christine~ (eppylover) wrote,

Shabbat Shmooze ~ Queer Yiddishkeit, Anne Frank Citizenship, & Passover Countdown

Once again the shiksa shlemiel makes her shabbat post a little late, after sundown.
But what can you expect from such a goyishe kop? Deal with it.

And the Award Goes to… Queer Yiddishkeit
Only Human
Kathleen Peratis | Fri. Feb 23, 2007

Last week’s Grammy Award to the Klezmatics for their first all-English album, “Wonder Wheel,” was joyously reported by many Jewish news outlets, including this newspaper. For all the media coverage, however, no mention was made of the Klezmatics’ iconic status in the Queer Yiddishkeit movement.

Never heard of the Queer Yiddishkeit movement? Until last summer, neither did I.

Then, an Israeli friend told me he had learned from his (straight) daughter, a doctoral student in women’s Yiddish literature at Berkeley, that a large proportion of her colleagues are gay. Really? Interviews over the next several months of past and present YIVO staff members, klezmer performers, Yiddish scholars and others confirmed it: Gay Jews have flocked to Yiddish and klezmer.

It’s not that the Queer Yiddishkeit movement has been kept secret; it was more than 10 years old when, in 1996, The Village Voice reported that there was “a groundswell of gay and lesbian interest in Yiddish culture” and that the Klezmatics are “squarely in its forefront.” The piece described KlezKamp — “kamp” being a double-entendre par excellence — a weeklong Yiddish folk-culture convention, as “the original spawning ground of Queer Yiddishkeit.” Soon there emerged other gay-oriented klezmer groups with such irresistible names as Isle of Klezbos and Gay Iz Mir.

And the insurgency was not only in performance art. For example, the board of the National Yiddish Book Center, founded in 1980, consisted of “Aaron Lansky and five lesbians,” according to Adrienne Cooper, director of program development of the Workmen’s Circle and herself a Yiddish singer and actress.

All of which irritated the hell out of the usual suspects.

Well-placed individuals in the Yiddish and klezmer revivals described attempts by some to put a stop to a “takeover” by gay people. None of the individuals wanted to be quoted on the record.

Nevertheless, the snowball kept rolling. Alicia Svigals, a superb violinist and founding member of the Klezmatics, wrote that gay people “surprised each other and everyone else with our unexpectedly large numbers at Klezkamp, the YIVO summer program, and on the staff of YIVO and the National Yiddish Book Center. As younger gays started showing up, they brought queer sensibility, and then queer Yiddishism, with them.”

The affinities between gay people and Yiddish, and especially bundist, culture are, when you think about it, obvious: both are staunchly secular, cosmopolitan, progressive and often marginalized. “Queer Yiddishkeit gives me permission to go back to the world of my grandparents without leaving myself behind,” juggler Sara Felder said.

“It’s about alienation from the Jewish religious establishment,” said Alisa Solomon, a former staff writer for The Village Voice. “There’s a kind of analogy people make with the marginalized status of Yiddish itself. It’s an outsider stance.”

(Spoilsport David Roskies, a professor of Jewish literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary, says Yiddish is popular because it provides an easy but short-lived way for people to connect with a piece of their Jewishness. “You don’t have to belong to any organization, don’t have to have any ideology,” he said, according to a news report. “You can lay any trip you want to on Yiddish and feel you’re doing something authentic and meaningful.”) The modern Yiddish revival is a way for some progressive Jews, gay and straight alike, to repudiate the macho, Israel-inspired “new Jew.” In the past 25 years, machismo has lost its appeal for many, and that much-maligned Eastern European intellectual no longer looks so bad.

It is also a way to be Jewish while avoiding “the Israel problem.” (Having it both ways, klezmer musicians have played on the sidelines of recent Israel Day parades for the “Two Peoples, Two States” contingent, supporting Israel while opposing the occupation.)

The klezmer appeal, though, is not as obvious. Klezmer, after all, is closely associated with wedding music, a Jewish ritual largely denied to gay people. Furthermore, the old-time klezmorim weren’t necessarily so progressive.

But there is the beauty of the sound of klezmer. And maybe because klezmer was primarily instrumental and therefore textless, it has been available to the staunchly secular revival. Which is not to say that klezmer was ever divorced from Jewish religion. But turning liturgical melodies into upbeat dance tunes, as klezmorim did, “was not an expression of opposition to religion”; it was, rather, a manifestation of “total comfort with it” as well as the “integratedness of religion into Jewish life,” Svigals said. (Modern klezmorim embrace the wedding music tradition and turn it to queer purpose with such songs as “Kale-Kale Mazel Tov.”)

The presence of gay people and gay themes in Yiddish culture, however, is not new. Queer Yiddishists tell us, for example, that Yiddish cinema in the 1930s contained “encrypted messages” on homosexuality — think Molly Picon in her trouser role in “Yidl Mitn Fidl,” what Eve Sicular calls “cross-dressing in the service of family values.” She refers to the “gay subtext of Yiddish cinema during its heyday, from the 1920s to the outbreak of World War II, which reveals distinctly Jewish concerns of the time” such as “conflicted identity, passing, and same-sex attachments.”

