T.I.C. transitions

Jew on the Waves of Fate

Put that gay slur in my ‘Totes Gay’ tote bag

Pride BraceletsAfter spending a fun, hot, sweaty, exhausting day checking out the Pride Parade and street fair, I emerged above ground from the subway station wearing the rainbow beads I had been tossed by TD Bank during the parade, the rainbow Macy’s “pride + joy” bracelet, the stickers affirming the importance of being true to myself and my voice provided by GLAAD and AJWS, and of course carrying my “Totes Gay” tote bag I received for donating to HRC.

GLAADAs I began my walk home, slightly longer than usual since the local train was too slow and the breeze outside was preferable to the sauna of the subway station, I, for a moment, considered removing all this pride gear, excepting the rainbow yarmulke that had elicited numerous compliments throughout the day. Considering removing everything and stuffing it in one of the less obviously LGBT themed bags was a throwback to past fears and internalized homophobia, something I could get into but isn’t the focus here. Instead I’ll just say that I considered suppressing my outward expression of pride since I was no longer surrounded by the LGBT community, allies, or my friends. I quickly suppressed the urge. I was headed home and why should I feel the need to hide what I had only moments ago been so eager to display.

As I turned down a side street, I was lost in the world of a Robert Jordan audiobook and barely acknowledged the small group of guys that I passed. After we walked by each other I heard some shouting and looked around confused. I took out an ear bud and saw the guys I had just passed looking back at me, one of them waving and shouting “Fucking faggot, FUCKING Faggot!” You know, when they put the emphasis on the “ing” in “fucking.”

I actually thought for a second, are they just messing with each other. Is this a “macho” friendly bullying moment between friends that absolutely has nothing to do with me? Nope. They were staring right at me; one was punching the air with his first in my direction. I turned away with a calm that was mostly inspired by bewilderment as the rainbow beads felt slightly heavier, the stickers seemed to pull at my shirt, the bag felt like a purse and the young bullied kid inside thought about how much I must look like a girl (as if this would be a bad thing).

hrc bagI didn’t remove any of my pride accessories; I didn’t turn the “Totes Gay” against my body so no one would see. I put the ear bud back in and continued on my way. I was hyperaware of everyone around me at that point, but kept my calm, New Yorker “I don’t give a shit” face and wondered if I even really did give a shit.

I didn’t have a knot in my stomach, didn’t feel especially nervous, but I did feel something uncomfortable. I texted the two friends I had been with earlier (straight females, if it matters) and they quickly responded with, “Where do they think they are” and “Hey, the fifties called, they want their homophobia back.”

I have no particular insight to share from this event. I didn’t return home invigorated to fight homophobia, I didn’t curl up in a ball and cry (both valid responses, just not mine). I just considered how long it had been since someone called me a faggot to my face. I considered the stark contrast of seeing elected leaders, celebrities, and major corporations show their support for inclusivity and tolerance (a misleading term, people shouldn’t settle for being tolerated) only to be followed by a few young men taking a minute to try to dispel any sense of pride I may have in my identity.

It’s worth noting that I barely batted an eye at the two protestors at the parade that calmly explained how we were all going to hell (I’ve always felt my Judaism provided a great shield against such nonsense).

As mentioned before, I have no real moral of the story here. No pretty conclusion. Homophobia is still rampant, our country isn’t perfect, a lot has changed in the 45 years since the Stonewall Riots but I didn’t even know what those were a few years ago.

I’m still me and I’ll continue to be me. An LGBT (because one letter isn’t enough for me) Jew with a tattoo, a loving family, good friends, and a neurotic need to constantly question myself. Calling me a faggot, a kike, or claiming that you know more about my gender, sexual, or religious identity than I do has yet to change any of that.

Alissa, Me, and Melissa holding up a Jewish LGBT pride flag!

