What do we all have in common? We all live - and balance - complex and nuanced identities, that, when braided together, make us wholly ourselves - and “Wholly Jewish.” Join April Baskin, the Union for Reform Judaism’s former vice president for audacious hospitality, as she speaks with Jews of Color who share their experiences, insights, and how their identities enrich and create a more vibrant Jewish community.
Noa: The Beauty of Taking Up Space
On the season finale of Wholly Jewish season 2, we are joined by NYU student and college organizer Noa Baron (they/them)! Noa shares the personal and Jewish and significance of their name (and their Jewish name-changing ceremony), the importance of deep listening to the queer community, their aspirations as a trans Jewish leader, and the beauty LGBTQ+ Jews bring to the Jewish community. “I think I’ve been able to shed a real sense of fear…and in this, I’ve been more myself in all the ways that I can be,” Noa says. “I want to tell people like me that there is space for us…in Judaism and in the world and that someone like me who lives in this weird in-between space of gender has…the right to exist and the right to take up space.”
Denis: Coming Out and Showing Up
For LGBTQ+ Jews, coming out stories differ from person to person, and the story of Denis Victorovich Kurmanov (he/him) is no exception. This week, Denis shares his experience immigrating from Moldova at a young age, the pressure he faced to present as straight, how Judaism strengthened him to come out as gay and work as at organizer in his Jewish community, and even a few samples of his poetry. “It was a very slow process of [realizing that]…if God is love, then why should I not have it [too]?” Denis says. “It was a slow coming out. But…it was with full vengeance…and there was no going back. I'd done it all. I'm never going back here. I am!” (Recorded fall 2019)
Dara: From Parliament to the Bimah
Jewish innovation thrives on different perspectives, and it’s so vital that queer Jewish leaders be empowered to share their own. This week, Rabbi Dara Lithwick shares her experience wrestling both with God and coming out as a lesbian. She talks about her work with the Canadian Council for Reform Judaism and the Canadian Parliament, and embracing Torah through a lens of intersectionality. “When you bring different eyes and a different experience…to the study of Torah…it enables our tradition to stay alive and to stay relevant,” says Rabbi Lithwick. “[I bring] all of myself…as a queer woman, as a mom, as a lawyer, as a Canadian…into my read of Torah…And it's a really exciting time…to be a part of all of this.”
J: Breaking Down the Gates of Queer Judaism
Being queer and Jewish means something different to everyone, and those differences deserve to be celebrated. This week, J Collins (they/them) talks about being a Jewish storyteller and teacher; their connection, as a Jew-by-choice, to Rabbi Akiva’s teachings;, repairing the world in an oppressive political climate; and the dangers of “gatekeeping” in queer and Jewish spaces.
“[I]n the transgender community, you're often hit with [the question] of, ‘Am I trans enough?,’…And I've been recognizing some of this in the Jewish community as well: ‘Am I Jewish enough?’” they explain. “[But] whether you call me Jewish or not doesn't matter. I am who I am, and you can't take that away from me.”
Laura: Creating Peace Out of Wholeness
With so much turmoil and uncertainty happening around us, finding wholeness – with oneself and one’s community – is especially important. This week’s guest, Cantor Laura Stein, shares her perspectives on how we can best care for those around us, the (lack of) tension between being Jewish and being a lesbian, and how her spiritual leadership inspires her social work at Mount Sinai Hospital's Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery. “I see…my work with the patients as trying to bring wholeness to their lives,” she says. “And for my patients in particular [to] look in the mirror and see who [they] are in a way that reflects who [they] truly are…spiritual pursuit is about [making] the world more whole. I really see that as beginning with these individuals.”
Max Antman: The Queerness and Politics of Torah
How can we embrace Judaism from not only a queer perspective, but also a “political” one? Max Antman (he/him), a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, discusses how being a gay man influences his reading of Torah, how his Reform synagogue empowered his gay identity, and the sacred relationship between activism and studying Jewish text. “Judaism is inherently very intertwined with politics,” he says. “[I want] to push the Jewish community forward and…rally behind these issues of equity, justice, diversity, inclusion…I want to be out and talking to people and integrating them into the Jewish community and pushing for progress in our world.”
I can empathize
As a Jew by choice and of color, it’s great to hear the stories of those with their Jewish and-and’s. Sometimes one can feel isolated even in the most welcoming communities when you’re the only one that’s not like the others...but now I see there is in fact a much wider community than meets the eye. Great listening!
An engaging, human perspective on the modern Jewish experience
As someone converting to Judaism I sometimes feel like an outsider. This podcast really helps me identify with and feel more comfortable among the Jewish community. It’s both enlightening and inspiring. Truly my favorite podcast.