With these and other examples, queer Yiddishists say that this movement is in no way a disjuncture with the Jewish past but is in fact old strands woven into a new and vibrant Jewish reality. With the Klezmatics as Exhibit A, they make a convincing case.

Kathleen Peratis, a partner in the New York law firm Outten & Golden, is a trustee of Human Rights Watch.

Another Item In The News Lately

Long Island Officials Push for Anne Frank Citizenship
Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Several factors have led to a renewed push for a national US gesture in honor of Anne Frank, the adolescent Holocaust casualty whose published diary has made her a legend.

In 2005, Congressman Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and Islip Town Councilman Chris Bodkin introduced legislation to make Frank the seventh person in history to be granted honorary US citizenship. According to Mr. Bodkin, this was around the same time that a similar measure was defeated in the Dutch government to make her a posthumous citizen of Holland, where she spent the bulk of her life and where she hid from the Nazis. It was also, he said, a year after the US Postal Service rejected a proposal to make Frank the subject of a stamp to commemorate what would have been her 75th birthday.

The citizenship proposal languished. “But now we have a different congress and we’re pushing it through. I hope it will make it onto the floor and I think it will pass if it can make it onto the floor,” Mr. Bodkin said over the phone.

Frank was born in Germany in 1929 to Jewish parents who both came from affluent industrial families. The Franks were proud, moderately prominent German citizens, and Anne’s father, Otto Frank, had been an army officer during World War I.

Germany, however, did not reciprocate the Franks’ loyalty. Within a very short time of the Nazi party’s taking power in 1933, the Franks found themselves the subject of demeaning persecution. Afraid of what it might lead to, they left behind their roots and their wealth and emigrated to Amsterdam.

Anne and her sister Margot, three years older, grew up in a tolerant and deceptively tranquil environment that was undone by the German invasion of 1940. The Franks soon found themselves facing worse persecution than they had known in Germany.

All the world knows what followed. In 1942, the family went into hiding in the upper floors of Otto Frank’s office, with a bookcase concealing the office’s doorway and Mr. Frank’s employees supplying them with necessities. They were ultimately joined by four other Jews – a dentist and a married couple with a teenaged son.

After more than two years, an unknown informant tipped the Nazis off to the hiding place, and all eight occupants were taken into custody. Otto Frank would be the only one among them to return. Anne and Margot both died of typhus at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, having said goodbye to their mother at Auschwitz, where she died of malnutrition.

Adding to the impetus to make his daughter a citizen are letters recently found in the New Jersey archives of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research that reveal that Otto Frank tried before going into hiding to obtain visas would give his family entry into the United States.

Some reports have stated that he tried as early as 1938. It is certain that he was trying with increasing franticness in 1941. His efforts largely centered on writing to friends in the US and asking them to use their influence on his family’s behalf.

“He seemed to be trying quite late,” said Councilman Bodkin. “He was asking for help in ’41, which was way too late to get out. By then things were so bad for the Jews that there was nobody getting out.”

Frank was met by red tape at every turn. A major stumbling block was the fact that he and his wife still had close relatives in Germany.

“To our great shame, the United States kept out many, many Jews who applied to get here; turned away ships and so on,” the Councilman said.

So why give Anne Frank citizenship now?

“She is stateless,” he said. “She’s been rejected by the Dutch and thrown out by the Germans. She’s dearly beloved in this country; every schoolkid reads the diary….So who better to take her in than the United States?”

Some, however, intimate that granting Anne Frank posthumous citizenship would be a self-serving attempt on the US’s part to ease its conscience.

An editorial titled “Frankly, a Shameful Record”, in today's Jewish Daily Forward said, “The best way to honor Anne Frank’s memory — and to demonstrate that America has learned a lesson from its past mistakes — would be for the Bush administration to take comprehensive steps to address the needs of the mounting numbers of Iraqi refugees. It has been estimated that since the American invasion, 1.8 million people in Iraq have been driven from their homes and another 2 million have fled to neighboring states.”

The other individuals to have been granted honorary US citizenship are Britain’s wartime prime minister Winston Churchill, Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, Pennsylvania founders William Penn and Hannah Callowhill, Mother Teresa, and French hero of the American Revolution the Marquis de Lafayette.

Wallenberg’s fame also stems from the Holocaust. He was in charge of a secret operation to provide Hungarian Jews with Swedish passports that would grant them the safety accorded to nationals of neutral countries during the war.

He was granted honorary US citizenship in 1981, having disappeared at the end of the war when the Russians liberated Budapest. It is believed that Stalin ordered his arrest, perhaps because he was thought to be a spy for the US.

Here's a link to an alternate opinion on the above-referenced re-introduced Congressional bill seeking to make Anne Frank an honorary citizen:
Frankly, A Shameful Record
I'm not sure I agree with it, but you can make up your own mind, as if.

Passover 2007 - Pesach 2007 - Countdown Clock
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