including death, and for strengthening our communities in the face of hatred and fear. BCC board member and Trans Inclusion Committee leader Kadin Henningsen did a fantastic job from the bima, reflecting on the dual nature of the two-spirit transgender soul, and on our place in the Torah. I enjoyed his interpretation of the story of Jacob and Esau as two sides of a single coin, as is the reflection of ourselves in the mirror. He wove together the ancient texts, modern gender identities, and Talmudic commentary seamlessly, clearly demonstrating through his words that transgender Jews are and have always been a part of the Jewish community.
We had a wonderful dinner before services with dozens of transgender Jews and allies breaking bread together. I felt so uplifted, held, and supported on this difficult day because of all the allies who came. I lost a transgender friend to violence this year, so it was especially important for me to have the support of my community as we commemorated her loss along with those of other transgender people whose lives were cut short. I am grateful to Kadin for his hardwork over the past year creating transgender Jewish spaces in Los Angeles, along with Asher Gellis and Janelle Eagle of JQ International who have given us the structure in which to do so, and to Jaime Machotka who is also on the Transgender Inclusion Committee. I am also grateful to have Tera Greene in my life because she is a constant supporter and one of the greatest trans allies I know. There are so many more people I could thank by name, but most of all I am grateful to be living in a time and place where I feel like a fully seen and supported member of the Jewish community. Thanks to everyone who came to Transgender Day of Remembrance services at BCC, I look forward to next year’s event!
November 24, 2010 | 2:19 pm
Posted by Janelle Eagle
In my humble opinion, the LGBTQ Jewish community has to make a lot of choices. While we can’t choose our sexuality or gender identity, we can choose whether or not to embrace ourselves truthfully. There is not a more exemplary community than the LGBTQ Jewish community than those who have chosen to convert to Judaism.
I’ve been blessed on multiple occassions in my life with inspirational Jews by Choice whom I have come to know. It first started about 10 years ago when I witnessed my mother’s conversion in Northern California. She had spent 20 years of her life being married to a Jewish man and being the daughter-in-law to a Holocaust survivor. She had driven her two children on countless occassions to Hebrew and Sunday school. She’d sat through so many services that she knew the prayers in Hebrew by heart, having never studied the language or its meaning. That wasn’t enough for her. She decided, on her own regard, to fully embrace the “tribe” and went through a formal conversion process in 2000. I will never forget when my grandmother and I witnessed her dipping herself three times into a Mikveh (ritual bath). Bare naked and literally immersed in her Judaism, she made a choice that I will never forget.
This past week, I was given the extreme honor of being present as one of my dear friends (and Oy Gay contributors), Tera Greene, became a member of the tribe. I listened in the room when she defended her decision with the Beit Din (literally means “house of judgement”) and proudly recited knowledge, commitment, and spiritual connection to a community of faith she was not born into. Her octogenarian grandfather sat on her other side and together, we all cried as she declared her faith. That in itself would have been enough of an honor for me as a witness. Alas, I was there in the Mikveh with her as she recited the same prayers my mother did almost 10 years ago.
If you know Tera, you know that she has a voice that commands a room. She sings with such feeling and power. Imagine being in a room that echoes with that passion as she sings the ancient prayers of our faith and declares to her people that she is among them. I got chills then and have them now as I remember the sound of her voice. She chose the hebrew name Ashira Tova which literally means rich and good. Shira also conjours music and song. I couldn’t think of a more perfect name for her myself and can’t wait for you all to meet the newest member of the tribe.
Tera and my mother, as well as other inspiring Jews by Choice, remind me every day why I am a part of this community. I may not follow all the rules and I may not agree with you, but I am proud to be among you. And this week as I give thanks, I thank those of you who have made a great commitment to a people who welcome you with open arms. May your journey be a reminder to the rest of us that we have many choices to make, but that being who we really are is in fact the greatest and most important choice we’ll make.
November 24, 2010 | 11:06 am
Posted by Tera Greene
As we gather for another round of Thanks-givings, this year I am making sure to thank my marvelous hair. Sure, I used to get teased and find myself crying all the way home via taunts of “Einstein! Einstein!” because I was not only smart, but I also had the most ridiculously crazy hair this side of Afro-land. But, now I’m thankful for my hair - it’s fun, fabulous and gives me a confidence like none other. I’m finally at a place where I appreciate the uniqueness of my funky, fun-lovin’ hair, though it’s often beneath a hat or colorful bandana because of my innate sense of modesty.
