Tag Archives: Queer

Hannah Senesh, Golda Meir, and now Kate Bornstein

By Bonnie Rosenbaum

My introduction to Jewish heroes can be traced back to one amazing Barbie doll.

It was 1986, I was in 7th grade, and my Sunday school class at Temple Sinai had started a unit on “Great Jews.” Carrie Horrowitz marched to the front of the classroom, launched the blond statuette into the air, and began her oral report: “Hannah Senesh was a brave woman who parachuted into Yugoslavia to save the Jews during the Holocaust.”

Barbie quickly crashed to the floor and my classmates and I tried to stifle our laughs. Thus began our lesson on Jewish heroes.

As a 12-year-old girl who spent her lunch hour playing football with the boys, Hannah defined awesomeness through her parachute alone. Only years later did I learn the full story of her life, her poetry, her defiance.

When it came time for my presentation, my friend and I staged an interview between a journalist and Golda Meir, the fourth Prime Minister of Israel and the world’s third female to hold this title. Another kick-ass woman who flaunted gender roles and came out ahead. Prime Minister David Ben Gurion even called her “the best man in his cabinet.” Golda soared to the top of my personal list of Jewish heroes. (I wish I could say that I played Golda, but I was too shy. Plus my friend’s father was a real Israeli, so I reasoned that she had a more legitimate claim to the star role.)

The other Great Jew who made a mark on my consciousness was Sandy Koufax, the award-winning pitcher for the Dodgers who refused to play the first game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur. Even then, I understood the public nature of his private decision and joined his legion of admirers.

Now, in June 2011 LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) Pride Month, I’m marveling at a new roster of Jewish heroes recognized by many and selected by our staff at Keshet to inspire a new generation of 7th graders. We took three LGBT Jewish changemakers who transformed our world—Harvey Milk, Kate Bornstein, and Lesléa Newman—and put their beautiful faces on bold, modern, 18×24 posters for the LGBT Jewish Heroes Poster series. We celebrate their amazing accomplishments and their dual identity as Jews and queer people. And being 2011, we also created a small website to showcase them.

I’m working up the courage to call the rabbi at my old synagogue to ask him to buy these posters for the Hebrew and Sunday school classrooms. Hang them up for the cool athlete who never mentions his uncle has a boyfriend, for the quiet girl who doesn’t feel right in her own body, and for their classmate who is worried what it will be like when both her moms are called to the bima for her bat mitzvah. Hang them up for the teacher who shows up to services with a handsome friend he calls his roommate. And hang them up because we know all too well the feeling of being outsiders, strangers, and a people who need visible role models.

Our deepest hope is that these LGBT Jews find their rightful place alongside Hannah Senesh, Golda Meir, and Sandy Koufax in classrooms, synagogues, Jewish Community Centers, camps, Federations, Hillels, and Jewish organizations everywhere—as educational tools to spark conversation, dialogue, learning, and reflection.

And pride.

Bonnie Rosenbaum is the Deputy Director of Communications and Planning for Keshet

De-constructing a City of Queer Borders

By Lily Hoffman Simon

If you were to ask someone to picture the queer community in Israel, it is a fair bet to say that they would picture the group as homogenous, fixed, marginalized.  The term queer itself, initially a derogatory label for homosexuals, was reclaimed as an all-encompassing umbrella term for anyone who defines themselves as having an “alternative” sexual expression, emphasizing the uniform oppression of queers. What happened to the complexities of that oppression, and of those identities? What about the places/spaces that encourage these complexities?

Enter City Of Borders, a new documentary following the lives of queer Israelis and Palestinians.  The directorial debut of Yun Suh, a Korean American filmmaker who gained interest in Israel/Palestine while working as a broadcaster and reporter in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Israel, the film demonstrates exactly what is lacking in most of the queer Israeli discourse: Complexity and heterogeneity.

Take Adam, for example. Adam is a secular Israeli settler in the West Bank, where he lives with his partner. Yet, he is a leading activist in the gay rights community. A gay rights activist and a settler? This union of traditionally leftist and rightist values superficially seems like a contradiction.  Yet the movie advocates for this complexity, and encourages the viewer to stop looking at Israel as either gay or straight, right or left, and start looking at the complex issues and tensions apparent in individuals’ identities. Isn’t that what the term queer is all about anyways?

City of Borders centres around Shushan, a gay bar in Jerusalem (that has since closed), where a significant chunk of the queer community congregates. This hotspot serves as a uniting force within the otherwise divided Israeli queer community. Where else can a Jewish settler converse, and maybe even make out with, a Palestinian drag queen from Ramallah? At this bar, people do not have to fear oppression; it provides a safe haven for all kinds of sexual expression in the midst of Israeli oppression, especially in a religious and conservative Jerusalem. It also provides a space for identity free from political connotations, where a Palestinian-Israeli and Jewish Israeli lesbian couple can hold hands without fear of judgement.  At this bar, coexistence trumps politics.

Outside the bar, however, the seemingly ideal relationships have to contend with a difficult political reality. The bi-racial lesbian couple, Samira (a Palestinian-Israeli woman) and Ravit (a Jewish-Israeli woman), seem so in love, while at the same time rebellious in their “stick it to the man” attitude towards everyone who questions the validity of their relationship. So it comes as a surprise in the context of their relationship, yet not in the context of the usual perceptions of Israel, that at the beginning of their relationship, Samir lost sight of her love for partner Ravit, and instinctively realized herself as “fucking the occupation.” By exemplifying even the hardest politics in the most intimate moments, the movie refuses to let the viewer accept identity, or queer/political discussions, as static.

So the queer community in Israel is rampant with complex identities and internal tensions, but so what? City of Borders is doing something radical, by demonstrating the heterogeneous nature of the Israeli homosexual community, which is an alternative to most presentations. Within the bar, these differences don’t matter, but in greater Israel, these tensions still play a significant role in people’s lives. By extension, the movie is advocating for a complex view of Israeli society and identity. This breaks down the simplified, so often dichotomized, discussion surrounding queer rights, and even surrounding Israel/Palestine.