Peace and Freedom

The Prime Ministers

“Each loves peace, but each loves freedom more.”  This is how Yehuda Avner described the subjects of his 2010 book, “The Prime Ministers,” now a documentary film produced by Moriah Films, a division of The Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Premiering on May 7 at the AMC Lincoln Square theatre in New York, the film featured the voices of Sandra Bullock, Michael Douglas, and Leonard Nimoy.  Subtitled “The Pioneers,” this is the first half of a two-part production and focused on the era of Prime Ministers Levi Eshkol (voiced by Nimoy) and Golda Meir (voiced by Bullock).

The film’s premiere appropriately ushered in the Israeli holiday of Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day), which commemorates the unification of the City of Jerusalem under Israeli control at the end of the Six-Day War, during Eshkol’s term in office.

“The Prime Ministers” provides an insider’s account of early Israeli politics and a behind the scenes view of many of the stories Zionists and Israelis grow up hearing.  This documentary features interviews with Avner who had been secretary and speechwriter to five Israeli prime ministers and also served as Ambassador to Australia and the United Kingdom.  Woven in with the interviews is historical footage and readings from personal and political correspondence.”

The Prime Ministers poster

What makes this documentary stand apart is Avner’s own “fly on the wall” perspective – observing world leaders at work and collecting the materials they passed off as insignificant.  One example is a note President Lyndon B. Johnson quickly wrote to Secretary of State Dean Rusk during a 1968 meeting in Texas.  In the meeting Prime Minister Eshkol pleaded with the President to support Israel’s defense against the Russian backed Arab powers, primarily Egypt.  The note, abandoned on the table as everyone left, merely said “Dean, go slow on this thing, L.”  This simple statement between the President and his cabinet member gives us greater insight into the American government’s perspective at the time.  Such details won’t be found in an average documentary.

“The Pioneers” is a fitting title for a film that delves into the lives of the third and fourth Prime Ministers of Israel, both having worked on a Kibbutz, both having had a hand in the creation of the Jewish State, both having faced criticism, controversy, and dissent in their efforts to protect their people.

The film is an earnest and inspiring Zionist portrayal of leaders who loved peace but fought for freedom.

Shabbos Retreat

Directional Sign post at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center

I took a chance this weekend, one I probably would not have had the nerve to do a couple of years ago.  I took part in the annual Eshel Shabbaton at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut.  A few of my new friends in the Gay Jewish community of NYC suggested I attend as I am supposedly a default member of this community and yet have only very recently started to become connected to it.

According to their Facebook page Eshel is “a place of SHELTER for Orthodox, frum, and other traditional gay and lesbian Jews seeking to maintain their Jewish observance” while welcoming those who are “formerly Orthodox, “Orthodox-curious,” or otherwise interested in maintaining a connection to traditional Judaism as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender Jews.”

Why was attending this event such a big deal for me?  I can be somewhat shy and stepping into a decent size established community and only being sure that I’ll know two or three people makes me nervous.  On top of that, though the fact that I wear a kippah on a daily basis convinces non-Jews, secular Jews, and “not as traditional” Jews that I must be Orthodox or “Conservative at the very least,” I am none of these things.  Upon examining my upbringing, my lifestyle and my practice one would realize that I am far from frum (great title for a future blog post where I could delve more into my Jewish identity).  And while many would believe, based on the explicit way I often deal with topics of sexuality, mine in particular, that I am comfortably gay, I have never been very comfortable with that label.

ImageBeing at this retreat reaffirmed my contradicting feelings of being “apart” and “a part” (again, future blog post I hope).  Being around large numbers of Jews is always a novel experience for me after having grown up as one of the only if not the only Jew in all of my schools.  It feels great to share a cultural and religious identity with those around me but isolating as many of these individuals attended Jewish Day Schools and Yeshiva and have a deeper and certainly more thorough understanding of Jewish concepts than I do.  Being around large numbers of LGBTQ individuals is also a novel experience because though I have struggled with my sexuality, I have been very lucky and I am very grateful that I have had an open and accepting family throughout the whole process.  But being around others who do not identify as heterosexual is an odd experience for me as I have continually struggled to feel comfortable in the “LGBTQ Community.” It is not as easy as one would think to develop friendships with those who share the same or similar labels as you.

