It’s dlevy! A Gay Country Waltz

Originally published on It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s dlevy!

I feel too fat to fit into my only clean pair of underwear.
I’m sure it’s the late-night Chinese food to blame but I just can’t seem to care.
Loneliness haunts me and Grindr’s no help to bring sexy men to my door
But my trusty Chinese food delivery restaurant’s available with more.

Now I know it’s cliche to cry ‘bout my waistline when I’m solely to blame
See, I hate the gym, and I really like food, and I refuse to feel any shame.
And God bless the dudes into bears who greet me with woofs and grrs and all that.
Lord knows it isn’t a hardship these days to be gay, hairy, and fat.

But all of the stir fry (and the condoms and the KY) adds up to a financial toll
And even a bear has the vanity to care about what covers his pole
Going online for a new pair of designer briefs each day of the week
Is draining my money so I just can’t be sunny ‘bout the dilemma of which I now speak:

I feel too fat to fit into my only clean pair of underwear
And the Fluff And Fold service is making me nervous cuz the delivery guy isn’t here.
How can I venture out into the world with these too-tight briefs round my waist?
But I feel too fat to fit into my only clean pair, and I’m feelin’ debased.

Maybe some creative thinking is all that I need to raise my mood,
Which would not only answer the problem but keep me from ordering any more food
I should just forego this sideshow and let go of briefs forever more
Going commando means never again running out to the department store
when

I feel too fat to fit into my only clean pair of underwear
Fuck it, who needs em, they’re just a tool of the patriarchy and I shouldn’t care
Proudly I’ll slip on my fat pants without them and know deep within
The true liberation can only be felt when there’s denim against your skin.

I feel too fat to fit into my only clean pair of underwear
So I will subvert the options because I’m an academic queer
Love me or leave me it really don’t matter because can’t you see?
Now that I’ve stopped wearing underwear, deep within, I’m finally free.

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It’s Not Where You Start: If I Could’ve Been

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was in the first grade, I had a really spectacular teacher named Mary Caiza. She exemplified everything you could ever want in a teacher. She was kind and caring and made every student feel like a superstar. She encouraged creativity and imagination, and modeled these traits by telling us stories of her playful dogs (named Jack and Jill) and bringing in photographs of her neighbor’s duck-shaped mailbox that changed outfits as often as Barbie.

One day, she gave us an assignment to write and illustrate a poem. I still remember my first-grade thought process. “Everyone else is going to write a rhyming poem, but I know that poems don’t have to rhyme. I’ll write a poem that doesn’t rhyme so that mine will stand out. I don’t know what to write a poem about, but I really like Where the Sidewalk Ends, so maybe I can rip that off.” Please note, I was envisioning pastiche, not plagiarism.

So I wrote a poem called “Where the Sea Ends” (oh, the cleverness of me!), and I drew a beach with some seagulls, and handed it in. I (thankfully) can’t remember the actual content of the poem (although I do still have it, in a box that will get unpacked as soon as I remember to borrow my parents’ scanner so I can preserve its contents). But I do remember Mrs. Caiza’s reaction. She enthused about my effort and encouraged me to keep writing. It was that moment that I decided I wanted to grow up to be a writer.

Of course, being me, I wouldn’t be happy unless I grew up to eclipse Shakespeare. In fact, my Harvard application essay was about this very notion. If you’re going to do something, why not aim to be the best at it?

When I was in high school, I got very involved in Judaism via USY, the youth group of the Conservative Movement which, contrary to its name, is one of the liberal streams of Judaism. My time as a USY leader shaped the man I grew up to be, probably more than any other experience in my youth. And one thing became clear to me as a teenager: when I grew up, I wanted to be an involved Jewish layperson. But I definitely did not want to be a Jewish communal professional.

Oops.

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Don’t Tell Me I’m Next

On June 6, 2010, Hebrew College celebrated its 85th commencement. I graduated with two masters degrees: one in Jewish Studies, the other in Jewish education. I was incredibly honored to be one of two student speakers at the graduation ceremony. What follows is the speech I delivered at graduation.

