Chidusz 7/2021: A Queer and Pleasant Danger [a serial memoire]

The cover features Kate Bornstein – transgender lesbian activist, theorist, and performance artist, „a sublebrity in the pantheon of America’s queer and postmodern subcultures” whose memoire will appear in the next ten issues of Chidusz. But this issue also contains a much less colorful story – the tale of the post-war destruction of the Jewish cemetery in Kępno.  

 

A Queer and Pleasant Danger 

The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She Is Today 

 

Kate was born Albert Herman Bornstein in 1948 in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Her family was one of the few Jewish families living in the area at the time, so her parents told her to ‚not shout about’ her Jewishness. As a four-year-old, she realized that she was not a boy and that she did not want to be a man in the future. However, it took her many years to gather the courage to admit it to herself and her close ones. Looking for her place in the world she entered the Church of Scientology in its heyday. She left it after twelve years, when she accidentally discovered the institution’s financial malfeasance. During her years in the church, she concluded that she could no longer hide her true identity, and decided to start living as a woman. She tells the story of her extraordinary and adventurous life in the book A Queer and Pleasant Danger, which – for the first time in Polish – will be published in ten episodes in the next ten issues of Chidusz (in the numbers 7 / 2021–6 / 2022).  

 

I wanted to be a kickass blonde, like Geena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight. I wanted hair like hers—I wanted eyes like hers and a mouth like hers. But I’d spent most of my life as a ruggedly handsome Jewish guy of Russian heritage, and I was afraid that too much of the rugged guy-ness would leak through the blonde and I’d be a yellow-haired guy in a dress. I’d be a towheaded freak, a platinum clown. 

 

SPs like me are so evil, simply talking with one of us can be enough to make you seriously ill. Reading any further in this book just might set you on a road leading to places far more horrible than any hell the old-time religions have managed to come up with. Aren’t I a fun person to know?  

 

Corpsie in the Cemetery

Based on the memories of the residents of Kępno, Michał Bojanowski tries to recreate the terrifying post-war history of the local Jewish cemetery.

 

Someone came up with an idea to open a beer booth in the cemetery. He charmingly called it Zacisze [Retreat]. The locals quickly renamed it Trupek [Corpsie]. Apparently, Trupek ceased to exist because one of the local councilors wanted its liquidation. The history of the cemetery dates back to the second half of the 17th century, i.e. to the beginnings of Jewish settlement in Kępno. Perhaps that is why there were „hills” in the cemetery. It was a common practice to cover old graves with a layer of soil in order to create a place for another „floor” of burials. (…) The locals claim that one „hill” disappeared sometime after the war, and the other probably in the early 1980s. It was on top of the latter that Corpsie was established. After it was evened out, the “Sahara” appeared – a sandy field where the local boys were perfecting their football skills. Later, people dumped some rocks there so it was difficult to kick a ball but you could still have bonfire parties there. (…) My interlocutors agree that when the cemetery was „leveled out”, hundreds or even thousands of bones appeared on the surface.

 

Gainsbourg Asks For Your Attention

Most people can recognize Je t’aime, moi non plus after the first note. However in Poland, apart from that one song, Serge Gainsbourg’s work is almost completely unknown and if people do talk about him, it’s more about his colorful life than his music. The French, on the other hand, worship him to this day and list him among the most important artists of the 20th century. On the thirtieth anniversary of the musician’s death, according to whom a life without scandals would be bland and grey, Dariusz Latosi presents a subjective and highly incomplete overview of his work. 

 

PE, Handiwork and Walks. No Religion

One student claimed that the school was the highlight of his gloomy life at the time. Another stood at the door of his old class and eavesdropped because his parents could not afford to pay the tuition. Many students who survived the Holocaust spoke to each other on the phone in Yiddish for the rest of their lives. Magdalena Wójcik talks to Anna Szuba – a Yiddishist, culture expert and translator – about the phenomenon of the interwar CISZO schools (Centrale Jidisze Szul-Organizacje, Central Jewish School Organization).

 

DER SHVARTSER YUNGER-MANTHIK 

We are slowly reaching the end of our Yiddish bestseller – Yankev Dinezon’s novel The Dark Young Man translated by Magda Wójcik. The plot gains momentum. Our beloved Józef, who’s a doctor now, returns not only to Mogilev but straight to Fridman’s house! Will Roza recognize him? Will Golda kick him out of the house again? What will be Ruchamke’s reaction? And what dark scenario is our villain Moshe Shneur scheming again?

 

Guard Yourselves Very Well

Evonne Marzouk and rabbi Yonatan Neril on protecting our health:

 

In a recent landmark ruling, Israel’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar wrote about the health-related concern from pesticides, stating that eating „bug-free” leafy vegetables poses a health risk due to their increased use. The halachic (Jewish legal) ruling was issued following lab tests conducted on such crops, and recommends that the public purchase regular leafy vegetables and clean them „in the old-fashioned way.” This ruling casts a new light on the mitzvah to protect our health.

 

In a New Country Parashat 

Queer commentary to parashat Ki Tavo by Shirley Idelson:

The men and women who fought for our freedom were, like Jacob, fugitives. We who now find ourselves comfortable owe our ease of existence to a band of outcasts who dared defy powerful—and narrow— prescriptions of sexuality. Many of us no longer have to hide our identities because, not long ago, a cadre of radicals quite literally risked their lives to challenge core societal assumptions regarding family structure and gender roles. Our predecessors did not experience acceptance in the liberal Jewish world that today embraces us; rather, they incurred lowly status and ostracization. Each generation, Judaism teaches, must remember and identify with the journey taken by our ancestors. So let us never forget those who risked their well-being and their lives for the sake of women’s liberation and gay liberation.

 

Embodied Jews

Queer commentary to parashat Nitzavim by Sue Levi Elwell:

Jews often think of themselves as people of the book, as people of the word. In the past two decades, an increasing number of Jewish scholars and teachers including Rebecca Alpert, Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, Judith Plaskow, Daniel Boyarin, and others have reminded us that Jews are also people of the body. […] Those powerful verses from Deuteronomy remind us of the immediate accessibility of this teaching, which we can inhale, ingest, and welcome into our very bodies. We learn that opening ourselves to Torah in the most intimate, immediate sense is how we choose life. 

Click here to read about this issue’s content in Polish.