Calendar: July 1-7, 2016
FRI | JULY 1
World War II is over and Mathilde is treating the last of the French survivors at the German camps in Warsaw. One night, a panicked nun comes in begging Mathilde to follow her back to the convent. What she finds there is shocking — a sister about to give birth and several others in advanced stages of pregnancy. Fearing the shame of exposure, the nuns increasingly turn to the nonbeliever Mathilde, who seeks the help of Samuel, a Jewish doctor, as their belief system clashes with harsh realities. Landmark Theatres, 10850 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 470-0492. ” target=”_blank”>laemmle.com.
WED | JULY 6
“FOUR CHORDS AND A GUN”
“Four Chords and a Gun” tells the true story of the Ramones. Desperate for a hit, the punk rock band enlisted legendary producer Phil Spector to produce their fifth album in 1978. In the ensuing months, guns were drawn, hearts were broken and an incredible record was created. Written by John Ross Bowie and directed by Jessica Hanna. The cast features Josh Brener (“Silicon Valley,” “The Internship”), Arden Myrin (“MadTV”), Johnathan McClain (“Mad Men”), Matthew Patrick Davis (“Comedy Bang! Bang!”), James Pumphrey (“Arrested Development,” “Key & Peele”) and Michael Daniel Cassady (“Drunk History”). 7 p.m. $25. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 460-9812. MON | JULY 4
FOURTH OF JULY AMERICAFEST
Enjoy one of the largest fireworks displays in Southern California. There will be plenty of music and food vendors in the nearby Arroyo. 9 a.m., parking lot opens; 2 p.m., festival begins; 6 p.m., stadium opens; 7 p.m., opening ceremony; 9:05 p.m., fireworks. $13 general admission; $25 reserved section; free for kids 5 and younger. $30 general parking. The Rose Bowl Stadium, 1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena. (626) 577-3100. ” target=”_blank”>palisadesparade.org.
COMMUNITY FESTIVAL AND FIREWORKS SHOW: EXPOSITION PARK
Concert, food, games, carnival rides and a 45-minute fireworks display. Fireworks begin at dusk, about 9 p.m. Noon.-10 p.m. Free. Exposition Park South Lawn, 700 Exposition Park Drive, Los Angeles. ” target=”_blank”>grandparkla.org.
JULY 4TH EXTRAVAGANZA: WOODLAND HILLS
This huge Fourth of July fireworks festival attracts more than 60,000 people to the West Valley. It features food vendors, a play zone, a free concert with original Beach Boy David Marks with the Surf City Allstars, and a fireworks show. 6 p.m., concert; 9 p.m., fireworks to live music. Free. $20 parking. Warner Park, 5800 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills. ” target=”_blank”>theatricum.com.
FOURTH OF JULY FESTIVAL: STUDIO CITY
This is a fun-filled family festival featuring exhibits, music, food, fireworks, a children’s fun zone and a business exposition. This year’s theme is a Hawaiian luau with the sounds of Elvis on the main stage. Gates open at 4:30 p.m. $25 adults, $10 for children 6-12; free for kids younger than 6. Rooftop viewing and VIP tickets cost extra. CBS Studio Center, 4024 Radford Ave., Studio City. (818) 655-5916. ” target=”_blank”>visitmarinadelrey.com.
The Culver City Fourth of July celebration includes live music, food trucks, midway games and a fireworks display at West Los Angeles College. 4 p.m. $5; free for children under 6. $10 parking. West LA College, 9000 Overland Ave., Culver City.
Reeling in the summer
This summer brings an eclectic group of films to local screens, many featuring specifically Jewish protagonists and covering such disparate subjects as a fundamentalist revolution, a revolutionary TV programmer, the hunt for Adolf Eichmann, religiosity and coming of age in the 1950s.
