Monthly Archives: March 2020

Mar 12

12 March 2020

By Editor | Blogs

Dear Friends,

 

Artifice and illusion. That is what was promised to us, the audience, at a performance which Mikayla and I attended this past Sunday by Sasha Velour (real name: Alexander Steinberg), an American drag queen. Sasha was the winner of Season 9 of the now-mainstream show RuPaul’s Drag Race, and, like many of the winners of RPDR, has brought the art (and artifice) of drag to a much bigger audience. There is no better evidence of this than the fact that we were sat not at some bar or dive, but in the plush seats of the historic London Palladium.

 

Sasha’s show was amazing– it was clever, beautiful, extremely intellectual, and incredibly artistic. There was more creativity and invention on display in her two hours of lip-synching, monologuing, and dancing than in most modern art museums. If art is meant to interpret and comment on life, then Sasha has used drag as an art to do that brilliantly.

Indeed, the show was timed very well as additional inspiration for an annual Purim tradition for me and Mikayla: going out in costumes that are purposefully gender-swapped. Some years this has meant the barest suggestion (a dress, a wig, poorly executed make up) and other years we put more work into our illusions. The first time we did this was six years ago and it became a tradition because of the reactions it garnered from friends and strangers. People mentioned it was “frightening” when the illusion was done well and we felt the need to push back a bit against those comments by continuing with our Purim drag. It seems to me that the visual reminder that so much of what we associate with gender and sex- make-up or hair length or jewelry or clothing- is artificial prompts unsettling questions as a result.

 

One of RuPaul’s many quotable maxims is: ‘we’re all born naked and the rest is drag’. Indeed, what well-done drag artists like Sasha can do is expose the artifice and illusion of how we present ourselves to the world. All of us, regardless of sex or gender identity, compose and construct a persona which we walk out of the door every day having put on. We fall into comfortable patterns of appearance, behaviour and dress based on our gender identity, our culture, our community, or our family. We act and dress and talk the way that we do because we are creating a character, even if we don’t think of it that way.

 

What’s so interesting about drag is that it exposes, through exaggeration, how much we’re all engaging in the same endeavour: dressing, pressing, and presenting ourselves to be a particular version of our many possible selves for the world around us. There is no better time than Purim, the day of turning things on their head, to consider how costumes and illusions aren’t just for fancy dress parties, but are a piece of ourselves and the armour that we wear each day before we face the outside world.

Whether we often push our own boundaries, whether we do so daily – or whether only on Purim – we would do well to consider that although we’re all born naked, the rest is certainly artifice and illusion.

Shabbat Shalom,
R’ Adam
Mar 06

5 March 2020

By Editor | Blogs

Dear Friends,

Today will be a very notable day for those of us with school-age children: World Book Day. This is a phenomenon more or less totally new to me. Although World Book Day is a truly international event (originally World Book and Copyright Day), in the UK and Ireland it takes place separately. Of course the highlight is the distribution of books in schools and the custom to come in fancy dress (Azi today, is a triceratops).

Watching the parade of superheroes, Harry Potter characters, suddenly-found Wallys, and the odd Darth Vader this morning, I felt a real swell of appreciation for the cultural value of literacy here in the UK. Interest in reading, publishing, and in a culture of bibliophilia seems to be considerably more pronounced here than in most of my experiences in America. Unscientific as it may seem, I have found the UK to be a profoundly pro-book place to be.

That’s excellent news for me, and I think for all Jews. One of the things that distinguishes us, and one of the things I always make sure to emphasise to school groups, is that Judaism is a religion more or less obsessed with literacy. The primacy of text, interpretative techniques, linguistic intrigues, and the endlessly complex aesthetics of books themselves are all key elements of Jewish life.

Among observant Jews, publishing houses are treated like film studios, and arguments over cloth bookmarks, leather bindings, deckled edges, and the best weight and colour of paper are endless. We are undoubtedly a book-obsessed people- that’s visible in every synagogue (in which The Book is front and centre) as well as in non-religious cultural events (like Jewish Book Week).

I think this is something to be incredibly proud of, and I think that we should encourage a love of books as much as we can. It is our literacy– with text and with language– which has so often defined, and saved, us. An affection for books, for reading, for story-telling, and for debate are all honed and developed by virtue of our insistence on a culture of literacy and literature.

To some extent, every day is World Book Day for us. I am always available to give recommendations for reading- whether Jewish or non-Jewish, fiction or non-fiction. We have an extensive and growing library at SAMS – and an active book group as well! Today, whether sanctioned by the UN or not, whether you’ve dressed up special or not, happy World Book Day, from one bibliophile to another.

Shabbat Shalom,

R’ Adam