Mainly I came away from this Shabbos retreat with a lot of hope mixed with anxiety.  I witnessed a focus on Judaism I often miss and I hope to learn and put effort into deepening my connection, knowledge and practice.  However, I am anxious that my discipline and motivation will fail me.  I experienced the desire to find myself in a similar community in the future and the hope that I can make that happen for myself.  Yet I am anxious that it will never be that simple.  And perhaps most importantly, I made and developed some very promising, fun, and exciting friendships.  Connections that I hope will continue and grow but I am anxious that I will not be able to maintain them.

Overall I enjoyed the opportunity to escape the city for a weekend, interact with new people, daven, dance, flirt, study, and observe a new community and new situations.  Anxieties aside these may be crucial elements for finding positive change:

  • Daven to build stronger spiritual connections;
  • Dance to express myself, my desires, and shed insecurities;
  • Flirt to have fun, play, take risks and gain new experiences; and
  • Study and Observe to strengthen my knowledge and fuel my desire to grow and to learn.

Resources for LGBTQ and Judaism

And so we enter the year 5773

Rosh HaShanah 5770/2009

And so we enter the year 5773.  What is amusing about that is most people might believe that is the opening line to a science fiction story but to Jews around the world it is no fiction.  We are entering a new year and it is very different from the December 31/January 1 new year.  We definitely celebrate and hope for a joyous and sweet (honey sweet) new year but instead of partying all night we spend our days praying.  It is an important if not slightly foreboding time.  As a very good, non-Jewish friend of mine pointed out, the concept of being inscribed in the book of life on Rosh HaShanah and having your fate for the year sealed a week later on Yom Kippur is kind of scary.   But of course there is a lot more depth to that concept than the Judaism 101 website can impart.

As we approached Rosh HaShanah I thought about all the things I wanted to do differently in the coming year, this is pretty traditional no matter what calendar you’re following, people like to call them new year’s resolutions.  I want to study those languages I’ve let fade, I want to work out more (well…working out at all might be a good start), I want to keep my room clean and organized, manage my time better, eat healthier, be more careful with my money, go to synagogue more often and remember to say a bracha (blessing) before I eat.  Aside from the last two those should not be that far off from a lot of people’s resolutions.

But a key difference between the Jewish new year and the secular new year is that Rosh HaShanah is an intensely spiritual time especially when packaged together with Yom Kippur – a period known as the Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe or as my father points out the AWE-full days.  So my desire to go to synagogue more often, to say a bracha before I eat, to recite the Shema daily, those goals carry a greater weight for me during this time.  No Rabbi or fellow member of the tribe has openly criticized my lack of practice or questioned my faith recently (I mean I do wear my yarmulke every day, so everything must be fine right).  But I criticize myself.

I remain very aware of these missed opportunities to be more aware, to express my spirituality, to honor my beliefs and the traditions of a fascinating people, of which I am proud to be a member.  What does my perceived lack of observance say about my professed devotion to my spiritual flavor, the faith-based structure that I was born into and have continually chosen to be the foundation of my spiritual path?  It would be one thing if I was simply not interested in the practice, if the guilt was just some hold over from having gone to synagogue every Friday night and most Saturday mornings as a child but I know it is more than that.

And so as we enter 5773 I brace myself for the wave of spiritual inspiration that comes at this time every year.  It can easily overwhelm and leave me sitting in front of my computer on Shabbos (note I shouldn’t be on my computer on Shabbos), weighed down by the expectations I have placed on myself.  But just as it can overwhelm it can also motivate.  I know the value of embracing that inspiration, I have seen its positive attributes and there is no time in the Jewish calendar when the wave is at its strongest than during the Yamim Nora’im, the days named for the awe they inspire.

Altschul Chapel, Beth Elohim Synagogue, Brooklyn, NY

I encourage anyone who happens to read this to accept this challenge with me.  My parents always taught me, when I became overwhelmed, to just take things one at a time.  Think of all the goals you have – everything from working out to going to your place of worship more often.  Now take one and decide the one thing you will do to begin approaching it.  I do not need to plan to go to synagogue EVERY Friday night, but how about NEXT Friday night.  Will I say Shema every morning?  I don’t know, but I plan to say it tomorrow morning…and I think I want to say it tonight as well.  Will I work out before work every day?  I don’t know, but I will go for a run with my roommate this week.

