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As a little girl growing up on the outskirts of Durham, North Carolina, multidisciplinary artist Rachel Rader loved hearing—and eventually reading—all kinds of stories. She was especially fascinated by biblical narratives—she found the details of the flood myth and Noah’s creation of an ark particularly compelling.  By the time she enrolled in Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in 2002, the Material Studies major decided to minor in Comparative Religion.

“I grew up going to a Conservative temple and always wondered what it meant that some people took biblical stories literally,” she begins. “Lately, I’ve been researching how myths repeat around the world, how they’re interpreted and presented by different cultures and religions,  how they align and differ. That’s the inspiration behind my current effort, Ancient Truth Investigators, an ongoing, multi-dimensional art project that incorporates performance, sculpture, jewelry, and other materials.”

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Here we are, in the grip of another Wedding Season. Perhaps you’re a perpetual bridesmaid, or the one getting married, or you’re not particularly into marriage as a life choice for yourself.

Maybe you’re going to a wedding every weekend until the end of time (or Labor Day). As we descend further into the madness of tulle, plus-ones, and open bars, let’s review some things you’re basically guaranteed to find at Jewish weddings: aggressive dancing (ask me about incurring my stiletto related injury), which usually involves the couple being hoisted into the air on chairs while they pretend not to be afraid of falling, people shouting “Mazel Tov!,” and of course, a rabbi.

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Reaching across the aisle – Cyndy Wyatt (left) and Dorene Alama discovered they
both attended the same Catholic school in upstate New York. Cyndy, now living in
Stowe, Vt., converted to Judaism. Dorene, in Charlotte, N.C., converted to Islam.
Photo credit: Amy Stone

Back in April, busload of white and brown Jewish and Muslim women, some in hijab, headed south along the civil rights trail from Georgia to Alabama to Tennessee. What could go wrong?

We’re riding with Brenda, a third-generation female bus driver from Asheville, North Carolina, and Todd, our African-American civil rights expert. We’re a world away from the 1961 Freedom Riders aboard Greyhound buses attacked by violent mobs for attempting to integrate southern bus terminals. But this is also far from a Disneyland outing. We’re in the Trump era of hate with his Muslim ban and war on immigrants.

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Told from the point-of-view of Marta Eisenstein Lane on the occasion of her 80th birthday, Carol Zoref’s novel Barren Island is the story of a long-forgotten factory island in New York’s Jamaica Bay, where the city’s dead horses and other large animals were rendered into glue and fertilizer from the mid-19th century until the 1930’s. The island itself is as central to the novel as the members of the Jewish, Greek, Italian, Irish, and African-American factory families that inhabit it, including those who live their entire lives steeped in the smell of rotting and burning animal flesh.

The story begins with the arrival of the Eisenstein family, immigrants from Eastern Europe, and explores how the political and social upheavals of the 1930’s affect them and their neighbors in the years between the stock market crash of October 1929 and the start of World War II. Labor strife, union riots, the New Deal, the World’s Fair, and the struggle to save European Jews from the growing threat of Nazi terror inform this novel as much as the explosion of civil and social liberties between the two World Wars.

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As Pride Month comes to an end, we asked six Jews who are also in the LGBTQIA+ community to speak about the interactions among their many identities. It is daunting to describe your identity in a few words, but the people featured below have done so with radical frankness —telling stories of coming out, coming to terms with identity, and joining together as a community, all of which define their lives Jewish, as LGBTQIA+, and at the intersections between the two.

Rochelle, 22

I feel as though being Jewish prepared me for being queer. When I was a small child, I learned how to move through the world with my Jewish identity always present but semi-hidden, and how to gauge when was a safe time to reveal it. I hold my lesbian identity very similarly, though recently I have been struggling to find ways to make both more visible.

My Jewishness informs my queerness in my sense of curiosity, my need to feed and care for my friends, and my inability to stay quiet at injustice. My queerness informs my Jewishness in my desire to find new meanings in old traditions and texts and my use of ritual to heal. Queer Jewish role models such as Leslie Feinberg and Adrienne Rich have been important to me, and I also find strength and community in my queer Jewish friends.

Zohar, 20

I came to terms with my Jewish identity and identity as a part of the LGBTQIA+ community about the same time, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I’ve found overwhelmingly that my identity as a Jew means I sometimes bring sometimes different experiences to the table when it comes to religion, culture, gender, and sexuality.

Sometimes this can be liberating: when I discovered that I was not beholden to Christian normative ideals of gender and sexuality, I used my Judaism to help fight my own internalized anti-semitism, transphobia, and homophobia.

