Jewschool: Meet the Man Behind The Men of the Naughty Jewish Boys Calendar

Originally published on Jewschool.

Naughty Jewish Boys CalendarLast February, I shared a link right here on Jewschool to a Craigslist ad advertising for models for a “Naughty Jewish Boys” calendar. I was so tickled by the idea when I saw it on my friend Duncan Pflaster‘s Facebook page, I didn’t even realize that he had posted the ad – or that the Jewschool post would bring it widespread Jewish media attention. Fast forward five months, and the calendar is a real thing that exists in the world in two versions: the regular and extra-naughty editions. I sat down with Duncan this week to chat about his adventures in putting these calendars together.

Naturally, the first thing I wanted to know about was what kind of controversy the calendar had generated. Duncan’s run-ins with the creator of the Nice Jewish Guys calendar have been well documented elsewhere, but I had to know: were religious people offended at the images of nearly-naked men with ritual objects? Were liberals offended at a non-Jewish photographer eroticizing or even fetishizing Jewish men? Nope. “Most everybody has thought it’s been a fantastic idea,” he told me, “Especially the Jewish press.” While he did have a couple of people get upset over eroticizing Judaism, the more common response has been from women saying “it’s incredible. Thank you so much for doing this.” Continue reading

Jewschool: Where Hipster Brooklyn and Youth Group Nostalgia Meet

Originally published on Jewschool.com.

Sermon SlamA couple of weeks ago, an email came over the Jewschool contributors’ listserv asking if anyone wanted to cover a SermonSlam taking place in my neighborhood. As someone who has enjoyed other kinds of slams in the past (poetry, story, and grand – IHOP, not baseball), I jumped at the opportunity. I’m still something of a Brooklyn newbie, having lived here for less than a year. So I want to fully own that my preconceived notions of what a SermonSlam might be were entirely colored by an outsider’s stereotype of Brooklyn hipster culture. Now, to be fair, I have lived here almost a year—it will be a year this Shabbat—and so I have been around long enough to know that most of the stereotypes about Brooklyn hipster culture are true. And I should have been tipped off by the fact that the event was being held at Congregation Beth Elohim (known in the neighborhood as CBE), a very large Reform synagogue that often plays host to community events, many of which I have enjoyed this year.

You see what I’m getting at, right? What I had pictured as a cool, vaguely underground event, perhaps in a dark room with a stage and a bar, turning words of Torah into performance art, was in fact more like a youth group program for young adults, held in a large, well-lit synagogue social hall, with the performers relying a little more heavily on the “sermon” than the “slam.” The only drinks were of the cola variety, and the evening was padded with games straight from my synagogue youth director playbook like Jewish Geography 2.0, affably executed by hosts Ben Greenfield and Samantha Kuperberg, who themselves seemed to have arrived straight from a summer on the staff of Camp Ramah.

BUT! And this is a big BUT! (I like big BUTs and I cannot lie…) I’m pretty sure if you went in to the event with fewer or different preconceived notions, you would have been thrilled.  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

JP Shabbat: D’var Torah on the occasion of a new minyan in Jamaica Plain

Originally delivered at the inaugural meeting of JP Shabbat, a monthly independent minyan that started in my living room in April 2009, and as of this writing is still going strong four and a half years later, in the hands of a new generation of organizers.

I closed on my condo in Jamaica Plain just over two years ago.  When I decided to move to JP, I knew I’d be entering a community where neighbors talked to each other, where acres of green space awaited just down the street, and where I’d be just a quick T ride from downtown and a quick car ride to my office.  I also knew that I’d be entering a community with a lot of Jewish people, but not a lot of Jewish activity.  As someone who works for the Jewish community, I have to admit I found the idea of JP as an island away from the Jews of my work week to hold more than a little appeal for me.

Of course, I don’t really want to live in an island away from Judaism… to paraphrase a rabbi I work with, I don’t hate Judaism, I just have a problem with Jews.  Luckily, JP’s lack of a major synagogue presence means that the Jews who move here tend to be like-minded.  It didn’t take long before many of us were murmuring to each other about starting some kind of Friday night… something.  A minyan, a dinner group, an occasional Kiddush club?  The common theme was “I don’t care what we start as long as I don’t have to be in charge.”

