Over a hundred Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Trans (GLBT) Jews spanning lines of age, gender, race, and spiritual practice, along with our partners, friends, and allies, came together for the last night of Hanukkah for GIMMEL: A Queer Hanukkah party at the Lexington Club in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood. Nehirim, a national organization focused on GLBT Jewish Culture and Spirituality, presented GIMMEL with the co-sponsorship support of the LGBT Alliance, Jewish Mosaic, the National Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity, and Congregation Sha’ar Zahav. GIMMEL featured Portland’s Queer Jewess DJ, Jodi Bon Jodi, catering by Dana Rosenberg, and the premier of Amelia Prather-Nahaman’s egg cream cart. That is a first brush look at GIMMEL.
Underneath the surface, GIMMEL enforced the notion of “If you build it, they will come.” Hungry for Jewish culture and community in a shifting, secularized world, and often disenfranchised with the “organized” component of religion, many Jewish urbanites are, indeed, left wandering in search of their place–and this is all the more true for GLBT queer Jews, who, by default, have often been told that we do not belong, or, frankly, that we must chose: Gay, or Jewish. And, for a while, many of us GLBT Jews believed this dichotomy.
Truly, we Jews are familiar with dichotomies: religious, or secular, shul, or the bar, Hillel, or Shammai, Roth, or Steinem, Palm Springs, or Florida…but I am beginning to see a real act of revolution from GLBT Jews. Even while battling issues of fundamental human rights and equality, we queer Jews are still refusing to enforce the dichotomy of either having a place, or being in exile. Instead, we are choosing to celebrate our cultures. And this year, on the last night of Hanukkah, the GLBT Bay Area Jewish Community celebrated by eating hundreds of seriously thick latkes, homemade sufganiot, having a few drinks, and dancing all night.
As I looked around the Lexington Club on Friday night, San Francisco’s long-term and only remaining women’s bar, I had to marvel at our diversity, and at our tenacity. As GLBT Jews and others streamed into the bar to celebrate Hanukkah together, I saw Jewish professionals, lay leaders, and Nehirim attendees–but I also watched a new guest list unfold: Jewish women coming to the Lex for a regular night out, delighted to stumble upon the only Hanukkah celebration they’d be having; straight Jewish men accompanying their queer Jewish brothers; people whom had never heard of Nehirim, or Federation, but had read about GIMMEL; and queer Jews whom I had never met, despite being an organizer in both GLBT and Jewish communities. When I looked up from my own egg cream to see a group of Orthodox men in tzit-tzit casually chatting outside the local dyke bar, I knew the spirit of GIMMEL had arrived.
Truly, creating space is often held in the radical act of showing up, and I know this as a person committed to queer advocacy. But the other part is wanting to show up, and wanting to break down dichotomies. So it didn’t matter, on Friday night, that our event was at a women’s bar–the men showed up. And though our event was tagged for GLBT Jews the straight people showed up. People of other faiths showed up. And though our event fell on a Friday, religious Jews, GLBT and otherwise, simply walked over after services. And even though there were so many of us that it was hard to dance, we found a way.
As the producer and creator of the event, I named it “GIMMEL”–as in, the Hebrew letter. As in the game of Dreidl, and winning all. And if at first glance GIMMEL was just another Hanukkah party, GIMMEL actually was a celebration of finding a way–that we queer Jews are actively fusing dichotomies. Eating latkes, and sufganiot, and celebrating just like every other Jew–but doing it our way: queer culture, Jewish culture, religious, secular, men, women, transfolks, and others. With the spirit of GIMMEL, we really do get the applesauce and the sour cream. And we get to remember that Hanukkah is about dedication, and to keep dedicating ourselves to creating our own unique GLBT, Jewish communities. And in this way, we really do experience miracles of faith.
Lastly, I want to give thanks to Lisa Finkelstein, as well as our sponsors the LGBT Alliance of the Jewish Community Federation, Jewish Mosaic and Congregation Sha’ar Zahav. Celebrating in community, and receiving shared dedication by community, makes all the difference.
Thanks to all who attended, and to all who keep showing up.
-Sasha T. Goldberg, LGBT Alliance Guest Blogger & Assistant Director of Nehirim: GLBT Jewish Culture and Spirituality
See all the pictures in the GIMMEL photo album
Sasha T. Goldberg is the Assistant Director of Nehirim: GLBT Jewish Culture and Spirituality. Before joining Nehirim in 2007, she taught in Religious Schools, led Jewish teen retreats, and has a long history of queer advocacy and social justice work. Sasha holds an MA in Judaism from the Graduate Theological Union, and currently serves as President of the Board of Directors for NUJLS, The National Union of Jewish LGBTQQI Students, as well as the Programming Chair for Butch Voices 2011. Sasha happily makes her home in Oakland, California.
On the tails of GIMMEL, please consider joining Nehirim for a trip to the Jewish Contemporary Museum on Sunday, March 7, to see Jews on Vinyl: And You Shall Know Us by the Trail of Our Vinyl to keep our community spirit alive, well, and culturally engaged! For more information on GIMMEL, the museum trip, or other inquiries, contact Sasha T. Goldberg at STG@Nehirim.org.