My relationship to Hebrew College is somewhat different from many of my fellow graduates, although far from unique in the history of the school. I am a graduate of Prozdor, the high school of Hebrew College – class of 1995; I am now the associate director of Prozdor and the director of Makor, Hebrew College’s middle school collaboration with community congregations; and today I am graduating with both the Masters Degree in Jewish Studies and the Masters in Jewish Education. Hebrew College has been many things to me – the birthplace of many important friendships; a laboratory for testing out Jewish ideas; a supportive environment for professional growth; and most importantly a family.  It is particularly meaningful that my graduation is also a day honoring Dr. Stephen Simons, who was my first supervisor and cheerleader in the world of professional Judaism when I worked at Congregation Mishkan Tefila, as well as Margie Berkowitz, who was my teacher when I was a teenager, and before that my mother’s camp counselor at Camp Yavneh, but most importantly, a dear friend and beloved colleague and mentor. My first week on the job at the college, I attended the brit milah of Margie’s youngest grandchild; yesterday I celebrated with her family the bar mitzvah of one of her eldest; it’s fitting that my time at the college is book-ended by these smachot, these family celebrations, because when we refer to Prozdor as a family, we really mean it.

Earlier this year, when it became clear that I would, in fact, complete my degrees this June, people began asking me about what would come next. I’m sure many of my classmates fielded the same question. Now, I’ve been taking classes part-time for eight years towards these degrees, so to be honest, it hadn’t occurred to me that graduation might necessitate a next step.

In retrospect, this should have been obvious. The Jewish community is in a state of perpetual anticipation. Maybe this is a natural state for a people waiting for the messiah. I came of age in the era of “Jewish Continuity,” when federations around the country feared that the forces of assimilation were laying waste to Judaism at such a rate that Jews might not be around in a couple of generations if we didn’t take action. While researching my masters thesis, I learned that this was not a new communal stance, just a new label.  In my parents’ generation, the call to arms was “Jewish Survivalism.”  Today, we instead talk about strengthening Jewish identity. But whatever you call it, these phrases all tend to mask the same shared anxiety: will there be Jews left on earth after we’re gone. Continue reading

Jewschool.com When Worlds Collide

Originally posted on Jewschool.com.

Last November, I posted about the formation of a Jewish Young Adult Writers’ Forum in the greater Boston area. Last night was the last official meeting of the first cohort, and the guest author was Jewschool’s own Danya Ruttenberg. (We have one more “unofficial” meeting coming up with Anita Diamant, but that’s more of a dinner discussion than formal workshop.)

The way the workshop has worked, each month our guest author sends out a writing assignment for the participants to complete in advance. Our workshop evening begins with dinner, which flows into our guest telling us a bit about her or his career. Next there’s some “in class” writing. Each evening culminates with participants paring up to share the work they did on the assignment, often reconsidering it in light of what’s happened during the first hour of the workshop.

Since you read Jewschool, I don’t have to tell you how wonderful Danya was as our guest leader. The assignment she sent us was this:

Pick a story from the Bible, or a midrash, or a myth or legend from anywhere (Greek mythology, say, or classic literature) whose themes have a particular resonance for you (eg the story of crossing the Red Sea as jumping into something scary and trusting it will work out), and write a story from your life with that myth/legend in mind.

I’ve included my response to this prompt below the cut. Maybe some of you out there in Jewschool-land will add yours, as well.

Incidentally, several of us in the first cohort are meeting in the near future to talk about what might be next for the Writers’ Forum. If you’re a young Jewish adult in the greater Boston area and interested in taking part in writing-related stuff, leave some comments about what you’d like to see and do.

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Hebrew College: Humanity vs. Divinity: Whose Side is Moses On?

In the spring of 2009, I took a graduate-level class co-offered by Hebrew College and the Andover Newton Theological School called Interfaith Models of Religious Leadership, taught by Rabbi Or Rose and Professor Gregory Mobley, examining the leadership styles of Moses and Jesus through interfaith engagement with the primary texts as well as writings from both Jewish and Christian scholars about both figures. This was my mid-term paper, wrapping up the Moses unit.

