QUEER JEWISH INCUBATOR
MEET OUR COHORT
Announcing the first-ever Queer Jewish Incubator Cohort!
Queer Jewish Incubator is a new gathering space for LGBTQ+ Jewish people in the GTA to grow queer and Jewish connections while building stronger ties to the LGBTQ+ Jewish community. The incubator nurtures LGBTQ+ people as the visionaries, storytellers, guides, weavers, and disrupters currently missing – and needed - within our Toronto Jewish communal context. We are excited to share the six amazing individuals participating in Queer Jewish Incubator this year. During the spring and summer of 2022, QJI will bring together these individuals to support them in initiating an ‘exploration’ growing the participant’s connection to queerness and Jewishness or strengthening the fabric of queerness and Jewishness in Toronto.
Cailan Bodnar is a queer, Jewish artist based in Tkaronto. She has found joy and life through the arts in many mediums: music, performance, writing, and visual art! She focuses on work through the lenses of compassion, wisdom, and time, which are values she holds close in her personal life. She's found a lot of importance in connecting with her Jewish identity and is very grateful for the wonderful people in this incubator who are helping her do exactly that.
In my exploration, I want to investigate the personal relationships that Jewish people have with the Earth and the land that they are on. As someone who is both a settler on this land and newly connecting to my Jewish identity, I want to explore how I can respect and give back to the land that I'm on in a way that is connected to who I am. Through interviews and community collaboration, I will be creating a multi-media project using videos, paintings, and physical objects that hold significance to the participants.
Sadie Epstein-Fine (they/them) is a second-generation queer, genderqueer, Jewish storyteller. Sadie has trained in directing, playwriting, performance and dance and their work reflects and is a fusion of that training. They are an author/co-editor of Spawning Generation: Rants and Reflections on Growing Up with LGBTQ+ Parents (Demeter Press, 2018). Sadie, in partnership with Bilal Baig and the Eraser ensemble, is publishing their multi-disciplinary, immersive, TYA show Eraser (Playwrights Canada Press, 2022). They are currently developing Sugar Plum about the experience of growing up as a queer ballet dancer, as well as Uncle Gabe is Having a Baby, a children’s book about trans pregnancy.
I have always thought that one of Tevye's seven daughters must be queer. If they continue to rebel and rebel, is that not the final rebellion? I call this play "Other Daughter." In order to write Other Daughter I am looking to immerse myself in Jewish (specifically Yiddish) theatre. More specifically, what is queer, Jewish theatre history?
Gael Nissim Cohen is a descendent of Italian, Spanish and Transilvanian Jews. Gael has lived an atypical life. He grew up in Mexico City where he unlocked a door to discovering his own intersecting and diverse identities and started a journey to find others like him. His atypical identity he sees as a superpower, and with it comes the gifts of unique perspectives, passion and a real love of Judaism(s). Nowadays he is a proud Canadian resident, loves books, medicine, art and is continually on a journey where the 'school of life' is his Torah.
I am developing a short documentary - an exploration of the intersectionality of diversity in Judaism and its history around the world, art, and identity in all sorts of forms. I want to bring silent stories that can be heard in the corners of old houses, the keys that unlock doors to work, prayers and tears. These are the people I love, this is who I am.
"I am who I am" - Isaias ha Navi
Toby is a poet, performer, and educator born and raised in Tkaronto. She is currently studying Theatre and Critical Equity Studies at the University of Toronto and teaching at the Danforth Jewish Studies afterschool. They are an executive of the U of T chapter of Peace Now and a co-conspirator on an upcoming project entitled ‘Queer-Sanhedrin’. She is a lover of stories, a seeker of justice, and a student of Torah. They are deeply invested in the unimaginable and inevitable Queer-Jewish Future.
I am gathering and archiving Queer-Jewish wedding ceremonies, interviewing folks who crafted them, and creating a video artwork and resource from what's been shared on Queering the Jewish wedding. If you have had, have officiated, or are planning a Queer-Jewish wedding or union ceremony, please be in touch with me here!