“Septembers of Shiraz”
Australian director Wayne Blair explores the devastating effect of the Iranian revolution on a secular Jewish family during the early 1980s in “Septembers of Shiraz,” adapted from the award-winning book of the same title by Dalia Sofer. As the film depicts, after the Shah was overthrown in 1979, the rage and resentment of the Iranian underclass was directed against the wealthy, the Jews, the intellectuals and anyone who had been in any way connected to the Shah’s family. When the mob and the Ayatollah Khomeini took power, Islamic fundamentalism became the law of the land, and with it came repression, torture, executions and capricious arrests. Those who felt persecuted under the Shah had now taken power, and started to mimic and even surpass the tyranny of their predecessor.
Academy Award-winning actor Adrien Brody (“The Pianist”) stars as Isaac Amin, a prosperous gemologist and jewelry merchant who is arrested without warning on vague charges of spying for Israel. While in prison, he is physically and emotionally tortured, and it becomes obvious that his interrogator, who himself had been tortured when the Shah held power, is envious of Isaac’s privileged life and enraged that Isaac accepted the social and political structure of the previous regime.
Meanwhile, Isaac’s wife, Farnez (Salma Hayek), a strong, assertive woman, tries in vain to get him released as she watches her entire life disintegrate. Her house is stripped of valuables, employees of her husband start stealing the jewels from his business, and she is powerless to stop what is happening. Among the thieves is the son of her housekeeper, Habibeh (Shohreh Aghdashloo), a Muslim woman who is loyal to the family but starts to believe some of the charges made by the revolutionaries against the former elites.
After turning over his life’s savings, Isaac is released, but he and his family must flee the country, leaving behind everything they still possess, if they are to have any hope of survival.
Blair said one reason he was drawn to the story was that, at its core, it deals with the importance of family. “Family is close to my heart. [During] my own upbringing, I traveled a great deal with my immediate family, as my father was in the military. When he retired and we settled in our hometown, I was around my mother and father’s extended family even more. That meant the world to me.”
And, producer Alan Siegel predicted, “Audiences will sit at the edge of their seats. It’s a thrilling roller-coaster ride that also has a deep meaning for today.”
“Septembers of Shiraz” opens June 24.
“Tikkun” explores issues of determinism, Orthodoxy and sexual repression. According to Israeli filmmaker Avishai Sivan, who is quoted in the media notes, the word “tikkun” means “improvement” in everyday Hebrew, but on a deeper level, “tikkun” has a more metaphysical meaning. Sivan says belief in reincarnation can be found in Judaism, and the term “refers to a soul returning to the living world in order to rectify an unresolved issue from its past life.”
The film takes place in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem, and it focuses on Haim-Aaron (Aharon Traitel), a brilliant yeshiva student who is so devout that he fasts to repent for dropping his prayer boxes. One night, the sexually repressed young man is tempted to masturbate in the bathtub when he collapses, hitting his head against the back of the tub. The paramedics can’t revive him and pronounce him dead, but his father (Khalifa Natour) frantically tries to resuscitate him, and, mysteriously, Haim-Aaron comes back to life. However, he is completely changed. Unable to sleep at night, he takes to wandering the streets and falling asleep during the day in yeshiva class. He begins to tentatively explore the secular world and even accompanies an acquaintance to a brothel, though he can’t bring himself to have sex with the prostitute whom he has just paid. He also announces that he will no longer eat meat, an insult to his father, who is a kosher butcher in a slaughterhouse.
Shot in black-and-white, the movie begins to verge on the surreal as the father comes to fear he has thwarted destiny by reviving his son.
“Tikkun” is tentatively scheduled to open in Los Angeles June 17.
“Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You”
Logan Lerman and Sarah Gadon in “Indignation”
Another Jewish boy from the East is the central character in “Indignation,” based on Philip Roth’s 2008 semi-autobiographical novel of the same title. The movie depicts college life in the 1950s and centers on Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), son of a kosher butcher shop owner in Newark, N.J. Marcus escapes the Korean War draft by means of a scholarship courtesy of his synagogue to Winesburg College, a small school in Ohio.
While Marcus is happy to be free from his smothering father, he is uninterested in college social life or in forming close friendships, preferring to focus on his studies. However, the independent-minded Marcus encounters some new, unexpected experiences, including anti-Semitism and an infuriating requirement to attend weekly chapel. He also experiences his first sexual encounter, along with his first love.
