I’m a secret fan of Food Network’s Chopped, and recently between episodes discovered a weird sister show focused on dessert called Sweet Genius. Its eponymous, singular judge and host is a weird and kooky cross between Willy Wonka and Dr. Evil. Get it- Evil Genius, Sweet Genius? Yeah well the show is filled with the same odd humor… Its pretty ridiculous, but I admit its better than watching Cupcake Boss, whose name doesn’t even have a pun… The show has its fans and deriders, but mostly I think it has addicts to its quirkiness.
There was always something odd about the Sweet Genius himself. His flamboyant style hinted at his being gay, but unless you knew his name is Ron Ben Israel, his Austrian accent never would have outed him as a Tel Aviv born-Jew. Of course, his Viennese mother might have something to do with that, as well as giving him knowledge of delicate European style confections, which appeared in Martha Stewart, Vogue and many food pron books before the New York Times named him “the Manolo Blahnik of cakes.”
In 1999 he opened Ron Ben-Israel Cakes in New York’s SoHo neighborhood with one oven and one mixer. As people fled downtown New York after the 9/11 tragedy, he was able to capitalize on lower rents and expand his operation.
Coming from a secular Israeli upbringing, Ben-Israel wasn’t ideologically interested in making his shop kosher, but for a caterer for some of New York City’s biggest hotels, it was a prudent business decision.
He chose OK Laboratories, the Chabad-affiliated kashrut organization headquartered in Brooklyn, which now certifies his shop’s pareve cakes.
After serving in the IDF in the 70′s , he studied dance and pursued a Ballet career that eventually brought him to NYC, where while working odd jobs to make rent he discovered baking.
This is a guest post by The Neo Nazir, a nomadic Jew who spends zes time worrying that the US might actually elect Santorum and that ze and everyone reading this post will be hurled into a den of wild, indigenous mountain lions, only to be devoured limb by limb.
Newsflash! Orthodox Judaism is not the bellwether of queerness. Given Orthodox Judaism’s official position on non-heterosexuality, one hardly expects Orthodox communities to offer a fully understanding dialogue on homosexual identity. But today, even the orthodox are realizing that they can no longer simply sweep LGBTQ issues under the rug.
Tonight in the Chicago area, a controversial event originally scheduled for early January, will be held at Congregation Or Torah, a large modern-Orthodox community in Skokie, IL. This event, sponsored by a number of major Chicago-area Orthodox synagogues and a local Chabad community, will attempt to broach the subject of homosexuality in the Orthodox community, featuring two out-of-town speakers, described by the event’s promotional blurb as “two of the world’s leading authorities on the Torah’s perspective on homosexuality,” Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel and Rabbi Chaim Rapoport. More »
A little tempest in a teapot has apparently hit the ranks of the Conservative movement about the cover of the latest issue of Kolot (The Conservative Movement’s now-integrated magazine, including more or less all the different arms of the movement that used to have separate magazines).
The Jewish week showcased an internal spat between Kolot and some selected women rabbis who objected to the most recent cover which features a picture of two female arms holding hands whilst wearing tefillin. More »
The Forward just published Conservatives Grapple With Gay Wedding Rite. In an effort to create a typical news article conflict, it misses the bigger picture. Three Conservative rabbis were tasked to create a standard ritual for gay weddings. They tried to hew as closely as possible to the typical non-egalitarian ceremony with the goal of minimizing the differences between homo and heterosexual marriage rituals. While a valiant goal, many of the top decision makers in the Conservative movement (the other members of the Committee on Jewish Laws & Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly), thought the text didn’t work and asked the drafting group to make more radical changes to the text with the goal of a more egalitarian ritual. The only critique in the article that wasn’t from a Conservative rabbi is a quote from Jay Michaelson. I read a comment of Michaelson on Facebook where he said he was more supportive of this effort than his quote that ended up in the Forward article portrayed.
The draft text and suggested revisions are not publicly available so I can’t directly critique them. Still, we can discuss why this effort matters.
