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WEST BLOOMFIELD –
“You cant’ be a lesbian; you’re Jewish!” was a lifetime mantra heard by many of the participants of the Twice Blessed Speakers Series kickoff event Jan. 23.
Chuckles and knowing sighs bubbled up from the audience of over 80 people, almost all women, whenever speakers poked fun at the commonly perceived mutual exclusivity of two identities – Jewish and lesbian – that many of them experience every day.
Acclaimed author Leslea Newman delighted and affirmed the audience with readings from her prolific works. Newman, who is best known for her ground-breaking picture book “Heather Has Two Mommies,” read her “Letter to Harvey Milk,” a moving and complex fictional dialogue in the voice of an elderly Jewish widow who had been friends with Milk, the slain San Francisco supervisor. The work reflected the conflicts with family and faith that many LGBT Jews experience in their daily lives. She opened and closed her presentation with readings of poems.
Twice Blessed is a six part speakers’ series sponsored by the Jewish Gay Network, a collaborative group of LGBT and straight Jewish people in greater Detroit. The Twice Blessed series is focusing on the issues that specifically effect women, both gay and straight, who are Jewish.
“Thanks to your efforts, we have made a strong, positive statement in our community,” said JGN chair Judy Lewis in her opening remarks. “I am very proud to represent such a wonderful organization.”
“We are trying to explode stereotypes,” said event co-chair Linda Lee. “Lesbians wear sensible shoes, have short hair and wear tailored clothes – right? Well, I have sensible shoes, short hair, and I’m wearing a suit – but I am not a lesbian!”
Newman said that when she was a young woman she ran from her Jewish background to a small college in upstate Vermont. “When people would ask if I was Jewish, I would say, ‘I used to be.’ When I came out at age 27 was when I really started to integrate my whole being, including my Jewishness.”
After the program the crowd mingled and noshed in the main banquet hall at the Jewish Community Center on Maple Road in West Bloomfield, while Newman signed books and chatted with many of the attendees.
The next Twice Blessed event on March 6 is titled “Silent Crisis: Addressing the Needs of Minority Youth” with speakers Rabbi Lauren Berkum and trainer Kim Phillips-Knope who will address school safely, bullying and violence protection, LGBTIQ issues, education and reproductive health. For more information go to http://www.jgnmi.org.