Writer, producer and film company executive James Schamus (he earned an Oscar nomination for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) makes his directorial debut with this film. Schamus is quoted in the production notes as saying, “It was a real limbo time after World War II. The sexual revolution was yet to come, anti-communism and the Blacklist were in the news, and teenage culture, as we know it, was just around the corner. Meanwhile there’s another massive war going overseas. Our characters are really struggling to find themselves in that landscape.”
Variety’s chief international film critic, Peter Debruge, praised the movie, writing in his review at Sundance earlier this year, “ ‘Indignation’ unfolds at a certain distance, both in maturity and time: Schamus may not have lived the era, the way Roth did, but he channels the ’50s still-conservative mentality convincingly enough, hitting the novel’s tragic final note ever so delicately, devastating those drawn in by Marcus and his dreams.”
Roth, who attended the premiere of “Indignation” at Sundance, called it “the most faithful adaptation” of one of his works he’s seen.
“Indignation” opens July 29.
“The Tenth Man”
“The Tenth Man,” directed by Daniel Burman, tells the story of a man’s return to his observant Jewish roots. Ariel (Alan Sabbagh) has been living in New York and enjoying a successful career as an economist but has distanced himself from his background. He returns to the Jewish section of Buenos Aires, Argentina, known as El Once, where he was raised, in part to introduce his father, Usher (played by himself), and the rest of his family, to his fiancée, a dancer who is supposed to follow him to Buenos Aires after she completes an audition.
During his visit, Ariel gets pulled into helping at his father’s market and performing certain duties for his father’s charitable Jewish foundation. While Ariel keeps trying to meet with him, Usher remains elusive and constantly involved in aid projects. The situation brings back Ariel’s feelings of being neglected as a child when his father attended to his charitable activities.
While Ariel remembers wanting more of his father’s attention when he was a child, Ariel also finds himself brought back emotionally to the way of life of his formative years.
As Ariel draws closer to his heritage and to the community he left behind, he also draws closer to Eva (Julieta Zylberberg), an Orthodox, silent and beguiling woman who works for Usher’s foundation.
Burman explains in the media notes how he and Usher, a real person heading a real foundation, met for the first time. The two were on a pilgrimage to visit the graves of Sadikin, Jewish mystics of the 17th and 18th centuries who, according to legend, had a direct connection to God. Burman says there was something about Usher that he found fascinating.
“This feeling only grew when I learned more about his kingdom, his army of volunteers, that mysterious world of people giving without a special satisfaction beyond something provided by the fact of doing what needs to be done, as part of a particular logic of aid. In the foundation, the others who are being helped are not an undifferentiated mass that needs just anything. The help there is about the uniqueness of each individual. In order to give somebody exactly what he needs, there has to be an intention to understand why he needs this and nothing else. That world captivated me.”
“The Tenth Man” opens in August, exact release date TBA.
“The People vs. Fritz Bauer“
Burghart Klauner in “The People vs. Fritz Bauer”
Argentina is also a major element in “The People vs. Fritz Bauer,” a docudrama about German-Jewish prosecutor Fritz Bauer (Burghart Klauner), who is credited with locating Adolf Eichmann, the SS officer in charge of arranging the deportation of vast numbers of Jews to death camps before he became a fugitive after the war.
The film opens in 1957, when Bauer has returned to Germany from Denmark and Sweden after World War II and makes it his mission to expose and prosecute former Nazi officials, many of whom are now prospering in business or holding positions in the German government. But members of the current government block Bauer’s efforts at every turn, either because they don’t want their past Nazi activities exposed or don’t want to relive Germany’s crimes.
One day, Bauer receives a letter from Argentina written by the father of a girl who is dating Eichmann’s son. The letter reveals that Eichmann is living incognito in Buenos Aires.
Bauer is passionately anxious to have Eichmann extradited and put on trial in Germany, but his goals are again thwarted by German authorities who are former National Socialists. So Bauer is forced to enlist the aid of the Israeli Mossad, an act tantamount to treason and punishable by imprisonment.
After verifying Eichmann’s identity, the Mossad does capture him, but Bauer’s desire to have him tried in Germany is overridden by those at the highest levels of government in Israel, the United States and Germany, so Eichmann is prosecuted and hanged in Israel.
