As LGBTQ Jewish people, we have often been put in situations where we need to create our own ways of persevering through tough moments. Surviving and thriving in this world has pushed us to create our own store of unique wisdom about resilience, joy, and community.

In Keshet’s YouTube series Joy and Resilience, we spoke with with LGBTQ Jews from different gender, racial and ability identities about what sustains them and keeps them hopeful. In Season Two, we partnered with Be’chol Lashon for a new series of interviews centering LGBTQ Jews of Color.

Season Two:

Anthony Russell
The Empress Mizrahi
Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein
Davi Cheng
Souks Soukhaseum
Ruben Shimonov

Season One:

Eric Marcus
Noam Sienna
Koach Baruch Frazier
Talia Johnson
Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie
Kate Bornstein
Rachel Mason

 

Meet Our Guests:

 

Click here to watch Ruben Shimonov’s episode on YouTube.

Ruben Shimonov is an educator, community builder, and social entrepreneur passionate about Jewish diversity. He previously served as Director of Community Engagement & Education at Queens College Hillel, where he had the unique role of creating meaningful Jewish experiences for Sephardic and Mizrahi students. Currently, Ruben is the National Director of Sephardi House & Young Leadership at the American Sephardi Federation. Among his various roles at ASF, he serves as an educator and the director of a national student fellowship that seeks to infuse the warmth, wisdom, and diversity of the Greater Sephardic world into campus life. He is also the Founding Executive Director of the Sephardic Mizrahi Q Network—the sole international organization building a supportive and much-needed community for LGBTQ+ Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews—as well as Director of Educational Experiences & Programming for the Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee. As a visual artist, Ruben uses his multilingual Arabic-Hebrew-Persian calligraphy to build Muslim-Jewish interfaith bridges. In 2018, Ruben was listed among The Jewish Week’s “36 Under 36” emerging leaders and changemakers. He is an alumnus of the COJECO Blueprint, Nahum Goldmann and ASF Broome & Allen Fellowships for his work in Jewish social innovation and education. Currently, he is a Jewish Pedagogies Research Fellow at M²–Institute of Experiential Jewish Education. He was also recently accepted to partake in the Schusterman Foundation’s 2022 ROI Summit in Jerusalem. Ruben has lectured extensively on the histories and cultures of Sephardic and Mizrahi communities. Among his speaking engagements, Ruben has taught at New York University, University of Southern California, multiple Limmud conferences (United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, New York, Seattle), Jews of Color Torah Academy, and Hillel International.

Click here to watch Souks Soukhaseum’s episode on YouTube.

Souks Soukhaseum was born in Laos and came to the United States in the 1980s. He grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. After graduating from college with a degree in Finance, he moved to New York City and worked in the corporate world. He comes from a background in finance and hospitality. While working in the corporate world, he found himself drawn to the volunteer responsibilities offered at work. He eventually became co-chair of events at Merrill Lynch and Bank of America’s LGBTQ affinity group. He joined the Free Synagogue of Flushing (FSF) in 2014 as a member before becoming the Director of Community Affairs in 2016, as well as the congregation’s historian. As Director of Community Affairs, he is tasked with keeping the synagogue relevant within the communities that they serve. He draws upon his gay, Asian, and Jewish identities and experiences to serve the diverse community of Flushing’s Chinatown.

 

Click here to watch Davi Cheng’s episode on YouTube.

Davi Cheng is a Hong Kong born Chinese-American lesbian Jew, an artist, and accidental activist. She plays trumpet and french horn in the klezmer band Gay Gezunt and likes to sound the shofar. She is the Past President of Temple Beth Chayim Chadashim  (the world’s first LGBTQI synagogue founded in 1972 in Los Angeles). She was the Art Director for Lunar: The Jewish-Asian Film Project and currently works as the Graphic Designer/Webmaster for Be’chol Lashon. Davi lives in Los Angeles with her spouse of 43 years, college sweetheart Bracha Yael.


Click here to watch Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein’s video on YouTube.

Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy and core faculty in women’s and gender studies at the University of New Hampshire. She is a columnist for New Scientist and Physics World, and her book, The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred, won the 2021 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Science & Technology and was one of Smithsonian Magazine’s Best Science Books of 2021. Her research in theoretical physics focuses on cosmology, neutron stars, and dark matter. She also does research in Black feminist science, technology, and society studies. Nature recognized her as one of 10 people who shaped science in 2020, and Essence has recognized her as one of “15 Black Women Who Are Paving the Way in STEM and Breaking Barriers.” A co-founder of Particles for Justice, she received the LGBT+ Physics Acknowledgment of Excellence Award for her contributions to improving conditions for marginalized people in physics and the 2021 American Physical Society Edward A. Bouchet Award for her contributions to particle cosmology. Originally from East Los Angeles, she divides her time between the New Hampshire Seacoast and Cambridge, MA.

