BY SHARON GITTLEMAN
WEST BLOOMFIELD – There are those who think being born lesbian and Jewish sends you out into life with twice the troubles. Judith Slotkin, founder and co-organizer of the Twice Blessed Speakers Series, would disagree.
“Twice blessed is used to mean Jewish and lesbian,” said Slotkin, who is both. “It’s a sense of pride.”
The lectures will kick off with a talk entitled, “You Can’t be a Lesbian; You’re Jewish!” held at 7 p.m. on Jan. 23, at the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit in West Bloomfield.
The series is designed to build awareness and acceptance of Jewish lesbians in the greater community, said Slotkin, a member of the Jewish Gay Network, the group producing the event.
“The time is right. It just is,” she said. “This is the moment where we will stand up and say, ‘these are social issues and these are human rights issues and it’s the time these issues should be addressed in our society.'”
In the six-part series, running through Sept. 9, discussions will be held on hot topics, from women’s rights and school safety to health care.
Massachusetts author Leslea Newman will be the first speaker. She’ll read passages from her book “Heather has Two Mommies,” and her short story, “A Letter to Harvey Milk,” which is being adapted into a screenplay.
“I was always very identified strongly as a cultural Jew,” said Newman. “We weren’t very religious.”
When she turned 47, she decided to stand on the bimah – the raised area in a synagogue where people ascend to read portions of the Hebrew bible during services, for her bat mitzvah, a Jewish coming-of-age ceremony normally performed by teens.
The experience changed her life.
“There was something so powerful about being on the bimah with my family in the congregation and reciting those 5,000-year-old words that are so melodious and so beautiful and touched me in a way nothing else does,” she said. “It made me very humble and very grateful to be alive and to have come to that moment.”
The experience made her want to learn more about what she’d been rejecting in the past.
“One thing I learned, it’s a lifelong struggle coming to terms with one’s Judaism,” said Newman. “What’s meaningful to me is a strong belief in a God. For me, it’s about faith, connecting to my ancestors, observing the holidays and thinking about life in a spiritual way and not just about myself.”
Faith is just one part of being Jewish.
“It’s about being a ‘mentsch’ – being a human being in the true sense of the word,” she said.
Twice blessed won’t only feature speakers.
On August 1, a film about the extraordinary experiences of two Jewish women born at the close of the 19th Century will be presented.
“They were stepsisters and became partners for their whole life,” said Linda Lee, the event’s co-organizer. “They were artists who took on masculine names in Paris. They ended up on the Isle of Jersey and became resistance fighters against the Nazis.”
Audience members will have the chance to talk to the filmmaker who documented their life stories at the screening.
The series will end in the fall, with a discussion about “creating sacred space.”
“The last program is zeroing in on Jewish gay issues,” Lee said. “This is what we’ve done and now where do go from here – summarizing the five programs.”
Sponsorship for the lectures is coming from a number of sources, including Paramount Bank and the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Detroit.
The foundation, an organization run primarily by straight women, provided a $9,600 grant for the lecture series, Lee said.
The grant request was to do programs for and about Jewish lesbians, said Lee, the volunteer coordinator for JGN.
“This is a minority at risk population and we wanted to reach out and make these women feel more a part of the Jewish community and make the Jewish community more familiar with the GLBT community,” she said.
Several factors will reveal if the series has been a success, said Lee.
“We’re hoping to see change,” she said. “I don’t think it’s not being welcoming, it’s just not on people’s radar,” she said.
When synagogues, temples and Jewish organizations were asked to be patrons and partners for the event, they not only helped out, they asked that their groups be added to the links on the JGN web page, said Lee.
“That’s a positive sign,” she said. “The response has been extremely gratifying – to know Jewish women in this community are supporting this program financially.”
In a perfect world, adjectives wouldn’t be needed to nail down individuals’ identities, she said.
“We will make progress when the world accepts people for who they are,” said Lee.
Newman share’s Lee’s vision.
“Its important to be who you are in the world and to be proud of yourself because that’s what you deserve,” said Newman.