Sometimes this can be alienating. It produces an entirely unique kind of mental and physical dysphoria on its own. Sometimes, this can lead to non-Jews witnessing my relationship with my religion and culture and perceiving it to obfuscate, rather than compliment my trans, non-binary, and bi identities.

Roni, 20

I’m not sure what came first: the understanding that I’m Jewish, or that I’m part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Of course, I’ve always celebrated Hannukah with my quite secular family and felt the word “girl” didn’t reflect me, but it took me a while to find the right words and questions to ask.

While I’m still asking questions, I now am able to say that I identify with Conservative Judaism, tend to practice more as a Reconstructionist, and am non-binary and pansexual. There are a lot of similarities between the two worlds: a warm community, a long history of discrimination, a beautiful culture full of light and love, and an endless variety of ways to be a part.

I’ve never felt a clash because I believe in a God that created love. To me, gender is a social construct, not a heavenly one. I am this way because I should be this way, born in God’s image.

Julia, 21

The ways that I have come to know myself as a queer woman and as a Jewish woman have been very similar. In both cases, it’s been a process of learning to reject the assumptions about myself that I had been making all my life. I’ve felt so much joy in finding communities that let me celebrate all parts of who I am.

I didn’t choose to be Jewish any more than I could choose to be queer, but I think the important thing is that if I could have chosen, I would still choose to be the nice Jewish queer that I am.

Melissa, 23

It’s easy to talk about my Jewish identity, since I’ve always been very openly Jewish. I grew up learning and embracing my people’s history and traditions. It’s been a part of who I am for as long as I can remember. 

Being bisexual—that was new. I’d been unaware of a huge part of myself, I had no idea how to “be” bisexual. I came out while in a relationship with a man, so it felt like I wasn’t able to embrace this new identity. After awhile, I realized that there’s no checklist to being bisexual, just as I’m still Jewish even though I don’t keep kosher or go to temple every week. I know who I am and don’t need outside validation to be proud of it.

Eri, 22

Within the Torah, the phrase lo tov, or not good, appears only twice: in Bereshit (Genesis) 2:18 and in Shemot (Exodus) 18:17. Meaningfully, on both occasions, the phrase is used to decry a situation in which someone is taking action alone, apart from human community.

For the Torah, what is good for humans is for us to be with each other.  We can find this truth expressed throughout Judaism: in celebration, in prayer, and in mourning, we are commanded to come together with and show up for our kehillah, the Jewish community.

For me, this is what Judaism is about. And, so too with queerness. For our victories, defeats, and the everyday moments in-between, I have known my queer communities to be a source of refuge, solidarity, and support. Thus, as a queer Jew, the place where these two identities intersect for me is in the communities we build on their foundations: in a world that often seeks to deny us that community, together we create a world for ourselves that is good and as God intended it to be.

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As Pride Month comes to an end, we asked six Jews who are also in the LGBTQIA+ community to speak about the interactions among their many identities. It is daunting to describe your identity in a few words, but the people featured below have done so with radical frankness —telling stories of coming out, coming to terms with identity, and joining together as a community, all of which define their lives Jewish, as queer, and at the intersections between the two.

Rochelle, 22

I feel as though being Jewish prepared me for being queer. When I was a small child, I learned how to move through the world with my Jewish identity always present but semi-hidden, and how to gauge when was a safe time to reveal it. I hold my lesbian identity very similarly, though recently I have been struggling to find ways to make both more visible.

My Jewishness informs my queerness in my sense of curiosity, my need to feed and care for my friends, and my inability to stay quiet at injustice. My queerness informs my Jewishness in my desire to find new meanings in old traditions and texts and my use of ritual to heal. Queer Jewish role models such as Leslie Feinberg and Adrienne Rich have been important to me, and I also find strength and community in my queer Jewish friends.

Zohar, 20

I came to terms with my Jewish identity and identity as a part of the LGBTQIA+ community about the same time, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I’ve found overwhelmingly that my identity as a Jew means I sometimes bring sometimes different experiences to the table when it comes to religion, culture, gender, and sexuality.

Sometimes this can be liberating: when I discovered that I was not beholden to Christian normative ideals of gender and sexuality, I used my Judaism to help fight my own internalized anti-semitism, transphobia, and homophobia.

Sometimes this can be alienating. It produces an entirely unique kind of mental and physical dysphoria on its own. Sometimes, this can lead to non-Jews witnessing my relationship with my religion and culture and perceiving it to obfuscate, rather than compliment my trans, non-binary, and bi identities.

Roni, 20

I’m not sure what came first: the understanding that I’m Jewish, or that I’m part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Of course, I’ve always celebrated Hannukah with my quite secular family and felt the word “girl” didn’t reflect me, but it took me a while to find the right words and questions to ask.

