Birmingham Task Force Spotlight: Mia Neustein

I grew up in a traditional Modern Orthodox household in California and attended Chabad day school and synagogue until my Bat Mitzvah. I credit these experiences with an early kindling of feminist and activist values, which arose as a reaction against what I was taught in school. Although I've succeeded in forgetting much of what I learned at my religious day school, I still remember many of the sticking points in traditional Judaism which have angered me and led to a disconnect with religion.

When I moved to Birmingham this past August, I had never been to Alabama before. I was concerned how I, as a queer Jewish feminist, would find my place in this city. Joining the SOJOURN Task Force for the Welcoming Communities Project quieted a lot of my worries. (SOJOURN in Birmingham had started this year; I had moved at just the right time!) It felt wonderful to learn that my new community had synagogues, JCCs, and individuals that supported LGBT inclusion. 

Although I feel I'm fairly well educated on both LGBT issues and Judaism, Robbie and Rebecca leave me awed and amazed on both topics after each SOJOURN meeting. December's meeting, which involved latkes and brisket, involved a text study that floored me. How had I never learned that the Talmud contains discussions about as many as six different genders? (There's a very simple explanation for my ignorance, which was that while middle schoolers began studying Gemara, the female students did not. We used the time to execute fundraisers for a class trip to Crown Heights.) Many of the Talmud's six genders could translate roughly to ideas I was already comfortable with, like cisgender, intersex, or MTF transgender. 

I'm not a big fan of the Torah and generally don't appreciate the argument that it was progressive for its time. (If it was so progressive 2,000 years ago, let's just leave it in that time period. Two thousand years later, let's write a new book.) However, it is fascinating to learn about some of the discussions the rabbis have conducted in eras long-ago; heck, even some queer studies scholars today might have difficulty wrapping their heads around concepts like the "tumtum," a person whose sexual characteristics are indeterminate or obscured--not to be with confused with "androgynos" which refers to intersex!

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Robbie Medwed

Robbie Medwed began working with SOJOURN when it was known as The Rainbow Center as a volunteer in 2008. He served as chair of the TRC Advisory Board and as co-chair of Purim off Ponce (2010, 2011) before moving into his current role as Assistant Director, where he oversees SOJOURN's educational programming and outreach, including our award-winning workshops and training seminars. Robbie holds a master's degree in Jewish education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has written curricula and nationally-recognized inclusive programs for the Marcus JCC of Atlanta, BBYO, USY, Camp Ramah, the Jewish Teen Funders Network, Babaganewz, and JewishGPS. Robbie is also a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and cyclist. Robbie can be reached at robbie@sojourngsd.org.