There are some great examples of couples doing intense study to create their own ceremonies. BZ has a great series on this. More and more resources are out there. For example, there is Danya’s Alternatives to Kiddusin.
There are still unnecessary barriers for people who want to use these rituals. Here’s the example from my heterosexual wedding (predating both BZ’s and Danya’s writings). We used a non-standard & more egalitarian Ketubah text. While the text was available, we couldn’t walk into most Judaica stores & buy an beautiful ketubah with this text pre-printed. We wouldn’t have even known this text existed if we didn’t have friends who adapted it for their own wedding. To use the text, we needed to contact the author, a total stranger named Aryeh Cohen, to get an electronic version of the text that the ketubah scribe could lay out and then hand inscribe. Even this modest change to a more egalitarian ketubah text required added effort and additional costs. Our discussions regarding variations on the ceremony didn’t go much beyond rings, who walks around who, and whether the object of value should be a ring or a banana.
While finding a wider range of rituals is slightly easier now, egalitarian hetero or homosexual wedding rituals that are rooted in Jewish history and tradition are still an elite decision for those who decide the extra work is worth it.
Conservative Rabbis and other Conservative leaders have long officiated at weddings using a variety of rituals. Some were performing gay commitment ceremonies or weddings before the Committee on Jewish Law & Standards (CJLS) said it was ok and more have done so afterwards. Still, officiants are all piecing together new ritual based on the work of others and their own research and innovations.
Perhaps someone else will correct me, but I think this is the first attempt by a major Jewish organization to create a single, standardized ritual for homosexual weddings. Standardized ritual can remove barriers. A CJLS approved ketubah text for gay weddings will be pre-printed in beautiful ketobot by more suppliers with non-fancy verisions sitting in more synagogue rabbis’ cabinets. New wedding rituals will be in Rabbis’ manuals next to guidance for other lifecycle events. If the new rituals end up being firmly anchored in Jewish texts and traditions, egalitarian, and flexibly gendered, they will see usage in heterosexual weddings whether or not that was the CJLS intention.
While standardization can sometimes decrease innovation, I think it is the opposite in this case. People who want to innovate wedding rituals will still do that. A new standard text just shifts the starting point, with an easily found and hopefully well documented and researched text.
This is a guest post from Staci Akselrod, a student at Hampshire College:
Join us for the Queer Jews and Allies Conference at Hampshire College, in Amherst, MA, on Sunday December 4th! This free, day-long conference will offer workshops, panels, plays, and more, addressing the unique experiences of queer Jewish identities as they weave among spirituality, sexuality, secular culture, gender identity and expression, political perspectives and movements, and religious traditions. This event welcomes all queer, gay, trans*, lesbian, and bisexual Jews and allies to learn, network, and create community in a safe, respectful, and accountable space. Kosher lunch and dinner will be provided for registered participants.
The conference will be primarily located within a wheelchair-accessible building. The food served at the conference will be kosher dairy and kosher vegan, and the conference schedule has been timed to best utilize the PVTA bus system.
Just thought I’d bring to your attention an amazing conference that’s happening in NYC in a couple of weeks (April 10th, to be precise). It’s called Transforming Beitech/a, and it’s for clergy, Jewish professionals, and folks studying to be one of those things, run by, and happening at, CBST. It’ll cover everything from lifecycle and ritual stuff to pastoral care issues, working with elders and youth, institutional audits, and a whole bunch of other things. It’s going to be fabulous, (and I’m not just saying that because I’m on the advisory board, either.)
I know everyone wishes that we’d just stop talking about thisalready and technically, what I’m about to mention isn’t strictly a Jewish matter, but there was an interesting link on BoingBoing this morning regarding reporting on the sexuality of, let us say, well-known figures (since the person mentioned there isn’t precisely what one might think of as a celebrity).