It was only after Bauer’s death in 1968 that his part in finding Eichmann was revealed.
“The People vs. Fritz Bauer” opens Aug. 19.
Also of interest:
“Agnus Dei” (The Innocents) is a French-Polish movie directed by Anne Fontaine (“How I Killed My Father”) that tells the almost-unknown story of Madeleine Pauliac, a French doctor who took care of concentration camp survivors in Warsaw right after World War II. When a nun shows up to her clinic and begs for her help at a convent, Pauliac discovers several pregnant nuns, one of whom is about to give birth. A nonbeliever herself, Pauliac finds the nuns becoming more and more dependent on her in the tragic aftermath of war. Opens July 1.
“The Kind Words” is an Israeli film about a woman and her two brothers who get a shock after their mother dies and they learn that she had been having a long-term affair with an Algerian. Fearing their real father may have been a Muslim, the three travel from Israel to Paris and Marseilles to seek out the truth. Opens July 1.
“Life, Animated” is a documentary about Owen Suskind, an autistic boy who never spoke until he learned to engage with the world by continually watching Disney films, such as “The Lion King.” The films inspired him to empathize and identify with characters outside of himself. Opens July 8.
“Café Society,” Woody Allen’s latest romantic comedy, is about a young man from the Bronx who tries to succeed in the glamorous world of Hollywood during the 1930s. Opens July 15.
High Holy Days: Chanting Torah for mom
“But what are you chanting for?” the woman cutting my hair wanted to know. She didn’t mean the glory of God or even my own spiritual well-being. It turned out she had once belonged to a 1970s church that chanted for things like shoes and better jobs. But when I am standing on the bimah on Rosh Hashanah, before the 1,500 or so people who fill the sanctuary at Temple Israel of Hollywood, I confess I ask myself the same question. I look down at the open Torah scroll, feeling certain that I have never seen these black letters before; the only thing I can think of is the old saying that the prospect of hanging concentrates the mind wonderfully. I hear the congregation settle. Someone coughs. And then, because everyone is waiting and the little silver yad sits pointing to a letter, there is nothing but for it to begin. Amen, four steps. Open the throat and let the mind slip in to the other place, where the shapes have meanings and the meanings are sounds. Then the whole world becomes the scroll, its faintly golden color a source of light, and the whole crowded sanctuary seems focused on the words I am giving my voice to. The moment of being just voice, of giving myself to the words, the experience of it is frightening but exhilarating. It is a unique kind of surrender.
It is the start of Elul as I write this. Time to take stock, to look back and prepare for the Days of Awe and to take out the verses I am going to chant this year. Because I read Hebrew more or less letter by letter, I have to do a lot of preparation. When I was first asked to chant for the big Rosh Hashanah service, my mother offered to help me. This was in some way absurd since she was raised as a Methodist, converted to Catholicism, and knew no Hebrew, much less any trope. But she could hear me. She knew my voice. She could hear when I was true to the text and when my attention wandered. “One more time,” she would insist. And then, “Oh, that was beautiful,” when it was. It was something we did together, by phone, until she developed dementia and moved to Los Angeles. The first September she was here, I had to bring my pages of the tikkun to Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, where she was recovering from a fall. Chanting in front of her and the nurses really tested my courage.
I came to chanting Torah by accident. Before I began to study trope, I hadn’t sung alone in front of people since tryouts for a high school production of “South Pacific.” At my adult bat mitzvah, there were so many of us that no one got more than a verse or two to chant. It wasn’t until my friend and cantor Aviva Rosenbloom was about to leave Temple Israel that I signed up for whatever she was teaching, and it turned out to be this — this ancient practice.
Two months ago, after a decade of slow decline, my mom passed away. It might have occurred to me to say no when my rabbi, John Rosove, wrote to ask if I would chant again this Rosh Hashanah. But I did not. I’ve been a member of his congregation for all my Jewish life. We’ve known each other since our youngest children were babies. When my mother died, Rabbi Rosove led shivah services at my house. About my chanting this year without my mother, he wrote to me, “I’ll be beside you.”