Well, God bless Jess Gould and Efraim Yudewitz for stepping forward and actually getting us all into a room together.  About two weeks ago, nine people assembled in Jess and Efraim’s living room and decided to start whatever this is that we’re doing now. Continue reading

Livejournal: Telling Old Stories Anew

Originally published on my long-defunct Livejournal.

One of the most formative influences on my Jewish identity is, for good and for ill, the years I spent (and continue to spend) involved with USY. In the New England Region, we have a tradition that whenever the region spends Shabbat together, the regional president tells a Jewish story before mincha. Through my years as a USYer, I heard dozens of Jewish folktales. (I have since learned that some of these stories even have authors, and original versions! But at the time, I never connected their tellings and retellings to Peretz and Singer and the rest. Thank goodness for graduate school. But I digress.) As regional president, it fell to me to tell the stories, so I devoured collections of Yiddish tales and Chasidic tales and listened carefully when rabbis and friends told stories that I might adapt. In the years since, there have been many opportunities for me to hear successive generations of USY presidents tell stories, and on more than one occasion the current president has asked me to tell him or her a story in case I might have one that’s usable.

One story that seemed to continually resurface in USY went something like this:

There was a town that had a group of holy men, and every year they would go out to the secret, appointed place with their secret, special implements to perform their secret, specific ceremony involving the secret, precise way to light a fire and the changing of a secret and beautiful prayer, and God was happy. As generations passed, the group of holy men dwindled until there was only one holy man left who knew the location of the secret place, the way to make the secret implements, the order of the secret ceremony, the procedure for lighting the secret fire, and the words to the secret prayer. But he faithfully enacted the ceremony every year and God was happy. When he passed away it fell to his son, who could not find the secret place, so he took the implements to a new place where performed the secret ceremony, lit the secret fire and chanted the secret poem. And God was happy. When he passed away, his son no longer knew how to make the implements, so… you get the idea. Until we come to today, where there’s no one left who even knows whether God is happy or not.

The story is a very effective precautionary tale against assimilation, reinforcing the importance of teaching our traditions to successive generations. But today, the story seems all wrong to me. There’s a piece missing. If a generation has lost their way to a holy place, perhaps the holiness of that place did not resonate with them. But instead telling the story that they compromised by doing their ceremony any place, shouldn’t we celebrate their ingenuity at finding a new place that holds meaning for them? And instead of despairing that a later generation forgot the poem or the melody or the fire, why not celebrate that generation’s yearning to approach God with their own words, with new music, with a different, personal ritual?

In my story, that’s exactly what happens. And next time I have the opportunity to share a Jewish story, I know exactly what story I’m going to tell.

The Jewish Advocate: Guide to Jewish Boston

Each year, The Jewish Advocate publishes a directory of Jewish organizations, institutions, businesses, and services to be distributed as a supplement to the paper, hoping to entice those new to the city to subscribe. While most of the content doesn’t change much from year to year, there was an effort to keep the guide fresh by publishing new introductory essays to the various sections each year. This was my contribution to the 2005 guide. I believe it ran as the general introduction to the guide as a whole. In retrospect, it feels like a little bit of foreshadowing to the role I’d take on half a decade later at JewishBoston.com.

Welcome to Boston. If you’ve made it far enough to be holding a copy of this guide in your hands, you’re already off to a great start. Inside, you’ll find listings of all sorts of businesses, organizations, and institutions that will enrich your time here in the Bay State. And, just in case addresses and phone numbers aren’t your thing, we’ve included a handful of helpful essays to point you in the right direction and tell you a little bit about our home.

The first thing to understand about Boston is our rather unique approach to geography. While Boston is itself a city with clearly defined borders, to locals, “Boston” can describe anywhere from Providence, RI to Worcester, MA. When a college student tells you they “go to school in Boston,” they’re as likely to be speaking euphemistically about Harvard or MIT (both in Cambridge) as they are to be actually talking about Boston College (in Chestnut Hill – technically not Boston) or Boston University (in Allston, which technically, is Boston.) Each area of Boston – and of “Boston” – has its own unique character and something different to offer.  Continue reading