Keshet: Hineini: 10 Years of Coming Out in Jewish Spaces

Originally published on Keshet’s blog on MyJewishLearning.com.

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A dozen or so years ago, I was working as an educator at a large Conservative synagogue in the suburbs of Boston. Gay marriage was on the verge of legalization – and therefore on the front page of the newspaper every day.

The Conservative movement had not yet revised its decades-old opinions of sexuality, which could be summed up as, “We don’t hate you, but we’re going to leave it up to individual synagogues as to whether we treat you like members or allow you to do anything.” And despite being one of two openly gay educators at this synagogue, I found myself inching back into the closet at work due to an environment that made it clear that while it might be okay to be gay on my own time, no one wanted to hear about it on the clock.  Continue reading

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Keshet: Life After Love: Cher & Jewish Mourning Rituals

Originally published on Keshet’s blog on MyJewishLearning.com.

David & his parents, marching with Keshet at Boston Pride in 2009.In October 2013, when I bought my tickets to see Cher’s Dressed to Kill tour, which would be playing down the street from my house in the then-distant future of May 2014, my mother asked with mock hurt in her voice why I hadn’t invited her to see the show with me.

At the time, I thought it was a bit of a ridiculous request. Although my mother had taken me to my earliest concerts in my pre-teen days, I couldn’t really envision her enjoying a stadium show at age 67. I imagined the show would be unbearably loud for her, and over the last couple of years, her health had slipped, and she just seemed too frail for that kind of environment. Plus, what interest did my mom have in the electronic dance diva that Cher has become in the most recent evolution of her career?  Continue reading

The Craptacular: Remedial Queens: Five Broadway Lessons From My Mom

Originally published on The Craptacular.

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On December 29, 2013, my mom, Lois Levy, passed away at age 67. (Read my eulogy for her.) In her memory, I’d like to offer a different kind of Broadway history: a short history of the Broadway lessons my mother left me.

Nothing Says I Love You Like A Showtune

Like most mothers, my mom loved to sing to me when I was little. Her favorite? “I love you / a bushel and a peck…” It wasn’t until years later that I realized the song that she sang over and over again to tell me she loved me was originally written as a strip tease number for Guys and Dolls. (If you think the “hot box girls” are supposed to be anything else, you’re deluding yourself.) Luckily, I seem to have avoided any long-term psychological baggage from making this connection.

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Eulogy for My Mother

Delivered at Stanetsky’s Funeral Home, Canton, MA, January 2, 2014.

I sat down to do the impossible, to try to put into a few words what my mother means to me, my family, and to all of us here. And I came up with fifteen hundred words about her commitment to family, her joy at being part of so many communities, and her fierce and fearless embrace of life with all it has to offer. But when I looked at what I wrote, it just felt so generic. Where was the mom who dressed up as Sonny Bono while I dressed up as Cher to perform “I’ve Got You Babe” at a USY lip sync competition? Or the mom who, into my thirties, would read menus out loud to me to make sure there were things I could eat at whatever restaurant we were at? Where was the mom who, after ten years devoting all of her free time to USY dropped everything and missed what would have been her final Spring Convention so she could sleep on my cousin Karen’s couch and help her family when Chad was born? Where was the mom who faced down the school board so my high school graduation wouldn’t fall on Shabbat, or the mom who didn’t leave my side for four weeks when I was hospitalized at age ten with an enigmatic GI disease, never letting me know for a minute how terrified she was?  Continue reading

Fuck Yeah Stephen Sondheim: When I Was In The Fifth Grade…

Originally published on Fuck Yeah Stephen Sondheim.

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When I was in the fifth grade, I found Stephen Sondheim’s home address in a reference book at the public library. This armed me with all I needed to begin a years-long correspondence with my hero. While I have kept most of his letters to me, I believe this is the only letter to him that survives. It was written when I was 13, several years into this project of mine.

Looking back, I am so embarrassed but also a little bit charmed by my 13-year-old self. And of course, Steve’s response is perfect, treating me with consideration and taking me seriously on my own terms. (Of course, I don’t remember writing songs, definitely never started the theater company, and very quickly purchased the albums in question. And 20+ years later I finally got my hands on the songs from A Pray by Blecht.)

The Craptacular: Introducing Remedial Queens

Originally published on The Craptacular.

Have you ever seen Twitter blow up with excitement about some older star appearing at 54 Below only to find yourself asking, “Who?” Does the annual announcement of the Encores! season send you running to Google to figure out WTF is even going on? Did you get really excited about theater by way of Wicked or Next to Normal or Phantom and then stare down the gauntlet of theater’s 100 (+++++) year history and wonder what on earth you should check out? Friends, you are in the right place.