As the holiday of Passover approaches on the calendar, it’s hard to consider the role of Moses in the exodus from Egypt without questioning how important Moses himself really was in the liberation of the Jewish people.  After all, if he can be so completely[1] written out of the story that he doesn’t even bear mention at the Passover seder, was he ever really anything more than a prop?

Of course, the Haggadah, as a text with a particular religious purpose, has its own set of reasons for focusing its telling of the Exodus on God and away from Moses.  Popular culture certainly has its own set of reasons for storytelling choices, but as artifacts of “the people,” pop culture can offer windows into what elements of the story have captured the imaginations of regular folk in different times and places.

The giving of the Ten Commandments marks a border in the story of Moses, a liminal point at which the story of liberation transitions into a story of law-giving and nation-forming.  Because this moment signifies not only a transformation of the Israelites into a nation, but also a transformation of Moses from liberator to lawgiver, it serves as an interesting point of comparison through which to examine retellings of the story.  Comparing the account in Exodus 19-34 with a play from a medieval Corpus Christi cycle and a contemporary “musical spectacular” reveals telling differences in how each storyteller perceived the character of Moses at this moment in his story.

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Livejournal: Workshop My Writing

Originally published on my long-defunct Livejournal.

I’m participating in a Jewish Young Adults’ Writers Workshop. This month, our assignment was to write a two-page scene “in which two people who are fated to become involved meet for the first time.”

I’ve been fooling around with doing a gay take on the Biblical story of Jacob for a while now, so I thought I’d use this opportunity to rethink Genesis 28. After all, that’s Jacob’s first meeting with God, and I think it’s fair to say the two are fated to become involved.  To refresh your memory, this happens when Jacob has left his parents’ house en route to his uncle’s home, where he’s been sent by his father so he can find a wife from within his clan.

I just finished my first draft. It’s very drafty. I’m going to rewrite it tomorrow before I show it to anyone in the workshop. But since I have neither the self-confidence to do this on my own nor the shame to be embarrassed by the considerable shortcomings of this draft, I’m posting it here for feedback first.

A couple of caveats: I’ve been debating whether this should be set in modern times vs. ancient times, and in America vs the original places. In this draft, it’s modern America. That is almost definitely the wrong answer. I think tomorrow I will attempt modern-but-original-places. I may end up just going for overall anachronistic. It worked for Joseph Heller’s retelling of the David story.

Also, I’m not sure what to do about the sex. I’m not sure my answer below works – what do you think? I don’t want it to get pornographic, and I think there’s good reason to leave it ambiguous as to what exactly happens, but… well, tell me what you think.

Okay, enough with the caveats. Here goes:  Continue reading

Hebrew College: Intertexuality and Metatexuality in the Deuteronomist History

This was my final paper for a graduate-school class called Bible: Text and Context. It’s probably the nerdiest, most jargon-filled piece preserved here, but I just really love it.

The phrase “ספר התורה” (literally “the document of instruction”) serves an interesting dual purpose in its appearances within the Hebrew Bible.  On a textual level, it is one of the identifying locutions of the Deuteronomic Historian.  The appearances of the phrase link the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, and (Second) Kings to each other.  The books of Nehemiah and Chronicles, understood as originating more recently than the Deuteronomic history, similarly employ the phrase to emphasize their link to the world-view of the earlier books.  However, the phrase also functions on a metatextual level, acting on the text while it acts within the text.  The employment of the phrase (and variations of it) within these texts subtly insists that the very texts in which the phrase appears be incorporated into the canonical version of the scripture.

Although neither word is particularly scarce in the Hebrew Bible, “ספר” and “התורה” only appear together in the construct state nine times, first appearing in Deuteronomy 31:26.  Having delivered his final words of law and set out consequences for its followers should they be faithful or disobey, Moses transfers leadership to Joshua.  Moses presents the Levites with “this book of Teaching (ספר התורה הזה)”[1] to place alongside the Ark “as a witness against you.”  Menahem Haran notes that ספר, when used in this way, refers to the physical artifact of the document, remarking “It is not the designation, or part of the designation, of the work as such, as a thing separate from its scroll.” Moses is not simply delivering information – he’s delivering a sacred object.  Continue reading