The point being made is that it’s not quite as simple as whether or not one’s sexuality is a private matter – rather that by agreeing to not discuss it, “the press” is actually enforcing the idea that gay sexuality is bad, that the very hint of a partner of the same sex is akin to pornography and is a discussion of sex, rather than simply talking about normal and natural parts of an individual’s life – and in fact, in my opinion, that’s exactly how the conversation about Debbie Friedman shook out: dlevy expressed sadness that she hadn’t been able to live her life in a way that everyone else (straight) does, where she talked about her family (partner) held hands in public, etc, and everyone else started screaming about how she has the right to keep her sex life private and who cares as long as she doesn’t scare the horses in the street,which was precisely missing the point. The original post is here, but IMO BoingBoing sums it up clearly and nicely.
I spoke about this topic with Debbie enough times to know that she wasn’t interested in this aspect of her private life being discussed in print.
I knew about it, other writers knew about it, and respected her privacy. There was enough to write about her — and Shlomo Carlebach, for that matter — without getting into what they did or whom they called when they were lonely.
Did some closeted Jews feel that closeted lesbians would benefit from her talking about sex?
And it continues from there. Regardless of whether you think Friedman herself should have been out or not–and outed or not–there are a couple of problems here. First, this rehashes the whole notion that being out and queer (as @itsdlevy noted on Twitter this morning) is all about what happens between the sheets (as opposed to, say, what happens under the chuppah, what happens when one brings a date to events, what happens at daycare pick-up, and so forth.) This isn’t (‘just?’) about “bedroom stuff.” It’s about life stuff. And though Marks seems to cast the story as one in which Friedman herself framed the issue as about sex, I’m not so sure I consider him a reliable witness.
Being gay is like sexually assaulting your congregants and followers? Really?
(And if you want to talk open secrets, from Blustain’s Lilith article, linked above: “We do know that certain segments of the progressive Jewish world, until the day Rabbi Carlebach died, distanced themselves from him because they were aware of reports of his sexual behavior. Leaders at ALEPH, and its sister organization, a retreat center called Elat Chayyim, told Lilith that during Rabbi Carlebach’s life they refused to invite him to teach under their auspices or sit on their boards.”)
I take umbrage at the idea that sexual assault and harassment is about “call[ing someone] when.. lonely.” I take umbrage at the idea that the perpetuation of sexual assault and harassment is something that should not be discussed. I take umbrage at the even merest implication that being queer and perpetuating sexual harassment and assault are even remotely analogous.
If you want to argue that Friedman had a right to privacy about her life, you can argue that. But do not bring in this disgusting analogy, and do not imply that sexual abuse should ever be left a private matter.
When I heard that Debbie Friedman had passed away, I was sitting in a conference room at the San Francisco Federation, participating in a board meeting for Keshet, a nonprofit organization working for the full inclusion of GLBT Jews in Jewish Life. I learned of Debbie’s passing via a message posted on Twitter by a lesbian Jewish educator with whom I used to work. The news hit our meeting hard. We stopped for a moment of silence. After all, she was one of us.
Sadly, Debbie Friedman was not a member of the Keshet board of directors. She was, however, a lesbian Jew. But reading the press asking for healing prayers during her recent illness, or the overwhelming displays of grief and affection in both the Jewish and mainstream press since her passing, you’d never know it.
I didn’t know Debbie personally. But like most liberal Jews my age who have been even the slightest bit involved with organized Judaism, I’ve been touched by her melodies. Most of those songs came to me second- or third-hand, learned at summer camp and USY events from song-leaders and enthusiastic youth leaders who taught their friends to sing “Not By Might” or her havdalah niggun as though they were as old and as central to Judaism as the Torah itself. Although I eventually became familiar with Debbie Friedman’s name, I still prefer to hear her songs shouted by enthusiastic teenagers over her considerably more polished renditions. And it wasn’t until I reached graduate school that I learned that the havdalah melody I had been singing since the fifth grade came from her wellspring of melody.
