What do you get when you put 80 LGBT Jews together for a weekend?

I’m lucky that I can count on Warren to lighten up a hurricane day, or pretty much any day.  If you need a break from weather coverage, you’re in luck.  Given what readers of this blog know about Warren’s cooking, you can imagine that the subpar food was a particular insult for him.  And, Hillel professionals, read to the end for a great Hillel shout-out!

What do you get when you put 80 LGBT Jews together for a weekend?

a)     A hurricane of neuroses.
b)     Something requiring a short course of antibiotics.
c)      The annual Nehirim Shabbaton.
d)     All of the above.

(The official answer is C, but actually any and all answers are acceptable, even ones not listed here.)

This weekend I went to DC for the annual Nehirim Shabbaton.  Nehirim is a national organization that celebrates the intersection between LGBT/queer identities and Jewish Spirituality.  If the weekend wasn’t quite as spiritually intense as my recent attendance at the Barbra Streisand concert (now THAT was an intersection of gay and Jewish spiritual identities), it was still a nice excuse to meet new people, daven, and attend some workshops.  (Or “Werk-it-gurl-shops,” as I like to call them).

About 80 folks from all over the country, but mainly the DC area, came together at the DCJCC.  The backgrounds ranged from Reform (“Why is there no shrimp at shabbes dinner?”) to Orthodox (“Keep your untorn toilet paper away from me!”).  There were people of varying genders (yes, genders plural), sexualities, races, and even religions.  Single, married, closeted, out and proud, you name it.

Meeting new people is always great, although differences of opinion did arise (Mainly over whether Smash is decent television or not).  Despite the two Jews, three opinions rule that was strongly in effect, there was one issue where we were in complete agreement: that the food was terrible.  From cold soup to undercooked potatoes, this caterer clearly was homophobic.  (“I hate gay people and will inflict my wrath on them with subpar food.”)  A particular low was Friday night’s dessert.  A dish called “mousse” that was either spackle or hair product.  Or maybe a spermicide.  (I didn’t get pregnant this weekend so maybe that’s what it was).   Dear organizers, I know we Jews have a tendency to want to save money, but when you’re trying to pass off wall repair materials as a palate cleanser, it’s time to reconsider.

And speaking of palate cleansers, it’s time for Joke #1.

Q: What’s the gayest letter in the Hebrew alphabet?
A: H-h-e-y-y-y.

Friday night also featured kabbalat Shabbat services, which were “renewal” in form.  I was initially wary of attending, because last time I went to renewal services I literally walked out half way through because it involved congregants getting up to pretend we were “walking through the red sea.” (I’m not making this up.)  These services though were nice, and I, of course, have a soft spot for drums and beating on things while singing in Hebrew.

After dinner and services, a few of us went out.  [If you’re Orthodox, stop reading NOW, because Shabbes is about to be profaned, motherf*%ker!)  So, I had long wanted to visit Town, the hot gay dance club on U Street and three of us went (poor Noam wasn’t allowed to enter the club because he had no ID).  Given that it was Halloween, most people were dressed up in costumes, and while I wish I could say that my costume was of a gay fashionista, I just simply looked overdressed for the place.  The music was great, the boys were hot, the drinks were cheap.  I was happy.  After a few hours of hedonism, it was off to bed at my friend Alex’s place.

Shabbat morning involved services which, true to form, I skipped.  I arrived in time for lunch, still feeling a bit queasy from the previous night’s “delicacies.”  After lunch, though, it was “showtime,” as I was asked to give a talk about the intersection of queer identity and Yiddish culture, based on my book The Passing Game (Available for sale on amazon.com!  Click here.

The room was packed, and I have to say I thought the workshop went over very well (You’re welcome, Nehirim!)  If you missed it, buy the book!

Then there were more workshops, and I opted for the walking tour of DC’s Gayborhood.  Sadly, this ramble wasn’t really enlightening. (“So, this is the Starbucks where my ex and I broke up,” and “At this club, I contracted a particularly stubborn case of gonorrhea.”)  Another Nehirimer and I ditched the tour to sit in a park for a lovely conversation followed by an afternoon snack (did I mention I still wasn’t eating the officially provided food?)

By the time we got back to the JCC, it was havdalah (always a favorite ritual of mine) and then “dinner.”  After “dinner,” I met up with a friend for a drink and then called it night.  (I love gay Jews, but they are definitely energy drainers).

Time for Joke #2

Q: What do gay horses eat?
A: H-h-e-y-y-y.

Sunday morning was the weekend’s brunch and keynote. The keynote was truly excellent.  We were joined by Wayne Firestone, the President of Hillel, and he gave an impromptu but great talk about the work that Hillel is doing to involve LGBT students.  This was particularly meaningful to me because when I was a grad student and attended my first NUJLS (National Union of Jewish LGBT Students) conference, I was told how NUJLS had called my undergrad alma mater Pitt’s Hillel to tell them about NUJLS and whoever they got on the phone said, “We don’t have any gay students here,” and hung up.  I think I might have come out of the closet earlier if my Hillel had embraced who I was.  To hear of the changes at Hillel was exciting, and Firestone’s talk was quite inspiring and definitely the highlight of the weekend (well, aside from the “mousse.”).

After the talk, I dashed to the bus station to beat Hurricane Sandy home.  All in all, it was an ok weekend. I met some nice people, did a kick-ass “werk-it-gurl-shop,” and destroyed my insides.  Actually, that’s most weekends for me.

And on that note, a final joke.

–Knock knock.
–Who’s there?
H-h-e-y-y-y.

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