I am very susceptible to procrastination and becoming so overwhelmed by my desires and goals that I don’t follow through on any of them has become a standard occurrence.  I accept that this is a personal challenge and with that knowledge I would like to channel the inspiration of this time of year toward growth.

Shanah Tovah.

Criminal Justice Caucus

I must admit something I am not proud of.  Everyone has lives that they get caught up in and with the Removing the Bars conference beginning TOMORROW, one can imagine how busy we have been.  Unfortunately because of how busy I have been, I have barely paid attention to the news around Trayvon Martin.  I have heard his name and mentions of hoodies and injustice and kept telling myself I would look into it soon or later or after I finish something else.  But that is not how these things should be handled.  I am the Co-Chair of the Criminal Justice Caucus at Columbia University School of Social Work.  I was not only ignoring Trayvon’s memory, I was ignoring the values of social justice I seek to embody and impart and the goal of furthering awareness of the infinite problems of our criminal justice system.

We are proud of the…

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Removing the Bars Conference Registration OPEN

This is an event I am a part of organizing.  It is going to be great.  Please check it out!

Registration is Now Open!!!

Click HERE to Register Online!

Space is Limited

March 23 and 24

An interdisciplinary community event presented by the Columbia University School of Social Work Criminal Justice Caucus in collaboration with students from the following Columbia University Schools: Law School, Mailman School of Public Health, Teachers College, School of the Arts, School of Social Work including the Feminist Caucus, Men’s Caucus, Queer Caucus, API Caucus, AGE Caucus, Latino Caucus, and the Social Work Arts Group; the Students Against Mass Incarceration; The Criminal Justice Initiative: Supporting Children, Families and Communities; and the CU School of Social Work Office of Student Services.

All events are FREE and OPEN TO ALL.

Questions? Contact criminaljusticecaucus@gmail.com

Click here for conference schedule.

Click here for event descriptions and locations.

Click here to visit the Conference page of the CJC Blog

Rocky Mountain HAI

Dorothy Parker had a parrot named Onan.  When asked why, she pointed to the bottom of his cage and the bird seed that had spilled on the newspaper and replied: “Because he spills his seed upon the ground!”

 I was asked about the sin of Onan and the idea of contraception in Judaism.  Before I could respond, my son, Ronin, posted an excellent reply going right to the point (see comments on my previous blog).  Let me expand upon his insight a little.

The origin of the Mitzvah to procreate is found in בראשית  Genesis 1:28, in which G commands Adam and Havah to ‘be fruitful and multiply!”  This is not a negative commandment against contraception, it is a positive commandment to have kids.  The reinforcement for the Mitzvah is found in the source passage for this challenge, ברשאית Genesis 38:8 with the story of Onan and Tamar[1]. …

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Criminal Justice Caucus

The dates are set!  The schedule is up!  Registration will open soon!  Check out theConferencepage for details and updates about this year’s conference:

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This is an post from my father’s blog on halachic (Jewish Law) considerations of homosexuality. Fascinating!

Rocky Mountain HAI

I read an article that saddened me.  It was written by a Gay Orthodox Rabbi. You can imagine the conflict with which he has to struggle.  Here is a man who, if he acted upon his natural sexual orientation would be judged for breaking with Halacha, Jewish Law. And yet knowing that he would be condemned he  presided over a ‘commitment ceremony’ for two men.  In every Jewish movement other than the Orthodox and the Hasidim, there has been some form of awareness and acceptance of gay men and women or, as the latest acronym that is considered ‘pc’ puts it, the LBGT community.  Reform Judaism was the first movement to accept LBGT folk in the 70’s and the Conservative movement was the latest in 2006 but with dissent.  Each movement went through serious machinations to find a way of accepting the sexuality of this group of Jews.  Some of…

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‘Glee’ful Christmas Jews

Copyright by FOX

Thank you Glee for continuing the tradition of using Jewish characters for all the fun stereotypes (Jewish American Princesses, greedy, etc.) and making the classic jokes regarding whether something is kosher (usually not discussing food) or how Jewish children are so depressed watching their Christian neighbors enjoy such a marvelous holiday like Christmas.   I also appreciate the Hanukkah references you manage to squeeze in or rather the one Hanukkah reference, the last minute “Happy Hanukkah” at the end of the most recent Christmas episode.