Last year, my mother was with me at the smaller second-day service to hear me chant. The verses were about Sara’s pregnancy and her joy, about the son she calls laughter because — and here the trope trills in lovely rising notes — everyone will laugh with her.
Getting my mom settled in the chapel, finding a place for her wheelchair and trying to explain what was going on was complicated. Sometimes she was heartbreakingly present, oftentimes bitterly confused. It was hard to tell what she could hear or see or understand. When I got up to chant, I wasn’t thinking about the possibility that this might be the last time she would be there, listening to me.
We said the blessing. I looked down at the unfamiliar, unpunctuated Hebrew letters, waiting for them to become words, trying to focus, to be present in this moment instead of worrying about what my mother was going to do or say or what was going to happen to her or me. I began. Amen. And then the words I had practiced and practiced with her took over. When I looked up again, it was done and she was there, her eyes closed, smiling, pleased in her very particular way, careful not to make too much of my success. As if it was what she had always expected from me.
If there is an answer to my hairdresser’s question, it is probably this: I always long for the moment when I can step outside of the tangle of everyday worry and fear to feel the one-ness, the truth that we are all small parts of a large mystery — me, the scroll, my mom, the words and the letters that begin it all.
Home of Tikkun’s Rabbi Lerner vandalized
The northern California home of Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the progressive Tikkun magazine, was vandalized.
Posters attached to his door and the fence around his Berkeley home attack Lerner personally, and liberals and progressives, as being supporters of terrorism and “Islamofascism,” according to a news release from the magazine.
The vandalism occurred late Sunday night or early Monday morning, and was discovered Monday morning.
It follows a week in which the magazine and Lerner received hate mail, apparently because Tikkun announced that it will award controversial Judge Richard Goldstone with its prestigious Tikkun Award. Some have pilloried Goldstone, a South African, for his United Nations report that accused Israel and Hamas of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the winter 2009 Gaza war.
Lerner also offered to hold the bar mitzvah for Goldstone’s grandson in San Francisco following threats of protests outside the synagogue in South Africa.
It was the first time in 24 years of the magazine’s operation that Lerner’s home was attacked, according to the magazine’s statement.
No one has claimed responsibility, though the statement blamed “right-wing Zionists.”
The case is being investigated as an act of vandalism. It reportedly is not a hate crime, according to police, because Lerner was being attacked for his politics, not his religion.
How YOU Can Help Israel; Electronic Devices
How YOU Can Help Israel
Kids in Los Angeles can send letters to kids in Israel by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The letters will be printed out and inserted into “care packages” that are beng sent out to families in shelters in Northern Israel. When you send an e-mail, include your name, age and address.
- In addition to expressing support, you can write about whatever it is that you, as kids, like to talk about.
- Ask that the children e-mail or mail you back.
- It is important that spelling and grammar are correct (have an adult or older sibling read it first), otherwise it can be difficult for the Israeli children to understand.
Remember: Tikkun olam comes in all shapes and sizes.
Kein v’ Lo: Electronic Devices
This section of the page is a way for you as kids to sound off about an issue. This month’s Kein v’ Lo (yes and no) is about personal electronic devices. Are kids spending too much time on iPods, PSPs and cellphones?
The Kein Side:
- The obesity rate among children is growing because many are sitting down (or standing still), playing games on their PSPs and texting their friends via their phones and not getting enough exercise.
- A lot of kids listen to their iPods all the time — even in public — and are not learning to how to interact with people. The headphone volume could also cause many of them to have hearing problems.
The Lo Side:
- Kids are learning to be technologically savvy — skills that are very important for doing homework and will later be used to get good jobs.
- By texting their friends and talking on cellphones, kids are socializing all the time. Playing games on PSPs keeps minds sharp because players have to constantly think. Some teachers even use iPod podcasts (streaming video or audio) as learning tools for class.
Discuss your opinions in your classroom or around your dining table with your family. We aren’t saying which is right and which is wrong. We want to know what you think. Send your thoughts to Kids@jewishjournal.com with Kein v’Lo in the subject line.
