My recent performance explorations include Strings Attached and Tamishey Miitzvah. Both of these works constitute Jewish, Queer and Trans identity intervention via the mis/use and liberation of Jewish ritual practices. For Strings Attached I was inspired by my experiences with the Chabad: the many times and cities in which I have been swept up in their “mitzvah campaign” to lay tefillin and talk about observance, and the fascinatingly conflicting emotions those experiences brought up in me. As a Transmasculine and secular Jewish person, laying tefillin feels both subversive and weirdly like home: a powerful tribal “calling in” that I am interested in exploring outside the confines of orthodoxy, with its discriminatory blind spots and -phobias around genders and sexualities. I am workshopping ideas for a new solo piece that will, among other things, wrestle with and explore the tensions and emotions behind millennia old Jewish rituals and their identificatory power.
Tashmishey Mitzvah is a photographic, performative and audio collaboration between myself, Rose Wood and Eli Schmidt. Rose Wood and I are both Jewish and transgender artists who use our naked bodies and our Jewishness to disrupt fixed notions of gender and identity. Tamishey Mitzvah explores where our Jewish, Trans and Queer identities meet. Symbolically and physically these identities meet in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the neighborhood of The Box on Chrystie Street, and at the Congregation Chasam Sopher Orthodox Synagogue a few blocks away on Clinton Street. Rose Wood was also a professional furniture restorer who did a series of restorations for Chasam Sopher in 2004, including taking charge of a large menorah. While they collected the rest of the restored items, the synagogue took back the menorah.
Tamishey Mitzvah engages in performative research documenting an experience of returning the menorah to the synaogue by walking through in the Jewish neighborhood of the Lower East Side, during and after Hanukah 2019 and secular New Year’s eve 2020, photographically exploring our trans and queer relationship to Jewishness and Judaism in the place and space of the Lower East Side of New York. This. neighborhood and the two landmarks of The Box and the Synagogue synergistically and subversively map these multiple identity categories. According to Jewish orthodoxy, ritual items considered Tashmishey Mitzvah necessary in order to perform a particular observance but are not considered sacred or holy objects in themselves. “For the most part, objects that fall under tashmishey mitzvah are discarded when they are no longer fit for ritual use” (wiki). The fact that menorahs are Tamishey Mitzvah and not Tamishey Kedusha (intrinsically holy) is most certainly why Chasam Sopher never reclaimed theirs. Putting our Trans, Queer and Jewish identities in dialogue with the mitzvah of the menorah at or in front of the synagogue and on the streets between The Box and the Chasam Sopher we engage in new exploration, research and interaction with the historical material of the place and space of the Synagogue, The Box and the neighborhood in between as well as with the physical and spiritual material of the old menorah itself.