Posted by Lia Mandelbaum
On August 16th, I boarded a plane along with 24 other cast members of Beit T’Shuvah’s original musical Freedom Song, heading to Minneapolis for a single performance. I have been the Freedom Song Coordinator for the past 2 years and have helped plan performances all over the country. I have also been a cast member and played several different roles in the play. This twin city tour was very meaningful to me because it was the last one that I was responsible for coordinating. I have decided that it is time for me to move on from Beit T’Shuvah and to try something new, and this will be my last week there.
Freedom Song has two separate storylines playing out simultaneously that do not interact directly, yet are deeply connected by their parallel themes. On one side of the stage, the viewers see a family celebrating Passover, and on the other side, the actors stage a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. The way that these two stories are related is the correlation between the exodus from slavery in Egypt and the exodus from the slavery of the addictions that oppress people who are addicts and alcoholics. The cast is composed of current residents and alumni of Beit T’Shuvah. As new residents and members of the community take on different roles, the script changes, as people are encouraged to incorporate parts of their own stories.
This last show, I was the most honest that I have ever been with an audience about what my core issue that led me to be in recovery is. It was one of the bravest moments of my life. On the side of the stage where the family is celebrating Passover, the actors begin talking about the four questions. The focus then comes back to the side of the stage where the people in recovery are to speak. I stand up, and say, “I have a question… How am I supposed to spend the rest of my life being truthful and showing people the real me? I act like a chameleon, constantly changing who I am because I’m so afraid that people will stop loving me because I’m gay. In the end I feel lost, unbearably empty, and all alone… just me and my different masks.” I was able to stand up with pride and speak this line in front of 800 people in the audience of the Sabes JCC. What struck me was how I had been so fearful of being open, yet the words flowed smoothly and profoundly. My lines came naturally because I have come to understand and respect my own my struggles. When I first became part of the cast of Freedom Song, I was having a really hard time remembering the lines that I had written based on my own story. Rabbi Mark Borovitz said that it was because I hadn’t really faced this core issue, and he was right. That last performance, my lines flowed absolutely smoothly because I have done tremendous amounts of work to get to know myself and work everyday to be the best person I can be. That evening in Minneapolis brought me one step closer to freedom because I allowed myself to be vulnerable and allowed myself to be seen.
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August 24, 2010 | 3:27 pm
Posted by Tera Greene
The day that I was awakened to the fact that I was dying, I had recently been experiencing a plethora of vivid dreams. Consistent processions, with each nap and every slumber, I opened my eyes to begin the day with clear narratives and images that expressed how I’d been feeling or what I wanted, but was unable to convey - even to myself. I had dreams where I’d be sitting across from someone who said candidly, “You’ll never be alone at the table again.” Dreams where I understood someone in my life, because we got a chance to talk; albeit in a dream, but it set off radiant light bulbs that gave me the mighty rejuvenation I needed to keep going forth. I was starting to write again in the way that flowed naturally through me, often times getting inspiration from old journals. I chuckled when I would come across the great many notes, reminders and vignettes I wrote down three, four, five years ago in those journals: messages for me to stay positive and stay good.
On this day, I awakened to learn that I had but a short time in this life. Naturally, I met myself. All of a sudden I knew how to really articulate who I was in a simile, or a smile, for that matter. I poured out some words on a “notepad”:
I often feel like Israel -
Misunderstood though I’m really just striving to exist peacefully;
But never settling for less than
Standing up for and defending what needs be…
In that instant, I for once, really knew the meaning of my temperaments, passionate they are.
On this day, I met one of G-d’s emissaries sent before me to remind me to “stick with Him”, though she said she didn’t know what that meant, but that I would. She didn’t say “Christ”, this beautiful African American woman - no, she said G-d. “G-d says to stick with Him.” I became Elul-ogized because I felt her legit-ness.
This past year dangled on a pendulum swinging back and forth between exciting and confusing, with a stream of pleasant feelings intertwined with unexpected heartaches and deep wounds. Great things flourished, but I was thrust into constant death and loss, miscommunication and misinterpretations so regularly in 5770, that one day life became a bit more clear to me and I only noticed it because I’d been wrestling so much with things that did not make sense. Now all I could do to be the best and most energetically-full Me, with all my overlapping identities, was move forward with the goodness in my heart, dance, and keep telling my Truth. People will definitely find ways to judge, not understand, try to shame and put into a bad light a Jew, a Woman, any person of Color and the community of LGBTQs, but I must not succumb to anything but being who I am.