While I’m still asking questions, I now am able to say that I identify with Conservative Judaism, tend to practice more as a Reconstructionist, and am non-binary and pansexual. There are a lot of similarities between the two worlds: a warm community, a long history of discrimination, a beautiful culture full of light and love, and an endless variety of ways to be a part.

I’ve never felt a clash because I believe in a God that created love. To me, gender is a social construct, not a heavenly one. I am this way because I should be this way, born in God’s image.

Julia, 21

The ways that I have come to know myself as a queer woman and as a Jewish woman have been very similar. In both cases, it’s been a process of learning to reject the assumptions about myself that I had been making all my life. I’ve felt so much joy in finding communities that let me celebrate all parts of who I am.

I didn’t choose to be Jewish any more than I could choose to be queer, but I think the important thing is that if I could have chosen, I would still choose to be the nice Jewish queer that I am.

Melissa, 23

It’s easy to talk about my Jewish identity, since I’ve always been very openly Jewish. I grew up learning and embracing my people’s history and traditions. It’s been a part of who I am for as long as I can remember. 

Being bisexual—that was new. I’d been unaware of a huge part of myself, I had no idea how to “be” bisexual. I came out while in a relationship with a man, so it felt like I wasn’t able to embrace this new identity. After awhile, I realized that there’s no checklist to being bisexual, just as I’m still Jewish even though I don’t keep kosher or go to temple every week. I know who I am and don’t need outside validation to be proud of it.

Eri, 22

Within the Torah, the phrase lo tov, or not good, appears only twice: in Bereshit (Genesis) 2:18 and in Shemot (Exodus) 18:17. Meaningfully, on both occasions, the phrase is used to decry a situation in which someone is taking action alone, apart from human community.

For the Torah, what is good for humans is for us to be with each other.  We can find this truth expressed throughout Judaism: in celebration, in prayer, and in mourning, we are commanded to come together with and show up for our kehillah, the Jewish community.

For me, this is what Judaism is about. And, so too with queerness. For our victories, defeats, and the everyday moments in-between, I have known my queer communities to be a source of refuge, solidarity, and support. Thus, as a queer Jew, the place where these two identities intersect for me is in the communities we build on their foundations: in a world that often seeks to deny us that community, together we create a world for ourselves that is good and as God intended it to be.

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Yesterday’s bombshell news that Justice Anthony Kennedy—a reliable pro-abortion rights vote—is retiring from the Supreme Court means that Roe v. Wade is truly, seriously imperiled. We could wake up within a few years to find abortion fully illegal in over 20 states.

Ironically, in recent months, right up until the Kennedy-related outpouring of fear we’re seeing at this very moment began, abortion rights advocates had noticed a growing fatigue around the issue.  Buzzfeed published an opinion piece by John Paul Rollert called Trump’s Power Isn’t Fear. It’s Fatigue.  The relentlessness of this administration’s violence, its undoing of and disregard for human rights, and its intolerance and attacks on  for science, logic,and journalism have left a lot of us with a sense that exhaustion—you might call it outrage fatigue.

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Keeping Kashrut, or kosher, is one of the most central and recognizable pillars of observant Judaism. As a child in a traditional but modern Orthodox community, I was taught the importance of keeping kosher. Even when I was a toddler, I asked my Orthodox uncle if his house was kosher before feeling comfortable eating there. For our family, food products needed kosher symbols. At the grocery store, families like ours all across the country scan products for the the “OU” symbol from the Orthodox Union—one of the most widely recognized and trustworthy of the kosher symbols.

The Orthodox Union is an umbrella organization representing Orthodox synagogues and communities across the United States. In addition to telling the community what foods are permissible to eat, the OU runs programs that keeps the organization deeply rooted in Orthodox communities, including youth groups and support on campus. The OU is a significant component of the blood in the veins of the Orthodox communal world.

I didn’t even realize the OU did any political work outside of their communal support until 2014, when I noticed that they had commended the Supreme Court’s decision siding with Hobby Lobby in a notorious case regarding an employer’s responsibility to provide insurance inclusive of contraception, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. They sided with the evangelical Christian plaintiffs in that case, even though President Obama had already ensured that any company that was not comfortable paying for contraception could employ a provision so the government would pay for it instead.

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When I was an undergrad, I sat on my Women’s Center Collective. We made decisions by consensus. All it took was one person to block something and it wouldn’t happen. So it took a while for things to happen. We had to talk about everything. And it could be super frustrating when something you cared about died in process because of the deeply held convictions (or intransience, or just plain stubbornness) of some who maybe didn’t even totally understand the issue.

God, it was annoying. God, were we annoying. Believe me when I say that I fantasized more than once about a (benevolent, run by me) dictatorship of liberal ideals. Think about how much we (ahem, I) could get done! Imagine how quickly we could organize if we weren’t so minutely attuned to what might cause offense to…someone. Anyone. 