Click here to watch The Empress Mizrahi’s video on YouTube.

Matthew Nouriel, aka The Empress Mizrahi, is a non-binary digital activist and content creator of Iranian Jewish descent living in Los Angeles, California. In recent years, Matthew has been using their voice to passionately advocate and fight for the causes they believe in – namely LGBTQ+ rights and equality within the Iranian and Jewish communities, and combating antisemitism – using their social media as a means to reach those who relate to their perspective and lived experiences, as well as engaging audiences on speaker panels and speaking engagements accross the country. They have taken on leadership roles with both queer and non queer organizations such as JDC Entwine, JQ International, Tel Aviv Institute, and most recently joined the team at JIMENA – Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa. In 2021 they were the recipient of the TrailBlazer Award at the JQ International annual Impact Awards.

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Click here to watch our launch episode on YouTube.

Anthony Russell (he/him) is a vocalist, composer and arranger specializing in music in the Yiddish language. His work in traditional Ashkenazi Jewish musical forms led to a musical exploration of his own ethnic roots through the research, arrangement and performance of a hundred years of African American roots music, resulting in the EP Convergence (2018), a collaboration with klezmer consort Veretski Pass exploring the sounds and themes of one hundred years of African American and Ashkenazi Jewish music. Anthony also performs in a duo, Tsvey Brider (“Two Brothers”), with accordionist and pianist Dmitri Gaskin, composing and performing their original music set to modernist Yiddish poetry of the 20th century. An essayist in a number of publications including Jewish Currents and Moment Magazine, Anthony lives in Massachusetts with his husband of five years, Rabbi Michael Rothbaum.

Dubbs Weinblatt (they/them) is the Founder and CEO of Thank You For Coming Out, which strives to inspire authenticity and belonging by uplifting, centering, and celebrating LGBTQIA+ stories and identities through their podcast, improv show, and other forms of art and storytelling. They are the Co-Founder and Executive Producer of Craft Your Truth, an organization that encourages LGBTQ folks to use any kind of performance art as a way to express their stories and connect with their community around them. Dubbs was most recently the Associate Director of Education and Training for Metro New York at Keshet, a national nonprofit working with Jewish institutions on LGBTQ equality. In Dubbs’ free time, they love to read and write and have been featured on Hey, Alma. They are a recipient of the GCN Impact Awards, was named one of Logo’s NewNowNext 6 Inspiring LGBTQ Jewish Activists You Should Be Following, and was recently named one of Jewish Week’s 36 Under 36. They are also part of the 2022 ROI Community cohort.

Click here to watch Eric Marcus’ video on YouTube.

Eric Marcus is the founder and host of the award-winning Making Gay History podcast, which mines his decades-old audio archive of rare interviews — conducted for his oral history book of the same name about the LGBTQ civil rights movement — to create intimate, personal portraits of both known and long-forgotten champions, heroes, and witnesses to history. His other books include Is It A Choice? Why Suicide?, and Breaking the Surface, the #1 New York Times bestselling autobiography of Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis. Eric is also co-producer of Those Who Were There, a podcast drawn from Yale University’s Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies. And he is the founder and chair of the Stonewall 50 Consortium, an organization that brings together 235 nonprofit institutions and organizations committed to producing programming, exhibitions, and educational materials related to LGBTQ history and culture.

Click here to watch Noam Sienna’s video on YouTube.

Noam Sienna is a Jewish educator, artist, and doctoral candidate in History at the University of Minnesota. He has published on Jewish cultural heritage in scholarly and popular journals, and has taught in academic and community venues around the world. He is the editor of A Rainbow Thread: An Anthology of Queer Jewish Texts from the First Century to 1969, published by Print-O-Craft in 2019.

Koach Baruch Frazier

Click here to watch Koach Baruch Frazier’s video on YouTube

Koach Baruch Frazier is an audiologist, musician, co-convener of the Tzedek Lab, and a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. A collaborative leader, rooted in tradition, curiosity and love, Koach strives to dismantle racism, actualize liberation and transform lives both sonically and spiritually. Koach lives with his wife, LaJuana in Philadelphia. 

