Many years ago, my brother Murray gave me a beautiful pewter paperweight with the words “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” etched into the top. It sits on my desk, encouraging me every day to go for it, whatever the “it” might be. I pick it up and hold it in my hand, and rub the letters on its smooth surface, searching for clarity about what I might be afraid of on any given day, and then I try to let go of that fear, and imagine that I just might succeed.
So, OK, SVARA-niks, here’s my question to you: “What kind of Option 3 Judaism would you attempt to create if you knew you could not fail?”
And I’m asking you this question because I think that our chances of actually succeeding at creating a fabulous, liberatory, deeply and foundationally queer Judaism are actually very, very good. In fact, to paraphrase William Gibson (yet again), “The queer Jewish future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.”
Why am I saying all this davka/precisely today? Because I just read an article that’s blowing my mind. It came out a couple of days ago in PublicSource, a nonprofit news organization out of Pittsburgh. I want you to read it, and read it carefully, with your crash theory hat on, focusing specifically on the crumble-before-the-crash part.
Remember the crumble-before-the-crash? That’s that period of time during which the queerest folk have caught on that our grand narrative is crashing—before most everybody else has. This is the time when different marginalized folks gather in small communities in alternative spaces, and begin learning the old tradition and reinterpreting it; where we start developing, trying out, and refining new traditions and practices; and upgrading or modifying ancient ones. At a certain point, it is this set of still-incubating-Option 3’s that is going to “circle around the board” and proliferate into that multiplicity of freestanding, early proto-Option 3’s when the crash actually begins for everybody else. And when the proto-Option 3’s of these small, formerly marginalized communities from the “crumble” begin to coalesce into a coherent ecosystem and be perceived as “the main show” by others on the map—those in Option 1 or those hanging out in Option 2—the crash has begun in earnest and Option 3 has “tipped.”
And no, I’m not asking you to read it because our very own Olivia is in it (whoop-whoop!!) talking about SVARA (yay!!)—as wonderful as those things are. The meta-message of the piece is much bigger than that.
So go ahead and read it now and see what jumps out for you…
Here are some of the things that jumped out at me as diagnostic of this milestone moment:
- Look at the headline: “Pittsburgh Judaism is undergoing a renaissance. Young queer Jews are leading it.” First of all, look at what it’s not saying: “LGBTQ Jews Find a Place in Pittsburgh Jewish Community.” It’s saying: Queer Jews are leading the Jewish renaissance, for everybody. That’s big! And no, it’s not that it’s surprising; of course we know this. This is how we talk to each other, about each other. What’s new is that this is now other people—the mainstream (albeit progressive) press–talking about us this way. They get it. Tip!
- The article frames what all these queer and trans folk are doing as “Queer Judaism.” It’s not talking about the “poor gay people” who want to be accepted into the [old] Judaism. It’s talking about what queer and trans folk are contributing to a new Judaism, how we’re making it better, not that we’re begging to be included in a Judaism that’s just fine as it is. And thinking about this term, “Queer Judaism”? Remember: You know what we eventually came to call “Rabbinic Judaism”? We call it “Judaism”!
- Look at the language in the article: “Queer Jewish traditions,” “Queer Jewish lineages”! This isn’t “Doors are opening to LGBTQ Jews.” This is a story about us, not only creating our own spaces, but influencing the tradition itself in profound and ancient-new ways. And the author overwhelmingly uses the term “queer,” not “LGBT.” I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had stories written about us where we explain why we use the term queer and not LGBT about ourselves and our project and then, there it is: “LGBT Yeshiva” blah blah blah. For some newspapers, their editorial policies and style sheets still don’t even allow them to use the term “queer.”
This article is clearly not just talking about the Queer Jewish rockstars in Pittsburgh (and you are rockstars and we love y’all soooo much!). This article is talking about the Queer Jewish Renaissance more broadly and is framing it as the Jewish Renaissance. This author listened, and got it.
And you know that Queer and Trans Jews in dozens of other cities are already growing the very same micro (and not so micro!) Queer Jewish communities, and creating Queer Jewish traditions and practices and lineages, and leading the same renaissance(s). You and I both know this because those revolutionary Queer and Trans Jews are you. And tomorrow the headline will read:
Minneapolis/St. Paul Judaism is undergoing a renaissance. Young queer Jews are leading it.”
Seattle Judaism is undergoing a renaissance. Young queer Jews are leading it.
Chicago Judaism is undergoing a renaissance. Young queer Jews are leading it.
Baltimore Judaism is undergoing a renaissance. Young queer Jews are leading it.
Canadian Judaism is undergoing a renaissance. Young queer Jews are leading it.
UK Judaism is undergoing a renaissance. Young queer Jews are leading it.
__________your city________________ Judaism is undergoing a renaissance. Young queer Jews are leading it.
And then the Queer Jewish Future will become more and more equally distributed. And then they’ll all start calling it Queer Judaism.
And then they’ll just call it Judaism.
So, my beloved SVARA-niks, “What kind of Option 3 Judaism would you attempt to create if you knew you could not fail?”
As you lean into the spaciousness of possibility, may the successes of this queer renaissance carry your svara, your hearts, and your imagination toward a limitless, liberatory future!