The way people on the left side of politics run things—whether it’s deferring to marginalized voices, pushing language to be more inclusive, or protesting raucously—has the potential to be frustrating. So some on the other side have made a virtue out of opposing what is painted as overly zealous policing of language, actions, and behavior. publicly airing their racist, sexist, homophobic, bigoted feelings in the name of opposing “PC” culture. And when they get called out, they claim that their voices are being silenced. They insist that they are being bullied. 

They are bolstered by the “centrist’ claim that the angry left is once again being overly and ridiculously and even oppressively aggressive in stopping civil debate.  The Washington Post and the The New York Times recently used left-wing protests to declare that civility is dying or even dead. And maybe Trump started it, the sober voices say, but how very sad that the other side didn’t simply rise above. How very sad that the Red Hen restaurant couldn’t rise above Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ mendaciousness on behalf of an administration that is forcibly separating families, instead (civilly) asking her to leave.

How very sad that people are judged by their treatment of others. 

But as others have said this week, sometimes incivility is the only way to respond to inhumanity.  There are some acts of cruelty that cannot be responded to in nice language. There are some debates that gain undeserved legitimacy when the other side chooses to engage politely. When Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high,” I believe she wasn’t talking about words. She was talking about ideologies. Going low is hurting children with your policies: going high is fighting for human dignity whether it’s through yelling at someone in public or organizing online.

The problem with the president isn’t that he is uncivil (he is, and that’s a poor reflection on his office and his position) It’s what lies behind his incivility. It’s not what he is saying, it’s what he’s doing.

What’s the civil way to respond to kids in cages?

What’s the non-racist way to support this president?

There isn’t one. 

Those consensus-based decision makers, or hippies with drum circles, or angry college students that the right likes to rail about? Their tactics may be frustrating at times, but what they’re fighting for is just. So if PC culture is enough to make you gain new sympathy for injustice and cruelty, you were hanging by a very thin, perhaps nonexistent, thread to begin with. 

Writer Bethany Mandel (inadvertently) made that crystal clear in her article for The Forward a few weeks ago bemoaning the “angry left. She’s so angry about the way “the left” responds to Trump supporters, she writes, that she herself is just about to become one in response. She pleads with “the left” to extend our understanding to those who felt and continue to feel oppressed by this PC culture run amok. Why, she objects, should disagreeing with “the left” automatically label someone a fascist, racist, bigot?  Bethany, it doesn’t. Trust me. The left disagrees all the time. All the damn time. It’s disagreeing with the left in support of a fascist, racist bigot (see: kids torn from parents) that makes someone a fascist, racist bigot.

Mandel is like many people profiled in the endless journalistic deep dives into the minds of voters. She is outraged (outraged!) that, “In 2018, supporting the President of the United States will get you labeled a racist.” Well, yes. Supporting a racist does, in fact, make you racist. Defending the supporters of racists against those who call out racism also makes you racist. And using PC culture as a way to justify racism makes you (you got it) a racist.

Even if that racist is the President of the United States. Especially if that racist is the President of the United States. We still get to, we still have to, protest fascism, racism, bigotry. The office alone is not protection against critique. No office is. If you use that as an excuse, you’re just following orders.

If we can’t protest the President of the United States simply because he (sigh) is the President of the United States, guess what that makes the United States? And guess what that makes the President? A dictatorship. And not the benevolent one of my fantasies.

My Women’s Center consensus model was inefficient. It was annoying.Listening to everyone’s voice, making sure everyone gets a say, is hard. It’s slow. It’s painful. It’s arduous. It’s also kind of amazing.

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For as long as she can remember, photojournalist Natalie Keyssar has been interested in the causes and casualties of violence and civic unrest. But it took years for her to muster the courage to pursue this particular angle; first, she covered metropolitan news and youth culture for the Wall Street Journal and a wide array of online and print outlets. Over her career, she has covered major neo-Nazi rallies, Kosher soup kitchens, tragic accidents and Occupy protests.

As the International Center of Photography’s Infinity Emerging Photographer Award winner, her eclectic work now appears regularly in Time, Bloomberg Business Week, the New York Times newspaper and magazine, and California Sunday, and has won plaudits not only from the ICP, but from the Aaron Siskind Foundation, PDN30, The Pulitzer Center, and the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Nailing 33-year-old Keyssar down for an interview took months—she is on the road for much of the year—but she and reporter Eleanor J. Bader recently met at a Brooklyn café where they spent several hours talking about Keyssar’s career, its unlikely trajectory, and her interest in covering movements for social justice at home and abroad.

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