Episode 35: Twice Blessed - Joshua Lesser

Rabbi Joshua Lesser, of Bet Haverim (House of Friends), a Gay- and Lesbian-founded synagogue in Atlanta, joins Judaism Unbound for a discussion on being Jewish and Queer, reflecting on the history of Queer Jews in American Jewish life, the positive shifts that have taken place over the past few decades, where there is still work to be done, and the significance of the Queer experience for other Jews who may feel less than welcome in many Jewish spaces. [1] [2]

Image Credit: SOJOURN: Southern Jewish Resource Network

Image Credit: SOJOURN: Southern Jewish Resource Network

(0:01 - 14:13): Lesser speaks about his upbringing in Atlanta, particularly his education and experiences in an Orthodox Jewish day school. He also discusses how the landscape of LGBTQ issues has evolved in the Jewish community over the last three decades, both in Atlanta and on a national level. [3]

(14:14 - 25:58): Lesser expands his discussion of LGBTQ-Jewish histories, emphasizing unique gifts that LGBTQ people can bring to Judaism. He offers a critique of the language of "inclusion" and "welcoming," [4] suggesting that as between the "center" and the "margins" of contemporary Jewish life, the margins may actually be more appealing.

(25:59 - 34:26): Lesser addresses the topic of normativity as it applies to gender and sexuality, discussing in particular the tendency of synagogues and other Jewish organizations to center upon families with children, which can cause those who do not have children -- whether by choice or not -- to feel marginalized. 

Credit: Amazon.com

Credit: Amazon.com

(34:27 - 45:08): Lesser then discusses his work with SOJOURN - The Southern Jewish Resource Network, serving LGBTQ Jews in the South as part of a consideration of whether greater openness to marginalized Jews may lessen the impetus to develop powerful new approaches at the "margins." [5] In closing, Lesser looks at what contemporary trends might mean for present-day synagogues, especially those that have historically centered themselves around LGBTQ Jews.

[1] Learn more about Rabbi Lesser's Gay- and Lesbian-founded congregation -- Bet Haverim in Atlanta -- by visiting their website

[2] To learn from one of Rabbi Lesser's former congregants, Sandra Lawson, listen to our previous episode of Judaism Unbound, featuring her as our guest.

[3] Rabbi Lesser references the book Twice Blessed, by Christie Balka and Andy Rose, as a particularly influential one in his life. Published in 1989, it featured essays from Gay and Lesbian Jews, reflecting on their life experiences. A worthy read, this book features an essay by Lex's uncle, Eric Rofes, entitled "Living as All of Who I am: Being Jewish in the Lesbian/Gay Community." You can order the book here.

[4] In discussing the language of "inclusion" and "welcoming," Lesser alludes to the work of Rabbi Benay Lappe. Lappe was the first-ever guest on our Judaism Unbound podcast, and you can listen to that episode at this link. She is also co-hosting next week's episode (Episode 36) with Dan and Lex, which expands on the conversation that took place in this episode, along with Episodes 33 and 34. 

[5] SOJOURN (The Southern Jewish Resource Network) is an organization that Rabbi Lesser founded for LGBTQ Jews in the Southern United States. To learn more, visit their website.