This year I successfully gave a schlacking to my first attempt at taking out my first-time dreads 5 years in the making, which means I didn’t have to start all the way over with little-to-no hair after I was done taking them out. Whew! I mean, regardless if I used ‘schlacking’ properly, I know I definitely chose and used the “correct” detangler and special combs properly over the tedious 24 hour, 3-day period which is why I practically still had a full head of hair post de-dreading - definitely a feat I am thankful for in the personal hair department.
I wanted to catch up with fellow blogger, Kalil Cohen, about hair, activism and things he is thankful for, as he, myself and some close friends head into another one of our annual Thanksgiving gatherings. So without further ado…
Describe your childhood hair.
I used to grow it out past my shoulder and then cut it to my ears and then start growing it out again when I was a kid. By High School it was always pulled back in a pony tail or half pony tail.
Describe your adulthood hair.
My hair has been much more varied as an adult. I had dreadlocks for a year, then bleached and dyed them different colors (George Clinton style). Since cutting them off I’ve never had long hair again. Since then I had it dyed pink, red, blue, and bleached. All last year I had a mohawk for easy maintenance, but now that I don’t cut my hair myself but have an awesome hairstylist - Pony at Sirens Salon for those of you in LA - it’s been changing a lot more frequently. I definitely prefer short on the sides, longer on top, but in different shapes and looks.
Are there any moments in your queerish youth that influenced how you treat others in your adulthood? Or were you just raised right, so to speak?
I always had a strong sense of right and wrong from my family, my religious background, and my own heart. I was taught to speak up as a strong woman, and continue to do so as a trans man. And yeah, my parents have definitely led by example in how they treat others with respect and compassion.
What is your profession and what are your hobbies? How do they influence your hairstyle and vice-versa?
I’m an artist (filmmaker and rapper) and teacher. This influences my hair because it always has to be two looks at once, one for work and one for play. I wear my hair up and curly for play, and down and straight for work. Having thick wavy hair, it’s really easy to make it go either way. Both styles express a different part of my personality. For working with kids I have a slightly more serious, calm demeanor and having my hair down fits well with that part of myself. The rest of the time - and especially for performances - I let the curls go wild on top of my head, which expresses my creative, free-spirit self.
What are the favorite values that you like to embody and impart upon youth, queer or not?
1. Treat people with respect - including yourself!
2. Stand up for yourself and others if someone is disrespectful, but with an educational rather than aggressive approach.
3. Have high standards and high expectations. Dream big to live your greatest life possible!
If you could have any type of hair or hairstyle in the world, what would it be?
I would love to have a 2 foot tall, 1 foot wide picked out and perfectly rounded afro.
Thoughts on the Jew-fro.
I’m so glad Jews have the Jew-fro!
Hair or no hair, what is the legacy you would like to leave in this world?
I would like to leave a close knit, politically active community that is sustainable and healthy in a holistic way. I would like people to remember me for inspiring them to reach for their dreams and to help others up along the way.
Lastly, what are you thankful for?
I’m so thankful to have a community of artist-activist friends who replenish my spirits when I’m down and inspire me to grow.
Got a random twitter tweet this morning - how apropriate for it to be by Einstein!
“If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut.”
So get to your mouth-shutting, and let all your hair do the talking! Happy thanksgiving!
Tera “Ashira Tova” Greene can be found at her twitter account. You will be thankful you stumbled over to it.
November 16, 2010 | 11:59 pm
Posted by Kalil Cohen
As I prepare for Transgender Day of Remembrance this Saturday, I am energized and excited to see how the Jewish community in Los Angeles and elsewhere is marking this day.