Now I am not saying that we should avoid Christmas specials or that they should be “Holiday specials” where equal time is given to each and every tradition (get off my back FOX news, I deal with enough of your crap).   I understand that Christians make up the majority of this country and the world.  This is not my issue.  But I ask that if you and any other show wish to play off of our stereotypes, which at times I may even find amusing, could you at least honor our traditions to some extent as well?  Not all Jewish children pine and whine over not being able to experience the holiday season the way our Christian friends and neighbors experience and celebrate it.

The other issue I would like to address is the musical nature of Glee.  While I enjoy many Christmas songs, and it should be acknowledged that secular Jews or Jews who viewed Christmas more as an American holiday wrote many of those songs, there are Hanukkah songs.  I know I know, everyone is now thinking about “I had a little dreidel” and how campy that is or Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah song and its various versions and marijuana references.  But there are others, with lovely tunes, which could be adapted in various ways and have been.  There are the traditional ones such as Maoz Tzur, Mi Yimalel (and this cool version), and Sevivon among others (most of these have English versions too).  And then there are the more modern one like “Light One Candle” (Peter, Paul and Mary), Eight Candles (Dave Koz), and Ocho Kandelikas (and this hip hop version).

Hanukah, Oh Hanukah Music

Try talking to Idan Raichel, Sam Glaser, Matisyahu, the Maccabeats, and Ein Prat Fountainheads.  They might have some good ideas.  How great would it be to explore another culture in a new and creative way, showing the world that we are more than our stereotypes, more than one song every non-Jew knows (and tends to associate with every Jewish holiday or custom).  Imagine the doors this could open for further exploration of other cultures.  Okay, calm down Anne Coulter, I see your ears steaming and your feet pounding the earth (as if you hope I will fall into your hell if you can just cause an earthquake).

Glee you do not have to go as crazy as my imagination.  No TV show does.  It would just be nice if for once the Jews of America did not have to contend with Ross Gellar’s Hanukkah armadillo, Grace Adler’s ham and cheese on Yom Kippur, or Dr. Cristina Yang (Jewish atheist adopted daughter of surgeon Saul Rubenstein).  But for Glee to have two Jewish characters who have no issue spending an entire episode having everyone wish them Merry Christmas, singing exclusively Christmas songs with the occasional non-denominational secular winter tune thrown in there, and then sit and be moved by the story of Christmas as it is read from the Christian bible…it feels as if the traditions of the people these two characters are supposed to be representing (my people) are considered less…less important, less meaningful, less honorable.

Now Hanukkah is certainly one of the minor holidays in Judaism but I do not foresee any major pop culture recognition of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, or Passover…aside from, again, the occasional joke made at their expense.  Our society enjoys making light of many traditions and I do not take issue with that.  I am also still a fan of Glee (for the most part, the teenage soap opera-like drama is a bit much at times but…it sells).  I also understand and acknowledge that there are many other groups and cultures our pop culture chooses to ignore or pay lip service too.  However this was my Glee inspired rant regarding my people and my culture.  Maybe next year Rachel Berry and Noah Puckerman could light a Hanukkiah (a Hanukkah Menorah), discuss Hanukkah as a story of the underdog overcoming oppression (a common theme for Glee), or at least spin a dreidel while singing the most recognized ‘Jewish’ song in the non-Jewish world.  I suppose in the mean time I will simply have to accept that after getting over her materialism this Jewish character, apparently oblivious or simply not interested in her heritage, says to her boyfriend “I love you and that is all that matters to me on Christmas.”

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