I didn’t know Debbie personally. But as someone who’s been a leader in the Jewish GLBT world for a number of years, I’ve heard persistent stories about her life as a lesbian. It seems that Debbie’s sexuality was an open secret; everybody knew about it, but no one spoke of it. This made me angry. Was she ashamed? Did she fear for her career? From all accounts, Debbie was incredibly humble – is it possible that she didn’t realize how central and beloved she was to not only her Reform Movement, but to contemporary American Judaism as a whole? I can’t imagine a single synagogue refusing to sing her prayer for healing because the love of her life was a woman, but maybe Debbie could.
I don’t bear any ill-will towards Debbie for staying in the closet. But her life in the closet was double-barreled tragedy: how sad that Debbie could not live her life with wholeness, and how sad that so many queer kids were deprived such an important role model. How ironic that the tyranny of the closet overpowered the woman whose songs let us let go for a moment of what the world might think of us, just long enough to shout “Nutter butter peanut butter” or sway with our arms around our friends and not worry if we looked gay.
My friends who knew Debbie tell me that she had a life-partner. I don’t know her partner’s name, because all the press around Debbie’s illness and passing only asked for prayers and comfort on behalf of Debbie’s sister, family and friends. I hope this did not add to the unbearable pain and loss her partner must be experiencing now, but how could it not?
My friends who knew Debbie tell me that she struggled against the closet, that as recently as this year she expressed a desire to come out and a loss as to how to do so. It saddens me to think of her life ending, prematurely, with this business left unfinished. I hope whoever becomes the guardian of her legacy will follow through on this wish of Debbie’s, so that her life can be a blessing to future generations of GLBT Jews, and to all Jews.
Honoring movers and shakers doing good work on behalf of (or for) the Jooz in the areas of:
Social and economic justice and do-gooding
Peace (in Israel and elsewhere, except Iceland)
Jewish culture (whatever that is)
Spirituality (‘specially the touchy feel-y sort)
Inclusivity (Pluralist, Racial, Gender and all that ‘faggy’ stuff)
Media (it is the message after all, liek this blog)
Other things we hate but have to include.
Step one: We announce the contest and make it sticky on the site. (check)
Circulate it via email, blogosphere and intertubes. (need your help here)
Develop snarky but slick logo that looks Obama-esque (uh, check?)
Step two: Nominations accepted via form submission on the website
Post facebook event/app/group/widget to redirect voters to jewschool.com
Be sure that heads of major Joowish organizations and entities iz nominated.
Also, anyone with a huge email/twitter/facebook following…
Note that femalez iz welcome to apply but will not be winnerz
(cuz they iz too stoopid… naw, cuz they all already iz heroz- hi mom!)
Step three: Inform all nominees they are finalists. Because they are all special.
To be named a 36, they must encourage their supporters to vote for them
(and be popular).
Votes are accepted via hosted form, which collects their name, locale,
Announce winners of the cheerleading squad via press release, youtubz
Compile voter list into email database and announce winners via email list
Solicit their financial support, just for shirtz and gigglz
Use the email list for our own purposez: to give all teh kittehz cheezburgerz er- Kosher tofu-parve cheezburgers..!
Muuuuhahahahahaha!!!! I eatz it up. I laffs at u. More »
1. What does the decline of COEJL and the rise of HAZON say about the dynamics in Jewish organizational life? Who is in a position to exploit those dynamics to push for more change at a faster pace, in fields other than the environment?
2. How will the rise of J Street affect the dynamics within JCRC’s, federations, synagogue Israel committees, Hillel and other places where Israel advocacy is a driving force but not the formal heart of the mission? Does anyone have a snapshot of what should or will be different than today?
3. How will the rising acceptance of LGBTQ Jews in the Jewish community mainstream affect the Orthodox/non-Orthodox divide?
4. Is there a chance that money spent on engaging less connected younger Jews will decided upon BY representatives of the target group instead of by older consultants and veteran communal agency staff members?
5. Is the rising generation of new leadership successfully mimicking the norms of the older generations, or demanding change as a condition of future engagement despite the short term consequence of not being promoted?
