Two LGBTQ Jewish organizations partnered this Chanukah to create an event focusing on light, leadership and love in their communities after a year full of darkness.
Philadelphia’s Tribe 12 and JQT Vancouver celebrated the Festival of Lights with “Hanukkah Hotties,” a virtual celebration with guests who are “lighting up their respective parts of the world by queering Jewish space and Jewifying queer space,” according to the organizers.
Each night featured candle lighting prayers and interviews with LGBTQ Jewish community leaders and artists in the United States, Canada and Germany.
Canadian Indigenous Jewish photographer Kali Spitzer was scheduled to kick off the celebrations for the first night with an interview about how her heritage and identity impacts her artwork, but she had to cancel due to a death in her family. Host Carmel Tanaka, founder and executive director of JQT, shared a poem from “In Honor of our Grandmothers,” a collaboration of Indigenous and Jewish poets, to honor Spitzer’s loss.
Davinica Nemtzow, diversity, equity and inclusion associate at Tribe 12, filled in for a discussion with Tanaka about the importance of Chanukah traditions and the strong bonds shared by international queer Jewish communities.
“That’s been one of the silver linings of COVID, being able to connect with other organizations and people who are doing similar work, and being able to join forces and support one another,” Tanaka said.
Night two featured New York-based performance artist Stuart B. Meyers, who is touring “The Shabbos Queen,” his Shabbat-based performance focusing on self-love and love of community. Meyers, who grew up in South Jersey, stars as the character of Yenta.
He talked with Tanaka about his relationship with spirituality, his visit to the mindfulness-oriented Romemu Yeshiva and his study of the Kabbalah, especially his work studying healing through dreams.
“Reading dreams is reading Torah” he said.
Nemtzow made another appearance on night three, along with Galia Godel, LGBTQ Initiative program manager for Jewish Family and Children’s Service, to talk about their recent wins working with the LGBTQ Jewish community in Philadelphia.
Godel, who works as a Jewish educator, a sex educator and leader of J.Proud, said she was happy to see so many of the organizations she works with taking initiative to make their spaces more welcoming.
“One of the real wins, for Greater Philly and for me, is that I have to do so little convincing,” she said. “It is so much more frequent that a rabbi or synagogue president will reach out to me and say, ‘Hey, we’re enthusiastic about doing this, we just don’t know what the right next step is.’”
Nemtzow talked about how momentous it felt to be able to bring her vision of community building to others. She said she was especially excited about providing a safe, inclusive alternative to LGBTQ spaces like nightclubs, which can be heavily sexualized and oriented around substance use.
Tribe12 Assistant Director and matchmaker Danielle Selber joined Chicago-based LGBTQ matchmaker Kara Laricks on night four for a conversation about their methods for arranging matches for queer Jewish singles, using Tanaka as a model.
“I like to ask everybody some very basic — or for some people they’re basic — questions about gender identity and how you date and what you’re looking for,” Selber said. “But one of the questions I ask that kind of gives everyone pause is ‘Do you experience sexual attraction? And if so, to whom?’”
Laricks talked about the importance of discussing non-negotiable priorities early on in the dating process, whether it’s a cat allergy or dietary preferences.
“This is the beauty of matchmaking, being able to have these conversations and learn the nuances,” she said.
Selber also noted that interest in matchmaking has exploded during the pandemic, since people can’t meet in person and realize they need support in their dating lives.
Arya Marvazy, managing director of JQ International in Los Angeles, joined to light the fifth candle. David Studniberg, founding member of Keshet Germany and curator of Jewish Museum Berlin, and non-binary Russian-Jewish poet Angelica Poversky lit the sixth. Nate Looney, manager of racial justice initiatives at Avodah, joined for the seventh and tarot reader Azra Silverstein joined for the eighth.
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