If you are unfamiliar with the holiday, “Transgender Day of Remembrance was set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice…The Transgender Day of Remembrance serves several purposes. It raises public awareness of hate crimes against transgender people, an action that current media doesn’t perform. Day of Remembrance publicly mourns and honors the lives of our brothers and sisters who might otherwise be forgotten. Through the vigil, we express love and respect for our people in the face of national indifference and hatred.” http://www.transgenderdor.org/
Here in Los Angeles we will have a special Friday night services on Friday, November 19th at Congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC) to celebrate and remember the lives of our lost trans sisters and brothers with song, prayer, and community. This will be preceded by a community dinner co-hosted by BCC and JQ International’s Trans Inclusion Committee, of which I am a member.
In addition to JQ’s work to honor Transgender Day of Remembrance in the Jewish tradition, Keshet is another organization leading the Jewish community in inclusion for LGBTQ Jews, including through honoring Transgender Day of Remembrance.
In her explanation of why Keshet is involved in this issue, Joanna Ware, Lead Organizer and Training Coordinator, Keshet said: “Every single death is one too many and should serve as a sharp reminder for each of us of the work we have still to do. For me, this day serves as a sobering reminder to respond with conviction, every time, to instances of gender policing and shaming. To speak out every time I hear “sissy” or “butch” hurled with distaste or vitriol, because each barbed word is part of the systems of violence in which trans and gender variant bodies are disposable. And it is a reminder to celebrate all of the beautiful, vibrant, fighting, and thriving trans and gender variant young people and adults in our lives and communities. Because it is only with that balance of hope and anger, a vision of justice to move toward and a clear knowledge of today’s stark reality, that our work for sustainable, far-reaching, enduring change can succeed.”
Taan Shapiro, Co-Chair of Keshet’s Transgender Working Group adds: “I am delivering a sermon at Temple Shir Tikvah on Friday, November 19, 2010, the day before Transgender Day of Remembrance. For me, as a trans Jew, Trans Day of Remembrance is not only a commemoration of all those who have passed due to transphobic hate crimes, but is also a reminder that transgender people need communities such as spiritual centers to survive and thrive.”
Keshet is a national, grassroots organization that works for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) Jews in Jewish life. Led and supported by GLBT Jews and straight allies, Keshet offers resources, trainings, and technical assistance to create inclusive Jewish communities nationwide. Find out more at:
Please join us for a special evening at Beth Chayim Chadashim on Friday, November 19th in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance. The evening begins at 7pm with a vegetarian Mediterranean Shabbat dinner co-hosted by BCC and JQ International’s Trans Inclusion Committee. Space is limited so please RSVP to email@example.com. Dinner is $10 with RSVP or $20 at the door. Dinner is followed by BCC’s Ruach Chayim (Spirit of Life) music service led by Cantor Juval Porat and Kadin Henningsen, BCC’s first transgender Board Member.
Friday Nov 19th
Ruach Chayim Kabbalat Shabbat at 8pm
Beth Chayim Chadashim
6000 Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
November 16, 2010 | 9:50 pm
Posted by Tera Greene
Secular. Reform. Conservative. Orthodox. Straight. Gay. American. Israeli.
On November 3rd, 2010, a diverse audience packed into a conference room to welcome a panel of LGBTQ-oriented Israeli leaders to Temple Beth Am, a Conservative shul in Los Angeles, CA. Spearheading the growing movement of awareness and support for LGBTQ Orthodox men and women in Israel, guest speakers Asaf Lebovitz, Eyal Liebermann, Zehorit Sorek and moderator, Arthur Slepian, made their first stop on a tour of the United States under the organization name, A Wider Bridge.
The success of this first stop came in many forms. Anyone who looked at the program alone would notice solidarity, as the event was co-sponsored by Los Angeles-based synagogues Temple Beth Am and IKAR (two progressive LA Conservative shuls that I belong to and frequent many times throughout the year), and Beth Chayim Chadashim “BCC” and Congregation Kol Ami (two LGBTQ shuls, with BCC founded in 1972 as the world’s first lesbian and gay synagogue). The solidarity continued with the inclusion and co-sponsorship of the event by the Institute for Judaism & Sexual Orientation at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), and JQ International, “a Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Transgender (GLBT) Jewish movement founded to serve as an infrastructure and community building space for GLBT Jews.” All of these Los Angeles-based communities were represented at the forum, either by way of congregants/members or clergy and staff with Rabbi Denise L. Eger of Kol Ami, Rabbi Lisa Edwards and Cantor Juval Porat of BCC and JQ International Executive Director, Asher Gellis in attendance. Fellow “Oy Gay” blogger, Janelle Eagle, was also a notable in the audience at this first-of-its-kind Forum.
