edited by David Shneer and Caryn Aviv, Routledge, $19.95
Queer Jews welcomes us into the worlds and the lives of Jews who identify as queer: lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender. These twenty-one essays—by Hebrew school teachers, principals, rabbis, Jews in the pews and those who define themselves as secular—challenge readers to wrestle not only with sexual diversity, but also with gender identity.
Jewish culture and behavior are often assumed to be based on a rigid binary division of men and women. So proposing a spectrum of gender identification can be deeply unsettling, if not profoundly threatening. This provocative collection asks: how does the development of a vibrant queer Jewish culture strengthen, challenge and transform mainstream Jewish culture? How can queer Jews be authentic and visible while participating fully in the Jewish worlds we are transforming?
In “Whose side are you on? Transgender at the Western Wall,” TJ Michels and All Cannon share their painful attempts to join other spiritual seekers at this site that has become a potent symbol for the tragic consequences of parochial interpretations of Jewish history and texts. Michels’ and Cannon’s words illustrate the tension that Joanne Cohen articulates in her essay, “Remembering the Stranger”: “To affirm proud queer and Jewish marginal identities in an historical and cultural context of genocide, anti-Semitism, homophobia and anti-religious secularism requires that we repeatedly deal with internal and external moments of conflict, oppression, doubt, resistance, and self-loathing.”
Queer Jews points the way to future studies. Maria Brettschneider’s excellent essay on the challenges of lesbian adoption could set the tone and direction of further work on the creation and nurturing of queer Jewish families; editor David Shneer’s essay “Queering the Curriculum” raises questions that should concern all Jewish educators. The contributors to this bold collection write with clarity, a healthy measure of chutzpah, and hope that their words will establish a permanent place of recognition and honor for the thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning Jews who gather at family and communal tables across our Jewish world.
Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell serves as the Director of the UAHC Pennsylvania Council. With Rebecca Alpert and Shirley Idelson. She edited Lesbian Rabbis: The First Generation (Rutgers University Press).