Here at Jewschool, we’ve been talkingsmack about the “Anti”-Defamation League, and justifiably so. So it’s only fair that we also give them credit when they come out on the good side.
Today, the ADL filed an amicus brief in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the case in which California’s Proposition 8 (prohibiting same-sex marriage) was ruled unconstitutional in federal district court, which has been appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and will be argued on December 6. The ADL’s brief is in support of upholding the lower court’s decision. It focuses on a specific argument that I hadn’t heard before (and I’ve been following the case fairly closely): California currently has marriage exclusively for opposite-sex couples and domestic partnership exclusively for same-sex couples. California citizens in domestic partnerships have to indicate “domestic partner” as their marital status when filling out forms (and can’t mark “married” or “single”), and are therefore required to disclose their sexual orientation in all sorts of irrelevant circumstances, violating their right to privacy. Furthermore, “the segregated system required by Proposition 8 and the disclosure of sexual orientation that results from that system are particularly damaging because gays and lesbians are subject to invidious discrimination and violence based on their homosexuality.”
Kudos to the ADL for standing up against defamation!
I’ll save you the click. The link is to a statement signed by the paper’s editor, Rebecca Kaplan Boroson, saying the following:
We set off a firestorm last week by publishing a same-sex couple’s announcement of their intent to marry. Given the tenor of the times, we did not expect the volume of comments we have received, many of them against our decision to run the announcement, but many supportive as well.
A group of rabbis has reached out to us and conveyed the deep sensitivities within the traditional/Orthodox community to this issue. Our subsequent discussions with representatives from that community have made us aware that publication of the announcement caused pain and consternation, and we apologize for any pain we may have caused.
The Jewish Standard has always striven to draw the community together, rather than drive its many segments apart. We have decided, therefore, since this is such a divisive issue, not to run such announcements in the future.
The views in opinion pieces and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jewish Standard. The comments posted on this Website are solely the opinions of the posters. Libelous or obscene comments will be removed.
This is outrageous on many levels, and I’m sure I don’t need to go into them in detail here. But seriously? The decision is bad enough, but to apologize to “members of the traditional/Orthodox community” for “any pain we may have caused”? (And to implicate the entire “traditional/Orthodox community” in this decision is unfair and damaging to many people in that community as well.)
But if there is a happy ending (or, hopefully, a happy middle) to this story, it’s the inspiring way GLBT Jews and allies sprang into action across the internet today. My Facebook feed was overwhelmed with people posting outraged comments and committing to write to the paper. I posted a message about my outrage on the paper’s Facebook page, and dozens of others followed suit. Disappointed messages have been tweeted at the paper’s Twitter account all day. And although you wouldn’t know it, because no one has been approving comments on the original article’s webpage all day, I know dozens of people have been leaving messages there.
This week our country has finally woken up to the epidemic of gay teen suicide. Don’t be fooled by the media into thinking there’s been a sudden uptick in queer kids killing themselves — this has been going on for far too long. But for whatever reason, now people are starting to notice.
Here’s my video, Jewschool. If you’re making one, please share a link in the comments. And if you’re a queer kid out there who feels alone, maybe Jewschool can be the start of a new community for you. Start making it so by leaving a message in the comments to this post.
NEWS ITEM: In a special news report published online by the NEW YORK JEWISH WEEK, a woman was designated by Rabbi Avraham Weiss to lead Kabbalat Shabbat services on Friday night, July 30, for the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, an Orthodox Union synagogue.
The article goes on to say
In the past year, there has unfolded within American Modern Orthodox Judaism the first major evidences of a pending theological schism, as a small but media-savvy minority of rabbinic activists from the YCT/ IRF camp have begun pushing the MO envelope farther to the Left than mainstream Modern Orthodoxy ever contemplated. At the center of the impending schism is Rabbi Avi Weiss. He is charismatic and dynamic, rabbi of a shul with a large membership where he can introduce any innovation he desires, and he has a rabbinical seminary and rabbinical association in place to give his agenda the aura of a legitimate “movement.” Although Young Israel synagogues do not readily accept YCT graduates as congregational rabbis and the 900-member RCA does not regard YCT ordination as carrying the legitimacy of a RIETS Semikha, Rabbi Weiss has decided that he no longer needs communal approbation to venture on his own because he has the minions. More »
Around the country, yesterday, many cheered and many booed as Chief US District Judge Vaughn Walker declared Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, as unconstitutional and in contradiction of the due process clause.
