I didn’t care what we were supposed to discuss at the event; it was on a weeknight and I didn’t want to go. I was tired. I was lazy. I didn’t want politics and thoughtfulness; I wanted dinner.
However, I ended up going to a Keshet queer trans beit midrash last year because I knew the person who was going to be teaching it. “We’re going to discuss Purim and masks,” he said. “It’ll be great.”
“All right.” I thought to myself. “I’ll be nice. I’ll go. Just this once.”
I schlepped to the event, plopped myself down, and prepared to be nice.
As it turned out, I didn’t have to be nice at all. I had to be smart.
I was given snacks and a piece of paper with quotations from the Talmud on it, and I was told to read it and rip it apart.
“I don’t know anything about the Talmud! How can I analyze it?”
“You don’t have to know anything to participate in a Beit Midrash,” one of the coordinators told me. “You just have to be interested and talk.”
Talking, I can do. We talked about the Talmud, and we talked about gender. We talked about identity, we talked about how certain holidays and rituals encourage us to play with identity and understanding of ourselves, we talked about our own practices, we talked about transgressing gender boundaries—we talked about the most amazing things! “Why did I waste all that money on grad school,” I thought to myself, “when I can get the best parts right here for free?”
There was intellect, and there was companionship. For chevrutah (study pair), I was paired up with an acquaintance whom I had once met at a potluck, and as it turned out, he was brilliant! I never would have known how smart or funny he was had I not attended the Beit Midrash. By the end of the night he had emailed me an article he read in The Atlantic about Lady Gaga as a performance artist, and we promised to get together for more intellectual discussion soon.
I went home electrified with new ideas. There were so many fun new things to think about! There was so much brilliance in the world to learn!
And all of this for free, all in a respectful and egalitarian environment, all led by experts within our community… all because we’re Jewish? I never knew what a beit midrash was before; when I was a kid it was one of those Hebrew phrases I didn’t pay attention to. As it turns out beit midrash is apparently Hebrew for “cutting edge educational forum,” and we’re lucky enough to have it in our tradition.
So I’ll see you at the next one, right?