This year, a non-fiction collection of scholarly essays, personal stories, and poetry was released, edited by Marla Brettschneider. I read this book with an open heart—as I try to read all books to gain new insights, as well as admire the writer’s craft. Jewcy explores the diverse backgrounds and experiences of being a Jew, queer; and for some, having a non-traditional gender identity. As a Jewish lesbian, I was particularly interested in this book. The personal stories were the highlight of my reading experience. I also enjoyed the essays which offered intriguing new interpretations of the Torah, the core text of Jewish history, ethics, and teachings.

People respond to a book differently based upon their background and point of view. To understand more about me, my background, and my point of view, here is a two-paragraph capsule: My grandparents and great-greats were immigrants on crowded, smelly steamers to New York during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century from central and eastern European countries (known as “Ashkenazi” Jews). If they had not emigrated to America, highly likely I never would have been born; as during the Holocaust, the Nazis and their collaborators murdered 6 million Jews – and roughly 200,000 queers.

I am a Reform Jew, which is one of the branches of Judaism that has adapted traditional Jewish laws and practices to respond to the social/cultural conditions of the modern world. As a lesbian, I would call myself an intellectual butch, attracted over a lifetime only to women. I guess in today’s lingo, I am some shade of non-binary. I had plenty of challenging times when my birth family pulled the financial rug after I would not abandon my “choice” of a lover. Thankfully within Judaism, I did not have to leave a fundamental part of my identity behind.

The most accessible parts of this book for the non-Jewish reader (and many Jews) would be the personal essays and poetry. I particularly liked a story called “ID Please” by Vinny Calvo Prell  about her personal angst of claiming her complex family heritage. Her mother hailed from the Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean, and her father was Ashkenazi Jewish. She grew up with a deep connection with the Jewish community and came out as queer. Only as an adult did she begin to explore her mother’s indigenous heritage. As she became more open with her Jewish friends about her Pacific Islander roots, she started to feel uneasy, even unwelcome. Prell must have been raised in either the Orthodox or Conservative branches of Judaism, which follows Jewish law deeming people to be Jewish only if their mother was Jewish or if they underwent a conversion. She would have been fully welcome in my synagogue as a Reform Jew. However, the pain of trying to embrace various aspects of herself was well described, and the story was worth several reads.

Another personal story called “Life on the Borderlands” by A.S. Hakkari discusses her heritage as a trans woman and Mizrahi Jew – meaning her ancestors either lived in the land of Israel or Muslim North Africa/Middle East. Her essay explores marginalization of her gender and religious identity in a very moving way. As Hakkari vividly described, trans women are a target for abuse of many sorts.

Hakkari’s story informs the reader that Jews are not a monolithic people, but that there are diverse cultures and practices. This fact is due to the “Diaspora,” i.e., the expulsion and/or dispersal of Jews by conquerors of the ancient Jewish states of Israel and Judea. An interesting fact to note – forty percent of Israelis are Mizrahi Jews, who were expelled from Muslim Africa or the Middle East after the birth of the Jewish state in 1948. They form a vibrant part of the multi-cultural framework of Israel.

The book contains a memoir segment from a black Jewish lesbian, Carol Conaway. I wanted to read more of her memoir, so I could better understand her experience and path to Judaism. The segment centers on her attraction to urbane white women, particularly “The One,” who would later become her life partner.

The academic essays in this book may prove daunting for non-Jews or Jews who are not familiar with fundamental Jewish texts or the Hebrew language. Some essays tackle the ancient Jewish religious writings, seeking to explore different interpretations of what is acceptable. The traditional answer was only cisgender, heterosexual sex. However “Deconstructing the Binary, or Not” by Sarra Lev, provides a learned analysis of early rabbinic literature to postulate an openness for an intersex personal life.

Another entitled “Remembering Sinai” by Sabrina Sojourner is a reconsideration of the book of Exodus, which analyzes ancient Hebrew and the traditional patriarchal image of G-d. The essay “Postmodern Concepts of Sex, Gender and Sexuality in the Framework of the Jewish Lesbian” by Rona B. Matlow seeks to deconstruct the assumption that only cisgender males and cisgender females are acceptable in Judaism. She does this by offering different interpretations of religious texts and commentaries.

Editor Marla Brettschneider’s essay entitled “Leslie Feinberg’s Complex Jewish Lesbian Feminism” scrupulously documents the life and Marxist views of Leslie Feinberg. It challenged me as the reader, with its reliance upon leftist categories in order to explain the complex history of Ashkenazi Jews in America. It repeatedly used the words “white privilege,” “class,” and “whiteness” rather than describing the mutable history of the Jewish immigrant experience.

Either/or dichotomies create language walls that become barricades to defend, rather than facilitating deeper knowledge. I react the same way when I hear the right-wing word “woke.”  Especially now, we need a larger, more thoughtful view. After the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust on October 7, 2023, and the taking of innocent hostages, the trauma and pain of these events has shaken the Jewish community to its core. Our assumptions about the security and acceptance of Jews in America have been shattered.

The umbrella of self can be difficult to navigate. The stories in this book belie any simplistic view of who Jews, queers or trans are and what they have been. It offers up ideas and compelling stories of Jewish lesbians seeking acceptance, rather than marginalization. It points to a more inclusive world from writers with different family backgrounds and gender identities.


Edited by Marla Brettschneider

SUNY Press, February 2024, 163 pages

Hardcopy $99; Paperback $31.95

Article by Author/s
Emily L Quint Freeman
Emily L. Quint Freeman is the author of the memoir, “Failure to Appear, Resistance, Identity and Loss” (Blue Beacon Books) and numerous creative non-fiction articles including Salon, The Gay & Lesbian Review, Syncopation Literary Review, Open Democracy, The Mindful Word, and Narratively. Author website:

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