Pages & Picks
Shabbat candles you don’t have to light? A shofar you can drop and it won’t break? A pyramid that you can build without breaking a sweat? Impossible you say! Not so with Joel Stern’s “Jewish Holidays Origami” (Dover Publications, $5.95). In addition to the step-by-step craftmaking, the book includes background on eight holidays — as well as on the objects for that holiday. And because the crafts come in beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, younger kids can make a siddur, while the older ones create a Torah scroll. And the best part? No messy glue — although parents might want to check to see that kids’ report cards don’t turn into a paper hamantaschen.
Gay Orthodox Rabbi Peels Back His Life
“Like peeling an onion,” Rabbi Steven Greenberg said, about the process of coming out. The first openly gay Orthodox rabbi, he initially wrote about his sexuality under a pseudonym, Rabbi Yaakov Levado (meaning Jacob Alone), for Tikkun magazine in 1993 and then in 1999 came out publicly in an interview in the Israeli newspaper, Ma’ariv.
Greenberg, who appears prominently in the award-winning film, “Trembling Before G-d,” now tells the story of his own journey and also offers new readings of traditional Jewish texts related to homosexuality, and argues for gay and lesbian inclusion in the Orthodox community in his first book. “Wrestling With God & Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition” (University of Wisconsin), he said, is the peeling back of another layer.
“We all have internal pieces that are not so clear to us; in our recognition and articulation of them, we come out,” Greenberg, a senior teaching fellow at CLAL who has been there for almost 20 years, said in an interview in his New York apartment on the Upper West Side. “It’s a metaphor of growth and self-actualization.”
As wrestling is a more assured verb than trembling, his own stance in the book is confident, presenting a Judaism that is both loving and accepting, where the act of engaging tough questions is essential.
The author, 47, grew up in a Conservative family in Columbus, Ohio. As a teenager, he was drawn to the teachings of an Orthodox rabbi; they studied together, and Greenberg, who was warmly welcomed into the rabbi’s home and community, took on traditional observance.
While he remembers the origins of his religious identity in detail, the origins of his homosexuality are not as clear, although he had a sense of being different from the age of 10. After high school, he attended Yeshiva University and then Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel, enjoying “the male camaraderie and physical affection, the spiritual passion and intellectual head-butting.”
Aware of his attraction to a fellow student, he visited a Jerusalem sage, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashuv, and spoke candidly of what he then thought was the truth, that he was attracted to men and women. The sage responded, “My dear one, you have twice the power of love. Use it carefully.” The rabbi’s words calmed him and buoyed him above his fears. He felt that he could still marry and have a family.
In his years in rabbinical school back in New York — he received his ordination in 1983 — he dated women regularly, even “fell in love” but had no sexual interest in them. Once, over dinner, a new male friend asked him if he ever felt desire for a man, and their conversation jolted him.
Later that evening, he replaced his kippah with a baseball cap and wandered toward Christoper Street in Greenwich Village for the first time. Soon after, he began his first gay relationship with the same new friend.
Not giving up on the idea of marriage and family, he became engaged but realized he couldn’t marry the woman. He began to fully acknowledge to himself that he was gay, although he treasured his life of observance and his work as a teacher of Torah, and couldn’t imagine giving that up. Then he began writing about his dilemma, published the pseudonymous article and received much supportive mail, which expanded his world.
He moved back to Israel in 1996, began a gay men’s study group and helped raise money for a gay community center. He tied his official “outing” to the opening of the center, and the article about him in Ma’ariv was headlined, “In the Name of Partnership.”
Other gay Orthodox Jews have been counseled by rabbis to try to change through reparative therapy — Greenberg believes there is no demonstrably effective therapy, and that some of what is proposed can harm the patient — or to marry and ignore what they know about themselves or to remain celibate. Many are shamed; many end up leaving the community, but for Greenberg, that was not an option he considered.
Understanding the author’s trajectory is useful for the reader, for Greenberg’s experience informs his original readings of sacred texts. He is also inspired by generations of rabbis who preceded him, who also offered their own interpretations.
