Keshet: An Interview with Luzer Twersky: From Ultra-Orthodox to “Transparent” Star

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

Luzer Twersky

Luzer Twersky is an actor who plays Mendel in Season Two of Amazon’s hit television show “Transparent.” He grew up in an insular Hasidic community in Brooklyn, which he left in his early 20s, with help from Footsteps, an organization that helps formerly ultra-Orthodox Jews integrate into mainstream society. He is best known for his role in the film “Félix & Meira,” which is Canada’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Oscar this year. Luzer spoke with Keshet’s David Levy last week after the first episode of “Transparent” was released.

DAVID LEVY: Let’s just start by saying congratulations on being part of “Transparent.” Have you had the opportunity to watch the finished product yet?

LUZER TWERSKY: I watched the first episode of the new season, and it’s very good. I’m very happy with it and very proud of it.

DL: I saw your name in the credits but didn’t spot you in the episode itself. I assume you’re in the German flashback?

LT: In the first episode I’m a little “blink-and-you-miss it.” These flashbacks will happen all season. You’ll see the parallel between what’s happening at the wedding with all the dancing and the craziness and what’s happening at this party filled with queers and gays and gender-fluid people, and then you see those same kind of people 100 years ago in Berlin. And you also notice that Simon, Maura’s nephew, seems to be in those scenes in Berlin. It’s all going to tie together.

And then you’ll notice at the end of the episode, when you see Ali standing on her balcony, and then you see someone next to her who we had seen dancing in that Berlin scene.  Continue reading

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Jewschool.com: Why the Syrian Refugee Crisis Encourages Me to Talk about My Least Favorite Subject

Originally published on Jewschool.

Syrian Refugees

The last thing I want to talk about is the Holocaust. From where I stand, it’s bad enough that Hitler decimated our grandparents’ generation. Letting discussion of the Third Reich and the Final Solution parasitically take over Jewish discourse two generations later seems to me that it’s giving Hitler a posthumous victory. A full year of my own Hebrew School education was dedicated to learning every minute detail of Hitler’s plan – memorizing the names of death camps and the terminology for each different position in the camp hierarchy, not to mention God knows what else. Imagine if, instead, we had spent a year learning about Rashi, Maimonides, and Heschel instead of Goebbels, Mengele, and Braun. Continue reading

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

Jewschool: Leonard Nimoy: An Appreciation

Originally published on Jewschool.

Leonard_Nimoy_as_Spock_1967The news of Leonard Nimoy’s passing hit me unexpectedly hard today, so I wanted to take a minute to examine why. As a Jew from Boston, Nimoy’s celebrity loomed large in my upbringing. Besides Star Trek, which was omnipresent in those pre-cable days of UHF syndication, Nimoy was a constant presence in the news. He loaned his voice to the Mugar Omni Theater, the first IMAX theater in Boston, located at the Boston Museum of Science. He published a book of Jewish, erotically charged photos. He narrated documentaries. He directed. He sang. But no matter what else he did, he was first and foremost, always and forever, Mr. Spock. Continue reading

Jewschool: USY Changes Expectations for Youth Leaders

Originally published on Jewschool.

USY, the youth group of the Conservative Movement, has long had policies demanding that kids in regional and international leadership positions follow particular standards. Three of these standards have always risen to the top of the list of those that are the most enforced and the most discussed: keep kosher, keep Shabbat, don’t date outside of the faith. These standards were adopted by youth leaders for youth leaders, although they were generally adopted by kids of a previous generation. This week, at USY’s International Convention, the board debated reframing the standards around both Shabbat observance and interfaith relationships. They voted to retain the Shabbat standard as is and reword the dating standard to encourage (rather than require) endogamous dating while also adding important language about teens treating those whom they date with respect. Although JTA reported this as USY dropping the ban on interdating, USY leadership asserted that is not the case.

As a former USY regional president (who didn’t really date at all in high school, due in no small part to my decision to stay in the closet thanks to a different set of Conservative Movement rules that made me sure a gay kid wouldn’t be welcome in USY leadership), I want to publicly applaud the current teen leaders of USY for taking this step. (I wish they had gone further and dismantled the entire concept of standards, but that’s a post for another day.)

Apparently, USY alumni have been up in arms about these proposals for weeks. I didn’t hear about them until after the JTA article came out, which caused another wave of USY has-beens freaking out. I don’t think my take on this is going to surprise any long-time Jewschool readers, but I’m going to lay it out anyway. Continue reading

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: Stars of David – World Premiere Cast Recording

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

Stars Of DavidOn the surface, Stars of David sounds like a cynical cash-grab show: a small-cast revue based on journalist Abigail Pogrebin’s 2005 collection of interviews with prominent Jewish Americans sounds like it was designed to tour the Jewish Community Centers of this country ad infinitum. Whether it was any good or not would have almost no bearing on whether Jewish grandparents would buy tickets by the bushel. So, I was surprised and delighted when I saw the show in its off-Broadway incarnation last year to discover that the show was also entertaining and at times moving. Now, a year later, Yellow Sound Label has released a “World Premiere Recording” featuring the off-Broadway cast (Janet Metz, Alan Schmuckler, Aaron Serotsky, and Donna Vivino) plus three performers from the world-premiere production at the Philadelphia Theater Company, Alex Brightman, Joanna Glushak, and Brad Oscar. Continue reading

Heeb Reviews That Gay Erotic Hanukkah Fiction You Were Probably Looking For

Originally published on Heeb.

Look, I’m a defender of the Chanukkah Bush, the Mench on the Bench, or any other stupid crap that makes our sorry little holidays feel a little more festive. (I mean, I actually think the Mench on the Bench / Elf on the Shelf is the creepiest surveillance state for kids bullshit ever, but you know what I mean.) But you know what exactly zero Jewish people put on their wish lists? Chanukkah-themed gay erotic fiction. And yet, it turns out that Loose Id, a California-based publisher of sexy eBooks, has been churning out exactly that for a number of years, boasting a collection of ten titles that are currently on sale for 18% off (get it?) now through Christmas.

To be perfectly fair to Loose Id, despite being a gay Jewish dude, I am not the target audience for these books, which were all written by women and seem to be intended for a female audience. So when I tell you that I read all or part of books by five different writers and didn’t so much as pop a boner (do people still say that in 2014?) once, take that in stride. For comparison, I have been known to feel my pants tighten at a well-shot car insurance commercial.

“But how do you know these stories aren’t intended for gay dudes?” I hear you ask. Continue reading