Rabbi Lisa Edwards welcomed us and introduced Cantor Juval Porat, whom is the first German-trained cantor since World War II and whom opened the forum with a wonderful song that encouraged all of the attendees to join in, let go and open their hearts. Thereafter we were introduced to the guest speakers. Though each only had about ten minutes to tell their stories, we were able to learn more about the heartbeat of Israel as it pertains to the queer community, and especially how it pertains to the Orthodox LGBTQ community. I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with Bat Kol activist and member, Talya Lev at a recent Jewlicious festival, so I was most-eager to hear Zehorit Sorek’s story when I first heard about this event. Sorek was the panelist who was representing Bat Kol, Israel’s organization for Orthodox lesbians and who is also the founder of the Pride Minyan, two of the four organizations that “work together as part of a broader collaboration collectively known as the Religious LGBT Community.” With her symbolism of pesky pop-up ads, Zehorit told us a tale of her realization of being a lesbian via little “flags” that kept waving at her psyche, or shall I say, that kept popping up until they could no longer be ignored (like the funny lil’ pop-up ads that we all know about). Being someone who wasn’t even familiar with the term gay - let alone “lesbian” - until her late-twenties, Zehorit found herself having feelings for a woman, though she did her best to close the pop-up windows that flashed “You’re gay” upon her psyche, because she was married with two children. It was not the easiest path for her in the beginning, but the future she painted for us was pop-up free - she now living happily with her wife and their children in Israel, their - our - homeland.
Both Mr. Lebovitz and Mr. Liebermann also had equally compelling stories, especially when in one story we found out that one of the two males ended up removing himself from the Orthodox community (I’ll not spoil the story for ya!). Though many would at first glance think of this decision to move away from Orthodoxy after helping to move it forward into modern-inclusiveness of the LGBTQ community a step back, it is best to note that a forum attendee posed the question regarding if anyone of the panelists would ever leave the Orthodox movement, and this is how we got the answer of one of the panelists becoming more involved in secular life: The reason to leave the Orthodox community was because one of the male panelists just could not come to agree with being Orthodox and gay; so, being gay won out (hooray!), though it was in the interest of respect for the Orthodox values of living (double hooray!). I honor that decision, even though I personally feel a person can be both spiritual and live within the queer spectrum, and I not only feel it, I live within that embodiment, as well, though I consider myself quite Conservative in my Judaic nature. All of the panelists stated they are intrinsically forever tied to the Orthodox community in their own way, even in the perceived absence of its practices. Contributing blogger, Janelle Eagle commented, “It was incredibly empowering to hear them say ‘I can’t NOT be Orthodox’ and how strongly that seemed to reinforce all of us who say ‘I Can’t NOT be gay’. They embodied so fully the parts of [themselves] that they recognize were how G-d made them”. I mean, sure many of us can find new ways to approach our spiritualness as it coincides with Queerness; but it is to be brought to light that some people may just have to take a step back from religious practices, short-term or otherwise, because of their spiritual-minded nature and their sincerity to be respectful of the religious practice(s) that may have reared them in the first place. Call it the opposite of “biting the hand that feeds you”.
In a time when Jewish days of study are canceled in Los Angeles and many Jews and non-Jews alike still turn to “de-gaying retreats”, especially the more spiritual or religious-minded the person is (Snippet, ABC Nightline, Nov 8, 2010), it is critical for Forums like these to exist so that our community continues to tell and hear of our stories and learn about each other and about our ever changing face of inclusive and progressive Judaism, regardless - and especially if - life “happens” (as it continually will) and people evolve into different aspects of themselves during the process of their growth and/or learning. As Jewish Journal’s Staff Writer, David Suissa, related in his article “Man in the Middle” (Jewish Journal, October 22-28, 2010), it is even more important to have these Forums, discussions and dialogue, so that we don’t perpetuate hate, but instead foster “respect for the fellow Jew” (which Suissa retold from an article by Gary Rosenblatt; “Turning Hatred Into Love”, Jewish Week, 1993). I can’t help but insert the fact that the value of these forums is even more important for the youth, even if many forums of this nature are not usually attended by anyone under their 20s (at least this was the case at our forum on November 3rd). Because I missed seeing some younger faces in the crowd on Nov. 3rd, I asked JQ International executive, Asher Gellis, to help me get a clearer picture of A Wider Bridge‘s youth involvement and more specifically, within Los Angeles:
How do you feel about the tour being more geared for the east coast as far as involving our youth? It seemed like [the panelists/moderator] mentioned JQ Youth and a slew of other East Coast based organizations, but I don’t recall them mentioning but one organization in the west coast involved in their evolvement, [namely] JQ International… Correct me if I was mistaken.
