What’s Jewish about Gay Pride?

Originally published on

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 13, The Musical

Coauthored with The Wandering Jew. Originally published on

1 (dlevy). Thursday night, TheWanderingJew and I saw 13, a Broadway musical with songs by Jason Robert Brown, book by Dan Elish and Jason Robert Brown. The show tells the story of Evan Goldman, a 12-year-old kid from the Upper West Side of New York whose parents get divorced on the cusp of his bar mitzvah. His mom moves him to Indiana where he must make new friends in time to have anyone at his Bar Mitzvah party, while trying to figure out what exactly it means to become a man. (Thanks to the good folks at the Theater Development Fund, which provides access to discount tickets to students, educators, and folks who work at non-profits…)

2 (dlevy). It is very tempting for me to write an entire dissertation on this show. I am itching to trace the reflections of Sondheim (tell me you don’t hear hints of “Merrily We Roll Along” in the title song) and figure 13′s place in the growing body of Jason Robert Brown’s work and rhapsodize on how the present Broadway season and world economy frame this show both for its audience and its creators… but that’s a bit outside the scope of the Jewschool readership’s primary areas of interest. I’m going to trust that TheWanderingJew will edit down my ramblings a bit.

3 (TheWanderingJew). My expertise is nowhere near as in depth as dlevy’s when it comes to all things Broadway. I might have thought some of the tunes sounded familiar – they clearly borrowed from other musicals and standard music genres (doo-wop, blues, country, etc.), but what I tried to focus on were the kids’ abilities. The cast was clearly talented, though I felt the music didn’t fully allow them to shine. Malcolm and Eddie had amazing energy, and really played off each other (and their friend, Brett) well, stealing scenes as well-choreographed backup singers. Patrice was able to portray her awkwardness and strength in her solos… Maybe I should just have said that the play was well cast?  Continue reading