I am a manifestation of good, of G-d, no matter the opinions of others, and especially not when the people who misconstrue you the most may be the same people whom you are shocked would even be doing such a thing in the first place. While everyone remains selfish in meeting another halfway, a person’s intentions will continually be misconstrued and not given a respectful chance to be communicated about to achieve a bit of understanding. However, as I shed my upsets and disappointments with circumstances and leave them into the past to which I move on from, I go back to what my heart knows - “sticking with G-d”. May the new person of great possibilities emerge - happy, shiny, renewed, and hopefully, a little more understood. Life will go on no matter what, so now that I am fully aware that I, too, will die soon, I look forward to a new year that feels as good as I am feeling now as I reflect inwardly and begin anew again. May this year be sweet, kind and nice. May I continue to live 100%, and a good 100% at that.
Question in order to understand. Until next time, Shanah Tovah.
August 19, 2010 | 11:41 am
Posted by Naomi Goldberg
In general, I’ve been fortunate to find Jewish spaces to be affirming of my sexual orientation. Perhaps this is a result of self-selecting to only participate in communities that are already affirming, but whatever it is, I’m pretty thankful for it.
I recently moved to Chicago, and as a way to start my engagement with the Jewish community, I went to the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. I signed up for lots of email lists, including the Young Women’s group and the volunteer list. I purposely avoided the Young Adult group, because I’ve found these settings to be meat markets – let’s find you a Jewish spouse – at particularly heteronormative. (Not sure what that means? Look it up here.) Given that I’m already in a relationship – albeit with a non-Jew – I’m not interested.
Apparently as part of the “coding” process at the Federation, participants’ demographic information is recorded, including marital status. Now, as a reminder, in Illinois, much like in 45 other states, same-sex couples cannot legally marry.
The person with whom I was emailing asked, “Are you single or married?”
Well, hmm. First, I’m in a committed relationship of three years. I certainly wouldn’t consider myself single, but we’re taking lots of baby steps toward marriage. We just moved in together, so I wouldn’t consider us married. And, of course, we can’t be legally married in Illinois.
So, I simply stated, “Well, I’m in a committed, long-term relationship, so neither of those categories really work for me.”
The person responded, “Okay, for coding purposes, I’ll list you as single.”
I was shocked. I could not have been the first person to not easily fit into the single/married dichotomy. As data would show, there are lots of us in between – dating, cohabiters, domestic partners, civil unioners (??), etc.
And, mind you, I hadn’t disclosed that my person, with whom I’m in this committed, long-term relationship, is a woman.
After some ranting on Facebook and gathering the support of my friends, I wrote a calm, but firm email to the Federation. Families come in all shapes and sizes – some of us can’t legally marry, while some of us choose not to. Our families should be respected just the same. And, is a single/married classification so utterly important to the work of the Federation?
From my work with an incredible organization called Keshet, I knew that changes in forms were low-hanging fruit in terms of ways for Jewish organizations to be more welcoming of LGBT people and families, but also lots of people who don’t fit into the standard boxes - Jews by choice, Jews of color. So, maybe my email would help the Federation here in Chicago become more welcoming.
And, it turns out that this attempt to “code” me as a participant, I helped changed the Federation.
I was pleased to receive a very apologetic voicemail from the VP of Marketing at the Federation. She admitted that this was a change that, “frankly, we need to make” and that she appreciated my bringing it to their attention.
This may be a small change, but it is my hope that this single/married box and the conversation that we started may influence other forms – mother/father on children forms, male/female on the sex boxes. One can hope, right?
August 17, 2010 | 12:28 pm
Posted by Janelle EagleMy dear friend, Kadin Henningsen is amazing. He is a board member at BCC in Los Angeles, a founding member of JQ International's Trans Inclusion Commitee, and has just been names as a 2010/11 Jeremiah Fellow. Needless to say he's impressive. In celebration of his achievements, I have decided to donate my monthly entry at Oy Gay to his incredible words. See below for his take on last week's parshah and how we can related it to the recent decisions in California about Proposition 8 and gay marriage...
August 16, 2010 | 11:36 pm
Posted by Kalil Cohen
TG Film Fest, presented by the Trans/Giving arts collective, features films by trans, genderqueer, and intersex filmmakers, a
DJ, live performances, and art for sale. The TG Film Fest, LA’s transgender film festival, showcases entertaining, poignant, and intriguing visions from the queerest part of the LGBT spectrum. From food to dating to bathrooms the festival promises affirmation and surprises for everyone. TG Film Fest is the only event in LA dedicated to the work of established and emerging trans filmmakers. Join us August 28th in Hollywood.