Their tour is primarily west coast oriented, actually, with the most amount of community support [being generated] in LA. NY uniquely has a strong Orthodox GLBT presence which gives [A Wider Bridge] a unique opportunity to connect with a thriving GLBT Orthodox community. In California, most organizations they worked with were Reform, with one Conservative Institution [hosting the conference], Temple Beth Am, and one transdenominational Jewish organization, JQ International.
What role will JQ Intl play in A Wider Bridge’s mission?
JQ is proud to support and promote the work and mission of A Wider Bridge. Our mission, like theirs, seeks to strengthen our global Jewish community by empowering inclusion advocates and GLBT individuals, regardless of religious affiliation.
How did you feel about the forum as a whole?
The speakers were remarkably passionate, engaging and their stories were provocative but always optimistic and full of great tolerance, love and reverence for the Israeli Orthodox community that has for so long failed to recognize them and their commitment.
Youth or no youth in the audience, the progress we want to see as a collective of proponents of change, befalls upon the adults who are seeking to pave the way for our younger generations. It is up to us adults to be examples of positive light and to be seen as respectful human beings in society and within our Jewish Peoplehood. No matter where we end up in the spiritual realm of practice through our varying degrees of gayness, if we get it right, the youth of tomorrow will have less to struggle with, Hashem willing. As stated by the panelists, just look at the dramatic change over the last ten years of LGBTQ inclusiveness within the Jewish community, in the Diaspora and within Israel… Even within the non-Jewish world, as well, I’d dare to add. I just recently turned into my 27th year of Awesomesauce, and I think back to ten years ago, when I was a 17 year old of the United States and traveling in Costa Rica by myself during the USA’s historic “Nine-Eleven”, and how then, I was already Out, but still had so much to deal with. I could only imagine the further burden of not having anyone who related or “been there before” during a time of youth, discovery and stark confusion - try as I might have to display my intrinsic “adultness”, especially after having grown up in an adult world of thought and personality since my youth.
This was a successful forum simply because we who attended, chose to show up, regardless of our religiosity or lack there of, and regardless of how we choose to pursuit our Jewishness.
...Now to get myself over to Israel for Purim ‘71 so I can deejay a party for the Pride Minyan. That would be the ultimate connection of the Wider Bridge between Israel and the USA, personally speaking, of course. I mean, what better way to be Gay, Orthodox, Israel, Queer, American, Woman, et cetera, et cetera, than to be all of the above whilst dancing and booing our Oppressors? Brilliant.
From their webpage, A Wider Bridge is “a new organization, working to create more opportunities for LGBTQ Jews in the U.S. and around the world, along with friends and allies, to engage and connect with Israel”; and on November 3, 2010, we did indeed, engage and connect with Israel by way of this wonderful forum.
November 11, 2010 | 1:01 pm
Posted by Tera Greene
A new young adult service that is occurring at the Temple of the Arts happens tomorrow 11/12/10. I am doing a spoken word interpretation of the V’ahavta. We are creating something new in Los Angeles, it’s the first one, and I would love it if you came. Plus…in addition to great artists and a wonderful service; we will have a truffle and caramel tasting; as well as a tasting of Stampede, the new vitamin infused beer (that’s right..a beer that’s good for you).
TIME: Doors at 7pm, Starts at 730.
WHERE: Temple of the Arts at the Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Bl, Los Angeles CA
With: Sharon Farber, Jeremy Kagan, Bare Dance Company, Tera “Nova Jade* Greene and more!