Click here to watch Talia Johnson’s video on YouTube.

Talia Johnson is a Jewish ritual and service leader, writer, poet, sensitivity editor, public speaker, workshop facilitator, educator, mentor, coach, and activist. She is a woman who is, in no particular order, an out queer autistic lesbian trans woman. Talia is Chair of the Board of Directors for Heartspark Press, a press run by and for trans women and assigned male at birth non-binary folk. She is part of the leadership team of Autistics for Autistics Ontario. She is co-editor of the Nothing Without Us anthology of own voices Disability fiction released in September 2019. Talia is the first transgender woman to be ordained a Kohenet (Hebrew priestess) through the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute receiving smicha in August 2019. Her full priestess title is Kohenet Talia C. Johnson, Shomeret ha Tzitzit (Guardian of the Fringes). Talia’s work as a Kohenet is directly related to her experience as a transgender woman and her academic studies. Her focus is on Judaism, queer/trans/LGBTQIA, and mental health. Her work in these areas bridge mental health, spirituality, and LGBTQIA+/queer/trans spaces, areas which are usually independent silos. In January 2016 Talia was awarded a full scholarship to attend WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health) Professional Training. She has been an activist in various ways for most of her life. Her first words were, apparently, “That’s not fair!”

Click here to watch Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie’s video on YouTube.

Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founding Spiritual Leader of Lab/Shul NYC and the creator of Storahtelling, Inc. An Israeli-born Jewish educator, writer, and performance artist, he received his rabbinical ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 2016.Rabbi Amichai is a member of the Global Justice Fellowship of the American Jewish World Service, a founding member of the Jewish Emergent Network, and serves on the faculty of the Reboot Network. Since 2018 he has served on the Advisory Council of the International School for Peace – a Refugee Support Project in Greece. Rabbi Amichai has been hailed as “an iconoclastic mystic” by Time Out New York, a “rock star” by the New York Times, a “Judaic Pied Piper” by the Denver Westword, a “maverick spiritual leader” by The Times of Israel and “one of the most interesting thinkers in the Jewish world” by the Jewish Week. In 2016 The Forward named him one of the thirty-two “Most Inspiring Rabbis” in America, and in 2017 he was top five on “The Forward 50,” their annual list of the most influential and accomplished Jews in America.In June 2017 Rabbi Amichai published the JOY Proposal, offering a new response to the reality of Intermarriage and taking on a personal position on this issue, including his resignation from the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement. Amichai is Abba to Alice, Ezra and Charlotte.

Click here to watch Kate Bornstein’s video on YouTube.

Kate Bornstein is a performance artist and playwright who has authored several award-winning books, including Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and The Rest of Us, My Gender Workbook, and Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws. She has earned two citations of honor from the New York City Council and garnered praise from civil rights groups around the globe. Kate lives in New York City with her girlfriend, three cats, two dogs, and a turtle.

 

Joy & Resilience: Rachel Mason

Click here to watch Rachel Mason’s video on YouTube.

Rachel Mason is a Los Angeles-based multi-media artist, director, and musician. Her first feature film, The Lives of Hamilton Fish, was a historical fantasy that toured internationally as a live performed concert. Mason most recently directed the Netflix Original Documentary Circus of Books, Executive Produced by Ryan Murphy. The film details her own biographical story, growing up the child of pornographers at the center of the gay community. She also wrote and recorded the film’s end credit song, “Give You Everything.” In 2019, Rachel Mason was featured as one of Indiewire’s “25 LGBTQ Filmmakers on the Rise.”

Click here to watch Darren Sukonick’s video on YouTube.

Darren Sukonick is a lawyer and former partner at Torys LLP who shifted to a new career as a principal at Matthew Sapera Fine Homes, a design/build/development company based in Toronto, Canada. Darren is an active community leader: he serves on the board of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and its LGBTQ task force and has held various senior roles in UJA’s annual fundraising campaign; participated in Jewish Federation of North America’s (JFNA’s) National Young Leadership Cabinet program and is one of the Toronto representatives to the JFNA Board of Trustees; is a Toronto co-chair of the Canadian Friends of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem; is a board member and Vice-President, Membership at Holy Blossom Temple of Toronto; and is the President of Congregation Shirat HaYam, a pluralistic congregation in Nantucket, MA. Darren lives with his husband Matthew in Toronto.

 

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