“I wanted to demonstrate the breadth of the tradition, the audaciousness of the rabbis,” he said. “Many are not aware of how shockingly bold rabbinic thought can be.”
A project of almost a decade, the book is well-written. Greenberg’s readings don’t lend themselves to quick summaries. He looks deeply into the meaning of words and looks with compassion at their impact.
“I begin with assumptions not about God’s control but about God’s love,” he explained, moving from the opening stories of Genesis, with their depiction of human loneliness, to the two verses in Leviticus that condemn sex between men as an abominable act punishable by death to references in the Talmud to sex between women. He also writes of stories of same-sex love in the Bible, like Jonathan’s love of David.
Greenberg also explores four rationales for the prohibitions in Leviticus, relating to reproduction, social disruption, category confusion and humiliation and violence. It’s the latter, he explained, that is his own most audacious reading in the book.
He suggests that sex between men was prohibited, because it was seen as an act of degradation and aggression in the way that women might have been abused. He asserts that the verses can be interpreted as a critique of the male-dominated social hierarchy, that it’s possible to read the verses as prohibiting the kind of sex that is demeaning, that such emotional violence is abominable even between men and women.
He said that such a reading can be healing for women, as well as for gay men, promoting a sexuality that is not about control.
In conversation, he commented, “The text doesn’t silence me. It calls me to speak my testimony.”
He realizes that some readers will trash his ideas, but he hopes that they will still hear his “as a religious voice that they can’t help responding to.” And he hopes they’ll understand that he is not attempting to corrupt or manipulate the system but to “truly respond to the human condition as I see it.”
Greenberg’s speaking style is warm and rabbinic, frequently quoting verses of text, then translating, always teaching. His face is expressive, showing signs of pain, empathy, freedom and joy, and he gestures with his arms, punctuating his words.
The light-filled brownstone apartment he shares with his partner of four years, actor and musician Steven Goldstein, is filled with books, as well as Judaica items, musical instruments and items from their travels. The apartment opens onto a rare Manhattan commodity, a backyard, where they build their sukkah.
He is comfortable with the role increasingly expected of him, as a spokesman for gay issues in the Jewish community. About gay marriage, he’s careful to separate civil and religious marriage, and as to the former, he’s in favor and sees it as a civil rights issue — where all citizens in committed, long-term relationships should be entitled to the same benefits. The subject of same-sex religious marriage is something he’s thinking about and studying.
In the book’s final section, he constructs the parameters of a respectful conversation between a gay Jew and an Orthodox rabbi, suggesting ways they might hear each other and continue their conversation, although the gap between them might be huge. He presents a working solution to the halachic and communal dilemmas, in which gay and lesbian Jews might be welcomed into synagogues: That rabbis agree not to humiliate or intimidate them from the pulpit, that gay and lesbian congregants not engage in public advocacy, that there be no lying in the community — that gays and lesbians tell the truth about their lives.
Admittedly not perfect, the plan is in fact rather modest, but as Greenberg explained, he believes in incremental change.
He writes that he and his partner were “actively encouraged” to join the Orthodox synagogue where they are now members, after they met the rabbi at a screening of “Trembling Before G-d.” The rabbi, who called the following day to reaffirm his invitation, is Rabbi Steve Friedman of Ramat Orah on the Upper West Side.
“For me,” he explained, “I want to belong not to a gay synagogue, but to a synagogue with gays and straight people, old and young. It’s a wider engagement with the Jewish community that’s most appealing to me.”
If the aims in terms of community acceptance seem modest, what are Greenberg’s dreams?
“I want a 16-year-old in an Orthodox day school who discovers that he or she is gay to know there’s a decent life inside the community that he or she can plan for,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. I want it to be possible for the Jewish community to be a place where everyone can fantasize a Jewish future of personal development, love and companionship, service to the Jewish people, to the larger world and to God.”
Rabbi Steve Greenberg will participate in a panel discussion, “Gay Marriage: The Jewish Perspective,” with Dennis Prager, Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Rabbi Josef Kanefsky and professor Marcy Straus, moderated by Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman, on May 12, 7:30 p.m. at the University of Judaism. For reservations, call (310) 440-1246.