The second film screening, at 1:30 pm on August 28th, boasts two films by Jewish filmmakers, and a documentary about a trans Jewish artist, Claude Cahun. Zsa Zsa Gershick’s Door Prize won for Best Short at the 2010 Kansas City Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Kalil Cohen’s The Next Gender Nation is a documentary short about the experiences of gender variant youth in Los Angeles public schools. The 55 minute documentary Lover Other is by celebrated filmmaker Barbara Hammer. 1920’s Surrealist artists Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore come to life in this hybrid documentary. Lovers and step-sisters, the gender-bending artists lived and worked together all their lives. Heroic Jewish resisters to the Nazis occupying Jersey Isle during WWII, they were ahead of their times in many ways. Award-winning filmmaker Barbara Hammer infuses this film with vigor using photographs, archival footage, dramatic interludes of a “found Cahun script”, and unique interviews of Jersey Isle residents who knew the “sisters”. The community sponsor for this film screening is JQ International’s Trans Inclusion Committee.
The entire shorts program includes the following films:
1:30 pm Queerly Drawn Lines
These genre-blurring short films weave elements of documentary and narrative film to entertain and enlighten. Bulemic boyfriends, bathroom buddies, and “strange sisters” all have their place in this unique collection of short films.
Lil Basenji by Gina Kamenski 2 mins Door Prize by Zsa Zsa Gershick 8 mins
Falling In Love…with Chris and Greg Episode 3: Food! by Chris Vargas and Greg Youmans 26 mins
The Next Gender Nation by Kalil Cohen 5 mins
In These Words She Says to You by Daniel Flores 7 mins
Lover Other by Barbara Hammer 55 mins
*presented in collaboration with community sponsor JQ International Trans Inclusion Committee*
What: TG Film Fest
When: August 28th, 2010 11:30am - 9pm
Where: The Renberg Theater
1125 N McCadden Pl Los Angeles CA 90038
$20 suggested donation, no one turned away
Contact phone number: 424 248 5471
Facebook Page http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=135823033107433&index=1
August 13, 2010 | 12:26 am
Posted by Lia Mandelbaum
Last month, I decided that I was ready to start exploring new opportunities and felt that my time working a Beit T’Shuvah should begin coming to an end. I entered into their residential program exactly three years ago this month, and my eyes have become open to all that the Jewish Community has to offer. I knew that I would be making a bold move considering I was not sure where I would want to be employed next. I was hesitant to give my notice prior to having something else lined up, but I knew within myself that this chapter of my life was coming to an end and that ultimately, I would be okay. Each day, I continue to put one foot in front of the next, and have not let the fear of the unknown hold me back. Neither have I allowed myself to feel doomed because of the lack job availability. While it is obviously true that these are tough economic times, the biggest hurdle for me would be my own self-doubt. My faith today comes from my belief that G-d does not give me more than I can handle, and that I will be placed in whatever situation G-d feels is right for me. Along my journey I am encouraged by beshert blessings that are happening all around me. People are being placed in my life at exactly the right times, and I believe that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
As if looking for a new job is not hard enough, at the end of August I am moving as well. I am very excited about both looking for new employment, and moving into a beautiful new home. I will be moving from Santa Monica to Silverlake to live with two of my favorite people, Asher Gellis, who is the Executive Director of JQ and the fabulous and super cool Tera Greene who is also a blogger for Oy Gay. JQ International is a Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Transgender (GLBT) Jewish movement founded to serve as an infrastructure and community building space for GLBT Jews. It provides an opportunity to connect with others and build programs and services that foster a healthy fusion of GLBT and Jewish Identity. Living at this house, where a great deal of JQ’s events are held, I will often be surrounded by young Jewish people just like me.
I was raised in Tampa, Florida in a culturally Jewish home, yet growing up I felt estranged from Judaism. Part of my discomfort came from the fear of not being accepted within the Jewish community because of my sexuality. Growing up, the fear of not being accepted forced me to hide behind masks and pushed me to detach from what was going on around me. For many years going to Hebrew school, becoming a Bat Mitzvah and attending holiday events, I felt disconnected from Judaism and had difficulty embracing the teachings. I feel as though I have a lot of Judaism to catch up on and have a deep desire to learn as much as I can. Being a part of the JQ community is helping not only strengthen my relationships with other Jews and members of the LGBTQ community, but it is also helping me integrate two very important things in my life. This new chapter will be one step closer to wholeness.