Think of REMEDIAL QUEENS as The Craptacular’s community service project, helping Broadway fans climb higher up the mountain of Broadway wonderfulness. Think of me as your sherpa on this journey. You may know me from my guest appearance on The Craptacular talking about Pipe Dream, or perhaps you’ve encountered some of my other projects, like Fuck Yeah Stephen Sondheim or Sondheim LOLCats. As you’ve probably guessed, I’m a super-big Broadway nerd. Like, in high school I co-wrote the internet’s first (!) Stephen Sondheim FAQ. And just this past August I was part of the winning team at 54 Below’s inaugural Broadway Trivia Night. In between I’ve amassed a collection of thousands of cast albums (including a couple dozen I helped birth as part of the late, lamented Fynsworth Alley), seen hundreds of shows, read the scripts of hundreds more, and, well, you get the idea. So I’m really excited/ beyond tickled to share this all with you.

What can you expect in this column? Some weeks I’ll focus on the work of a particular person or team, sharing my love for the likes of Mary Martin, Wright & Forrest, and Goddard Lieberson (duh). Other weeks might feature primers on older shows currently on the boards (or in the works) as revivals. Sometimes we’ll go thematic, with playlists (“15 Favorite Codependent Love Songs from the 50s!”) or other kinds of silliness (Ethel Merman Power Hour anyone?). And I take requests, so if there’s something you’re dying to know more about, leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter (@itsdlevy, natch).

Don’t worry. I’m not the kind of guy who thinks that nothing new will live up to the past, and you won’t find me crapping on things you love to make the things I love seem better. Frankly, they don’t need my help, and either way, that sucks. If there’s one thing The Craptacular believes, it’s that things don’t have to be “good” to be amazing. REMEDIAL QUEENS is all about sharing things I love — whether earnestly, ironically, or more often than not, with a foot on either side of that line — and hoping you love them too.

And now, as Irving Berlin once wrote, let’s go on with the show!

JewishBoston.com: Farewell from JewishBoston.com’s Managing Editor

Originally posted on JewishBoston.com.

About three and a half years ago, I got an email from Bonnie Rosenbaum, the Director of Communications at Keshet, where I sit on the board. CJP was holding a meeting for area organizations to come learn about a new project they were developing called JewishBoston.com. Could I attend on Keshet’s behalf?

I had no idea how that meeting would change my life. Patty Jacobson and Liz Polay-Wettengel, the co-founders of JewishBoston.com, presented their vision of how this website could change our community. They outlined a tool to level the playing field for synagogues and other organizations to get their information out to the public, a portal that would lower the barriers to entry to the Jewish community. They shared a dream of making the Jewish community a little bit friendlier and a lot easier to join.

At the end of the meeting, I ran up to both of them, introduced myself, and asked how I could get involved. At that time, there wasn’t a committee I could join, but they took my information and promised to keep in touch.

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A few months later, they reached out to me for help. They were looking to hire an editor, and they knew I had great contacts in the Jewish blogosphere. Did I know anyone who wanted the job? Of course I did—me. The only problem was that I wasn’t looking for a job. So I tried really hard—really hard—to find someone else for the job. Because I needed the temptation to go away. But time passed and the job remained open, and I realized I needed to throw my hat into the ring.

I became editor of JewishBoston.com on June 7, 2010, the day after I graduated with two masters degrees from Hebrew College and presided over my fifth Prozdor graduation. My first day on the job, I didn’t even come into the office. In a twist of fate, I had to staff the JewishBoston.com table at a CJP conference for Jewish Educators, putting me in the position of demonstrating my new job to my old colleagues.

In the intervening years, JewishBoston.com has grown and evolved in exciting ways. In my early days with the project, Patty would get aggravated when she’d periodically ask me my favorite thing about working on JewishBoston.com and I’d tell her it was the team of people we comprised. “I want your favorite thing to be the impact we’re having!” she’d protest. The truth is, I can have it both ways.

I’ve been blessed to be part of an incredible team here, from my start with Patty and Liz, to the team I’m leaving behind with our web developer Alex, community manager Kali, project manager Zachary, our fantastic columnists, committed volunteers, and extended CJP colleagues — in particular, the team behind The Network, and CJP’s Associate Vice President of Stategy Implementation, Karyn Cohen, who oversees our work on JewishBoston.com as part of CJP’s broader commitment to Jewish connection and engagement. I couldn’t dream of a more invested, capable, and creative group of people, and it’s been a joy to work with them.

And what an impact we’ve had! From the hundreds of people holding their first-ever Passover seders thanks to Seder in a Box to the thousands of people world-wide reciting words I wrote at their seders with our Haggadah, the people across greater Boston who’ve tried out an event or organization they wouldn’t have known about without JewishBoston.com and my colleagues at other Jewish organizations who’ve made significant strides in their own abilities to reach new audiences… I kvell.

So the decision to move on from JewishBoston.com—and from Jewish Boston as a whole, as I pack up my life and start anew with an apartment in Brooklyn and a position at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America—was not an easy one. I love JewishBoston.com and the Jewish communities I’ve been a part of in the greater Boston area. But I am confident that I leave you in good hands, and that both work and family will bring me back here regularly. Keep in touch. You can always find me on Twitter. And despite what it says at the top of the page, if your wandering brings you my way, make sure you look me up.

All my best,

David