As a member of the GLBTQ community and a rabbinical student, it is clear to me that the words “there is no need” do not apply to places where Jewish and Queer communities intersect. There is so much need. Before these needs can be addressed, they need to be made visible. GLBTQ Jews need to be seen as vital members of our GLBTQ communities. We need to be seen and valued as Jews who have vast interests and abilities and life experiences that can, and already do, enrich Jewish life. We, GLBTQ Jews, also need to stand up and claim Jewish community, Jewish tradition, and Jewish law for ourselves.
After the initial episode of Princesses of Long Island aired, I sat down with my friend Chanel Dubofsky (who, it is worth mentioning, shares a name but none of the traits of one of the stars of the new reality TV show.) We decided to transcribe our conversation, as we attempted to take on and understand the issues behind the show.
I just finished watching the first episode of Bravo’s new reality show, “The Princesses of Long Island.” If you haven’t seen it, just think of a prequel to “The Real Housewives of Long Island.” The show focuses on 6 women in their late 20s who all live at home, have varying levels of codependency with their parents and are searching for their own “Prince Charming” while partying it up in Long Island.
Growing up, my discomfort derived from the separate-but-equal mentality I found inherent within a mechitza service. Sometimes, the mechitza is a balcony (women in the back, men in the front). Sometimes, the Torah and the service-leader are only on the men’s side. Even in the more forward-thinking mechitza services that I’ve attended, there are still areas in which women may not lead. As an outspoken queer feminist, mechitzas make me uncomfortable... to say the least.
At the festival after the parade, my friend Becca slowly walked me over to the Keshet table. By putting my name on the Keshet sign-up sheet, I was stating that I can’t just be a gay man; I’m a gay Jewish man—my gay identity and my Jewish identity work together.
This intimidating cartoon really got to me, a moderate believer who made what I thought was a minor sacrifice to tribal loyalty—twice—over 20 years ago when I chose the traditional ceremony for my newborn sons. Of course I did not like causing my babies pain, but I had seen the ceremony several times and knew that it did not last long at all, and having just gone through childbirth, I knew pain was part of life.
I’m not sure when I realized that the true Torah value is inclusion and acceptance of our LGBT+ brethren. Perhaps it was because my mom became close friends with a gay man who’s very active in gay social life. Maybe it was because of my increased involvement in feminism; after all, the National Organization for Women (NOW), the largest feminist organization in the US (of which I am a member), lists lesbian rights as one of its top priority issues. Or maybe it was just maturity. Whatever the reason and whenever it actually happened, I began to support gay rights, both within and without the Jewish community.
Nearly 20 years ago I was living on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, a haven for observant Conservative Jews. I had my choice of multiple minyanim to attend; even the crowded weekend city streets had an air of the Sabbath, and kosher food abounded.
There were so many Conservative and egalitarian options that I rarely ventured into the neighborhood’s Orthodox community, and I certainly never attended an Orthodox synagogue.
Naomi Eisenberg’s spoken word poem Can I Ask You a Question? speaks for itself. Created in honor of her mother’s 25 years in the rabbinate, Naomi tackles questions of gender and equality in Judaism—and in our society at large.