While a seeming majority of US Jews are clearly supportive of overturning the ballot proposition, known in many circles in California as “Prop H8,” the Orthodox Union made this bizarre statement, according to the JTA:
“In addition to our religious values — which we do not seek to impose on anyone — we fear legal recognition of same-sex ‘marriage’ poses a grave threat to the fundamental civil right of religious freedom.
“Forcing a choice between faith and the law benefits no one,” it added, concluding that the OU looked forward to the appeals process.
In what world does the OU live? Apparently one where they will be forced by US law to officiate at same-sex marriages? Yes, that’s right, here in America practices and beliefs are forced upon religious organizations all the time. That’s why every synagogue has to have a nativity scene or a giant set of Ten Commandment plaques…
The full statement, which can be read here, goes on to say:
Already, in states with same-sex civil unions and similar laws, religious institutions, including churches, social service providers and youth groups have been penalized by authorities for their beliefs. Forcing a choice between faith and the law benefits no one.
We look forward to the appeals process which will bring these critical issues to America’s highest courts.
Oh! Now I get it! They are against being told what to do or believe because it impedes the religious freedoms of a sliver of a tiny minority population in the US (which I really don’t understand how their freedoms are impeded at all)… What they are NOT against is taking away the constitutional rights of at least 10% of the US population who have been relegated to second-class citizen status and forced to stand by as the sacred institution of marriage is maintained for adulterers and wife-beaters… Good ol’ fashioned sense and reasoning from the OU.
Check out this interesting Statement of Principles, written and edited by leaders in the Modern Orthodox community:
For the last six months a number of Orthodox rabbis and educators have been preparing a statement of principles on the place of our brothers and sisters in our community who have a homosexual orientation.
The original draft was prepared by Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot. It was then commented upon by and revised based on the input from dozens of talmidei chachamim, educators, communal rabbis, mental health professionals and a number of individuals in our community who are homosexual in orientation.
Significant revisions were made based upon the input of Rabbi Aryeh Klapper and Rabbi Yitzchak Blau who were intimately involved in the process of editing and improving the document during the last three months.
The statement below is a consensus document arrived at after hundreds of hours of discussion,debate and editing. At the bottom, is the initial cohort of signators.
We, the undersigned Orthodox rabbis, rashei yeshiva, ramim, Jewish educators and communal leaders affirm the following principles with regard to the place of Jews with a homosexual orientation in our community:
1. All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (kevod haberiyot). Every Jew is obligated to fulfill the entire range of mitzvot between person and person in relation to persons who are homosexual or have feelings of same sex attraction. Embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism. More »
Last week, Lynn Schusterman, chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, wrote an op-ed, “Embrace LGBT Jews as vital members of the community“, calling on Jewish organizations to enact non-discrimination hiring policies that specifically mention sexual orientation, and called on funders to make their support contingent on the adoption and practice of such policies.
Adopting formal non-discrimination policies — and ensuring their implementation — will help us achieve two goals: 1, they will indicate to LGBT individuals that the Jewish community is committed to full LGBT inclusion; and 2, they will guarantee that our institutions are walking the talk when it comes to being welcoming and diverse.
This week, Nathan Diament, director of the Institute for Public Affairs of the Orthodox Union, wrote a response, “Don’t exclude in the name of inclusion“, arguing that the religious values of Orthodox organizations require them to practice discriminatory hiring based on sexual orientation. Therefore, Schusterman’s suggestion, if fully enacted, would result in a severe reduction of funding to Orthodox institutions.