EXHIBITION | HONORING OUR ELDERS

LGBTQIA+ LEGACY VIDEOS

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Curated in this exhibit are oral histories from a diverse group of LGBTQIA+ Jewish elders in the Bay Area. These 10-12 minute short videos are distilled from 12 hours of in-depth student interviews. The stories of these elders are a reservoir of information, wisdom, and encouragement for emerging activists and leaders, for today’s students, and for historians of the future.

This exhibit is the culmination of several years teaching a semester-long, project-based learning course, titled “Honoring Our LGBTQIA+ Jewish Elders'' led by Rabbi Camille Angel at the University of San Francisco. Through this class students engage in meaningful interactions with LGBTQIA+ Jewish elders, embarking on a path of community-engaged learning that fosters critical thinking and cultivates a commitment to the public good.

Students in conversation with queer elders learn LGBTQIA+ history from those who have lived and contributed to it significantly. In small unnoticed ways and grander more public ways students get to know a group of proud trans, lesbian, gay, intersex, 65 and older, who have managed to have thriving lives through it all. Students explore Jewish ethics, Feminism, Ethics, and Intersectionality, students are empowered to confront societal inequities with compassion and conviction. Applying Jewish ethics, students consider what it means to have a sense of covenantal responsibility to believe in the inherent human dignity and value of all human beings, and the paramount obligation of individuals and societies to pursue justice and righteousness.

It is a Jewish obligation for an individual to transmit the learning to another generation. We have a tradition of writing ethical wills. These legacy videos are a type of ethical will.

Echoing a time-honored Jewish tradition, the concept of the ethical will transcends generations, serving as a vessel for passing down life lessons, values, and aspirations. Much like the biblical figures Jacob and Moses, who imparted their wisdom to future generations, these legacy videos carry forth the torch of guidance and inspiration.

In Judaism, the transmission of legacy is a sacred obligation, irrespective of familial ties. Whether as parents, godparents, aunts, or teachers, individuals bear the responsibility of sharing the invaluable wisdom accrued through their own life journeys. These ethical will legacy videos stand as a testament to the enduring commitment to preserving and imparting collective wisdom for generations to come.

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San Francisco’s history of Jews and Queers

San Francisco is well known for its long Jewish history and the LGBTQIA+ community. San Francisco, dubbed the “Gay Capital of the World,” is a label most of us wear as a badge of honor. The city has long been the cradle of American cultural change – from Bohemians to beats to hippies to hackers – and is a leader in the fight for human rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people.

This project merges Jewish and LGBTQIA+ identities and focuses on the contributions of elders in the Bay Area. In telling these stories, the goal is to preserve the lessons shared by these elders and mark the central role that Jewish activists have played in building the Bay Area as a queer sanctuary and a place of leading change.

Giants like Harvery Milk have been written about and well documented. But scholarship needs to look at the many stories whose impact has been great, but whose light and legacy hasn’t been lifted, the grassroots organizers.
These stories help us construct the legacy of our unique intersections.

Rabbi Angel’s “Circle of Elders” includes: Sandra Marilyn, Joss Eldredge, Marcy Adelman, Eli Andrew Ramer, Avi Rose, Tova Green, Jay Cohen, Mike Shriver, Paul Cohen, Pam David, Mark Leno, Lisa Szer, Allen Bennett, Kathleen Archambeau, and many more. All of whom have contributed something to the suture that is unapologetically queer.

In contrast to narrow definitions of religiosity, including observing dietary laws or sabbath observations, most of the elders who have contributed to this exhibit do not describe themselves as religious Jews. However, each of them has dedicated considerable time, energy, and financial resources towards the work of social justice, within and outside of Jewish communities. They see their work as being influenced by their Jewish identity and values.

Witness this exhibit, the first ever effort at compiling a Jewish Queer history of the Bay Area. It shows a remarkable story that spans decades from the first gay rabbi of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav to the first Rabbi in Residence at a Jesuit Catholic University, Queering Religion at the University of San Francisco in 2019. It's a showcase chronicling quiet courage and noisy protest. Highlighting some of our local heroes and steadfast activists, who’ve dedicated their lives to making a better future for generations to come.

In the course of students' work and research, students become acquainted with many aspects of Jewish and LGBTQIA+ culture and history. Elders invest themselves in cultivating literate allies to help ensure the hard-won rights aren’t lost. Teaching about their activism ensures that their successes can be emulated, and failures are not repeated.

We have by no means exhausted the subject of Jewish, LGBTQIA+ history, in fact, we’ve barely begun. This is just an initial attempt, a rough map of the past as it presents itself from the particular 21st century vantage points. The hope is that future historians will find in this exhibit a tempting invitation to uncover more of the rich legacies of Jewish, Queer people in the San Francisco Bay Area.” RCSA