August 12, 2010 | 11:54 am
Posted by Molly Kane
I have experienced tremendous excitement this summer as a result of positive news for the whole LGBT community as well as the Jewish LGBT community. The accomplishments of the summer demonstrate that it does not have to be June in order to feel proud. Pride is something we deserve to have throughout the year. Pride is essential to our strength to continue our fight for equality.
The excitement began with the Op-Ed article from the JTA by Lynn Schusterman announcing that they will only consider funding organizations that have non-discrimination policies, which cover sexual orientation and gender identity and expression was a major call to the Jewish world to practice what it preaches. The response to Schusterman’s announcement was mixed, but Hebrew Union College’s President David Ellenson applauded Schesterman’s decision and responded to those who criticized it in writing. In his Op-Ed in the JTA he wrote, “I hold that the values and principles of empathy and justice contained in our tradition demand an alternative Jewish religious standpoint that would require the LGBT community receives the same privileges and entitlements enjoyed by heterosexuals…” Ellensons’s unequivocal support is indicative of our movement’s commitment to inclusivity and equal rights.
The summer’s events did not end there. At the end of July, for the first time in several years the Jerusalem Open House along with the Israeli Religious Action Center received a permit for the Jerusalem pride parade that allowed people to march several blocks through different neighborhoods ending at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament building. Why was this a big deal? In past years, the parade was subject to violence and threats severely limiting the celebration. In the words of Noa Sattath the associate director of IRAC, “For years people have claimed that Jerusalem is “too holy” a city for a Pride march.” This summer the Jerusalem LGBT community and its supporters were able to take to the streets to celebrate holiness, which in this context is being able to be loud and proud about one’s identity.
And then last week the California state supreme court voted Proposition 8 as unconstitutional. This decision is not specifically a victory for the Jewish community, but it is an integral part of the memento of the events of the summer.
In the spring, I delivered my senior sermon on parahsat acharei mot-kedoshim. I spoke about how a society moves from degradation to liberation. I suggested that we move through five different stages: fear, ambivalence, tolerance, acceptance, and then liberation. I believe we are stuck between tolerance and acceptance, but we are inching our way forward. This summer is certainly indicative of our desire to propel ourselves to a place of liberation.
This week marks the beginning of the Jewish month Elul, where we begin to prepare ourselves for the upcoming High Holidays. Beginning with the second day of Elul until Rosh Hashanah we are commanded to blow the shofar daily. The shofar blasts are meant to be a call to stir us to repentance. Let them also be a call to awaken us from complacency and move us towards action. The decisions by Schusterman and by the judge in California are decisions of change. Such decisions are not made easily. Just as personal change requires discipline and commitment so does change in laws and policies. We can take the excitement of the summer and carry it with us into the New Year. We can use the energy to continue to move us forward to a place of total acceptance and liberation.
To see the full text of Molly’s sermon please visit:
August 6, 2010 | 9:54 pm
Posted by Brandon Gellis
Dictionary.com defines faith as:
1. Confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another’s ability.
2. Belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
3. Belief in god or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
With Judge Walker’s recent ruling to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage, I couldn’t help but think “Finally! A little voice of reason.” Just over a year ago, my partner and I “took the plunge” and unified our lives before family, friends, a rabbi, many random beach goers, and God. With last year’s passing of Proposition 8, Judge Walker’s Wednesday ruling, and the on slot of conservative, right wing opinions again bashing the integrity of equality in the U.S., I am reminded of a simple sentiment, “you’ve got to have faith.”
If living in Laramie has taught me anything it’s about having faith and as with any major milestone in one’s life, moving to Laramie has been trans-formative. Last week I was reminded that even in the most unanticipated ways, having a little bit of faith can go a long way. Recently my hubby and I attended our first gay commitment ceremony in Laramie, which was without a doubt an eye-opener to us both. Even in a small, Western, traditional community like ours, equality can prevail. I am reaffirmed in my belief that with a little bit of faith and patience, a loving home can be established anywhere.
As it turns out faith is a subjective notion and is personal. Naturally I recognize that civil unions, marriage, and domestic benefits are key elements in accepting and celebrating GLBTQ members of society, but I have to say that every little bit is a step forward. I am not naive to believe that our modern day civil rights battle is far from over, but with the recent turn of events in California and here in Wyoming I’ve begun to regain a little bit of faith in humanity.
As my mother said Wednesday of Judge Walker’s ruling, “Its something and it’s a step in the right direction.” Enough small, even baby steps combined can ratify this world, and with one wedding at a time, I look forward to see what’s next.
Well, tomorrow I’m off for a wonderful lesbian wedding in Iowa. I know, Iowa, right? So, until next time, I bid you love, happiness and faith!