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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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

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

Keshet: Keep On Coming Out

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

In honor of National Coming Out Day, we bring you the coming out musings of David Levy, long-time Keshet member and board member, who explains why he doesn’t think the coming out process is ever over… and why that’s not a bad thing.

creative-commons-paul-lowry-300x200

Creative Commons/Paul Lowry

Coming out is such a profound aspect of the LGBT experience for many of us that it’s taken on a special place within queer culture. When I was growing up, coming out stories dominated gay fiction and cinema. Swapping our own stories of coming out is a frequent characteristic of gay dating. But there are two questions that come up in these contexts that always aggravate me:

“How old were you when you came out?” and,

“Don’t you wish we lived in a time when no one had to come out?”  Continue reading

JewishBoston.com: What’s Jewish about Gay Pride?

Originally published on JewishBoston.com.

Last Shabbat, I was invited by Rav Claudia Kreiman to give the drash (sermon) at Temple Beth Zion in Brookline for the GLBTQ Pride Shabbat. She asked me to speak on the question of why gay pride is a Jewish concern. Here’s what I had to say:

Falsettos - Broadway PlaybillIn 1992, the summer before I started high school, I saw Falsettos on my second-ever trip to Broadway. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it was the combination of two earlier, ground-breaking off-Broadway musicals by songwriter William Finn: March of the Falsettos, which told the story of Marvin, a Jewish man in his forties who had left his wife and son for a male lover, but who wanted a “tight-knit family” that included all of them; and its sequel, Falsettoland, in which Marvin’s son struggles with becoming bar mitzvah while Marvin’s lover struggles with the disease that would come to be known AIDS.

I don’t know that there’s ever been another show — or ever will be — that spoke so directly to me. A large part of that is simply that it’s the first time I can remember seeing gay lives portrayed, well, anywhere. I didn’t know any gay adults, and while I had an inkling that some of my friends might also be gay, none of us had yet spoken the words out loud to each other.

I’m just young enough to have missed Billy Crystal on Soap, and Tom Hanks in Philadelphia was still a year away; Ellen wouldn’t come out for another five years. So in 1992, gay boys who loved Broadway musicals had Falsettos, lesbians had newly out of the closet country singer k. d. lang, and that was it. The gays of Falsettos were Jewish – and I don’t just mean Jew “ish” – the opening number of the show is called “Four Jews in a Room Bitching,” which really sets the tone for how the rest of the show unfolds… that these characters’ sexuality and domestic struggles were wrapped in the familiar neuroses of my community intensified the resonance. Continue reading

Keshet: May God Make You Like Ephraim and Manasseh

Originally published as part of  Torah Queeries.

So [Jacob] blessed them that day, saving, “By you shall Israel invoke blessings, saying: ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’” (Genesis 48:20)

Every Shabbat evening, Jews around the world recall this week’s Torah portion by blessing their sons with the words “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh,” fulfilling Jacob’s deathbed pronouncement. I did not grow up with this particular tradition in my family, so when I learned about it, two questions immediately sprang to mind: If Jacob says that all of Israel shall invoke blessings in this way, why do we limit our use of the blessing to boys? Perhaps more fundamentally, what’s so special about Ephraim and Manasseh that we pray to make our children like them?

The Torah itself gives us shockingly little information about these two brothers, the sons of Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, and Joseph’s Egyptian wife, Asenath. We know that they lived their entire lives in Egypt, that Manasseh is the older of the two (although some scholars suggest they might have been twins), that they were born before the famine came to Egypt, and that Genesis and Chronicles disagree a bit about whether one of Manasseh’s descendants was his son or grandson. Otherwise, all we have are conjectures based on this one scene at their grandfather’s deathbed.  Continue reading

Keshet: Nature vs. Nurture: A Story of Generation(s)

Originally published as part of  Torah Queeries, and then later republished on Keshet’s Blog on MyJewishLearning.com.

Jews read sections of the Torah each week, and these sections, known as parshiyot, inspire endless examination year after year. Each week we will bring you regular essays examining these portions from a queer perspective, drawn from the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible and the Torah Queeries online collection. This week, David Levy looks at Biblical twins Jacob and Esau through the lens of nature versus nurture.

 

"The Birth of Esau and Jacob," Master of Jean de Mandeville.

“The Birth of Esau and Jacob,” Master of Jean de Mandeville. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Toldot, the name given to this week’s parasha, has many layers to its definition. Coming from the Hebrew root meaning “birth,” it literally means “generations.” Its use in the Torah introduces genealogical lists, and also marks the beginning of important stories related to the members of Abraham’s particular genealogical line – some translations even give the word as it appears at the beginning of this week’s parasha as “story.” Toldot is a particularly fitting name for this section of the Torah, because the story begins with the birth of Jacob and Esau, and hinges on both the relationship between the older and younger generations and the question of who shall lead the generations to follow.

To me, Parashat Toldot reads like a divine statement on the “nature versus nurture” debate: are our identities and destinies somehow inherent in us, or are we shaped by the environment in which we are brought up, formed by the generation before us? In queer culture, this debate at times looms large. Are we “born that way” or are there external factors that “make us gay”? And if we adopt children, will our nurturing homes be enough to bring up a next generation in our image, or will adopted children turn out like their birth parents…whoever they might be?

While these questions may at times feel like irrelevant cocktail conversation, they also have a sinister side. If it turns out that queerness can be genetically predicted, will narrow-minded potential parents terminate pregnancies rather than bear queer children? If research points toward environmental factors, will it only fuel “ex-gay ministries” that attempt to “rehabilitate” queer people from their lifestyle?  Continue reading