Sheri Ahava is a retired Social Worker, a Community Activist, Artist and Philanthropist. In 1998 Sheri founded the Adult Learning Disabilities Employment Resource Centre (ALDER) in Toronto. Sheri is an entrepreneur, building community through dialogue and supporting various initiatives in Jewish and non-Jewish communities. Sheri lives and works from an Anti-Oppression Lens. She shares her narrative through her creative work. Please see sheriahavacohen.com for more of a description.
I recently came out as Queer. The coming out process is exhilarating, alive, unleashing, challenging and at times, difficult to navigate. I want to connect with older Jewish LGBTQAI2+ who have come out or are in the process of coming out. I am looking to start a new havurah/group for (age 50+) to explore topics like understanding our culture, sexuality, gender (pronouns and beyond), relationships and partnerships, and other topics decided by the group.
Ola is community health worker who loves working with grey areas and productive tension. They are focused on disrupting power dynamics and respectability in the social services, and working with people experiencing alternate realities. They work in the homelessness service sector and have experience in LBGTQ and anti-homophobia education, sexual health education and peer mental health support. They find community at the DJC and Narayever as well as the Winchevsky Centre.
I am planning a Street Outreach Sukkot event to animate and inspire a radical Jewish response to homelessness and support our unhoused neighbors. This event embodies "Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov" "How lovely are our tents and encampments."
This action will be an art installation, a community gathering, a meal serve, and primarily a point of connection and awakening. This event will incorporate activist speakers, as well as liturgy and ritual. This is an opportunity to build community amongst radical Jewish activists and social service workers, as well as with the street involved folks we support to express love for our faith, culture and communities.
QJI brings together LGBTQ+ people to support them in initiating an ‘exploration’ growing the participant’s connection to queerness and Jewishness or strengthening the fabric of queerness and Jewishness in Toronto. The purpose of this pluralistic and diverse convening space is in conversation with outcomes from a year's worth of community consultations and research: we’re looking to resource LGBTQ+ Jews in the GTA through enabling more access points to Judaism and to each other.
Participants have access to financial support to advance their explorations and support to identify additional sources of funds as necessary.
Explorations might be wide-ranging in purpose. Examples of possible projects are, but are in no way limited to:
Personal projects: Family geology, tracing queer Jewish linages, identity inquiries, study project with Jewish spiritual leader.
Archival research: historical or contemporary investigations.
Ritual and prayer: Planning and hosting alternative prayer services, queering a Jewish ritual practice.
Dreaming: Retreat space holding, arranging panels or cross-community conversations.
Community arts: Letter-writing projects, multi-media creative investigations.
Holding a container in Jewish time: Queering a Jewish holiday, convening around Shabbat, hosting morning blessings.
Technologies for rest: Queering Shmita.
Cultural healing: Trauma-informed projects, liberatory practice inquiries.
Organizational project: Support growth of queer Jewish space in organizational context or other entity (please ensure you have consent from the entity when applying).
Activities + Program Structure
Cohort Gatherings. Space for building relationships between participants, supporting exploration development and growing deeper Jewish connection. Gatherings will be created in response to explorations and participant skills and interest and will include guest educators and facilitators.
Mentorship. Opportunities for participant mentoring and project advising.
Exploration Development. Participants will benefit from the existing networks and connections of the MNjcc and incubator stakeholders to support their explorations as needed.
Exploration Sharing. Participants will be asked to share a culmination or component of their exploration through an avenue they are excited about.
Participants are expected to commit between 10-15 hours monthly to the program between cohort gatherings and exploration development.
Over 2021, LGBTQ+ at the J consulted with members of LGBTQ+ Jewish communities about how the MNjcc can most effectively serve the needs of LGBTQ+ Jewish people in Toronto. It became clear that investing in queer Jewish people and voices is one of the best ways to increase LGBTQ+ Jewish inclusion. Queer Jewish Incubator was collaboratively designed through community consultations. Close to 50% of those consulted were of Sephardi, Mizrahi heritage and/or identified as Jews of Color. As this is a pilot program, we encourage people to apply who are excited to help shape and co-create what we hope will be a sustained way to support and amplify queer voices in the Toronto Jewish community.
Program funding for the pilot is from Community One Rainbow Grants, the MNjcc, and from community donors. We continue to seek funds to sustain the project and welcome donors or ideas for financial support.
Queer Jewish Incubator is staffed and led by Cara Gold, email@example.com