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Queer Jews and
Found Tribe: Jewish Coming Out Stories

By Jesse Monteagudo
The Book Nook

Queer Jews, edited by David Shneer and Caryn Aviv; Routledge; 292 pages; $19.95.

Found Tribe: Jewish Coming Out Stories , edited by Lawrence Schimel; Sherman Asher Publishing; 208 pages; $15.95.

The status of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Jews within the larger Jewish communities has changed tremendously since the publication of Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology in 1982 or Twice Blessed: On Being Lesbian, Gay, and Jewish in 1989.

The first major religion to condemn male homosexual acts as "abominations" worthy of death is now "arguably the most welcoming of gays and lesbians."

The Reform and Reconstructionist - and to some extent the Conservative - movements have grown to accept the queers in their midst. Most Jewish communities in North America, Europe and Israel now contain organizations with a special outreach to the "Jews of the rainbow".

My own South Florida community has a GLBT-outreach synagogue (Congregation Etz Chaim), a lesbian Sisterhood affiliated with that synagogue, a GLBT havurot within a "mainstream" synagogue (Temple Israel), a Jewish AIDS Network and a group serving seniors. GLBT Jews are also active in other congregations, the Jewish Federation, Jewish community centers, Jewish publications and the American Red Mogen David for Israel.

Obviously, we have come a long way. But at the same time, GLBT Jews still have ways to go before we achieve full equality. Jewish kids still have to struggle with their sexuality; lesbian and gay rabbis are still limited in their career choices; and same-sex Jewish couples face many obstacles when we try to get married, have or adopt children.

Queer Jews, the first major collection of writings by GLBT Jews since Twice Blessed, deals with the joys and oys of being a queer Jew in the years 5763/2002. "This anthology," editors David Shneer and Caryn Aviv tell us, "explores the changes and challenges wrought by queers active in North American and Israeli Jewish communities.

How are we transforming culture from the outside in, and from the inside out? What have been the experiences of individual queer Jews who are re-creating our communities and culture to make room for ourselves?

How have queer Jews altered the character of established Jewish organizations? What are the stories, struggles, and triumphs of queer Jews seeking to make Jewish communities more inclusive and to create new forms of Jewish life? What remains to be done, and how do queer Jews envision change for a better future?"

Much of this change came about through the rise of a "post-Stonewall generation" of openly GLBT Jews "who have come of age in a visible, empowered, unapologetically queer culture." To many of them, the existence of separate queer-and-Jewish organizations is not enough; they want to change Jewish communities and institutions from within. An essay that illustrates this generation gap is "Without Standing Down: The First Queer Jewish Street Protest" by Jonathan Krasner.

The story of a GLBT protest against the 1993 Salute to Israel Parade in New York City - from which queers were excluded - Krasner's essay also deals with the ongoing differences between New York's GLBT synagogue, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (CBST), and Jewish Young Gays and Lesbians (JYGL), which organized the protest: "a conflict between an older separatist institution and a younger group of integrationist upstarts." This is a conflict that other Jewish communities are just now beginning to experience.

Unlike its predecessors, Queer Jews recognizes the many colors of the Jewish rainbow. As Twice Blessed editors Avi Rose and Christy Balka admit, in a new essay that they wrote for this anthology, "we fell short of full inclusion. Reflecting our own historical era, we did not explicitly include the experiences of bisexual Jews and did not recognize the experiences of self-identified transgendered Jews." The editors of Queer Jews make no such mistake.

Some of the most thought-provoking essays in this book deal with the lives of bisexual or transgendered Jews. Jill Nagle's provocative piece, "Queer Naked Seder and Other Newish Jewish Traditions" is the story of the author's experiences as both a Jew and a polyamorous bisexual, of which the Queer Naked Seders are but a small part.

Essays by Jaron Kanegson, TJ Michels and Ali Cannon deal with the reality of being "nontraditionally gendered", whether in Hebrew School or at the sexually-segregated Western Wall.

Editor Lawrence Schimel One of the most interesting essays in Queer Jews is "A Gay Orthodox Rabbi", by Steve Greenberg. Rabbi Greenberg, one of the subjects of the documentary film Trembling Before G-d, also contributed to Found Tribe: Jewish Coming Out Stories. Lawrence Schimel, a prolific author of gay, Jewish and other subjects, is also the editor of Kosher Meat, a groundbreaking anthology of gayrotic stories with a Jewish bent.

In Found Tribe, Schimel and other gay Jewish men relate, in very personal terms, what it's like to be both a gay man and a Jew. [Full Disclosure: I am one of the 17 gay Jewish men whose "Jewish coming out stories" appear in Found Tribe.]

Celebrated authors like David Bergman, Andrew Ramer and Lev Raphael share a book with Julian Padilla, who at the tender age of 15 came out publicly as gay and converted to Judaism. Now that's what I call chutzpah.

Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance writer and book lover who lives with his significant other in South Florida. He can be reached at jessemonteagudo@aol.com.

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