There Are No Queer Chassidic Jews; Or, Why Shterna Goldbloom Is Photographing Them

g_chani“I want to show that there are so many ways to be a person,” says artist Shterna Goldbloom about her photography, which centers queer Jewish identities and challenges notions of what it means to be either and both. Goldbloom’s photographs, many of them self-portraits, as in her series Sitra Achra (“other side”), explore Jewish queerness with a double consciousness that reveals her history. Raised in Chicago’s Hasidic community, Goldbloom left that world at age sixteen, after her parents divorced and her mother came out as queer. “I was such a good student, everybody thought I would marry a rabbi. And I thought that too,” says Goldbloom about life before her family’s ostracization by their close-knit community.

Now, as a queer-identified Jewish woman who lives outside the bounds of the ultra-Orthodox world, Goldbloom makes intensely personal art that asks the age-old Jewish question: How do we exist in exile? Disconnected from the community through which we learned ritual, tradition, and meaning, how do we experience spirituality and connectedness? When one’s identity implies the rejection of certain aspects of Orthodox life, how can we keep what speaks to us, even if those pieces do not seamlessly fit into our new lives? How can queer Jews do Judaism without throwing away the entire rule book?