(New York Jewish Week) – When Michael Witkes arrived at his bar mitzvah party, he knew he couldn’t enter to a musical theater song, his preferred genre, because he was already being bullied for being too effeminate and flamboyant. So, he simply told the DJ to just pick any song that matched the vibe of a bar mitzvah entrance.
The DJ picked “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross.
“This day that is supposed to be completely celebratory became this kind of tragic, camp event, where I had to wrestle with getting bullied because of this,” Witkes said. “I just trying to become a man, a Jewish adult, and then I was suddenly getting outted at my bar mitzvah.”
Eighteen years later, Witkes, 31, is a professional drag queen in New York City, performing as “Pink Pancake.” This week, he will revisit that troubling coming-of-age moment in his first ever one-woman drag show, “Today You Are a Man” at the Tank NYC.
“I take that moment of tragedy and I flip it on its head and I turn it into this play about self discovery and coming into your authenticity as a queer person and as a Jew,” Witkes told the New York Jewish Week.
Witkes first began developing the show, which runs for 80 minutes, two years ago as a four-minute lip sync for a “Hanukkah in July” drag performance. Since then, he’s partnered with director and queer Jewish art and events curator Stuart Meyers to flesh out a full-length performance.
“The show gives an earnest portrayal of the horror of that experience, how awful it was, and is, to be bullied for being gay and femme, yet also lifts and celebrates the story of who Michael has become through drag,” Meyers told the New York Jewish Week. “So what’s really interesting is that the piece is about his bar mitzvah of the past, but in a big way, it’s also a bar mitzvah in and of itself, because it’s a celebration of his own very Jewish process of coming into this next chapter as Pink Pancake.”
Ahead of the show, the New York Jewish Week caught up with Witkes about what it was like to make the show and revisit his bar mitzvah experience.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What would you tell your 13-year-old self about how far you’ve come?
It’s funny because I think if I told my 13-year-old self, “Hey, you’re now a drag queen in New York, and you’re making a living pursuing this queer art form,” I think that my 13-year-old self would be horrified. This might be my biggest fear at the time, realized.
First, I would give my 13-year-old self a giant hug. I think I would say, “You are wonderful as you are and just let your inner star shine. At the time, I did everything I could to make myself smaller and to try to hide the fact that I was gay, even though I was just naturally more feminine and flamboyant growing up. I did everything I could to hide that, with my clothes, with the way I walked around. Everything was a performance. I would just say, “Hey, baby, breath, let it all out. It’s gonna be okay. Own who you are.”
What does it mean to you to have your first full-length one-woman show center on a Jewish narrative?
I grew up in a pretty Jewish suburb of Philadelphia, on the Main Line. I feel like growing up, I kind of took my Judaism for granted. In seventh grade, there was a bar or bat mitzvah every single weekend. Judaism was so prevalent that it wasn’t a huge part of my identity.
But now we’re in a time where there is this rise in antisemitism and you can feel it. In my other gigs, I have made some self-deprecating jokes in the mic about being Jewish — as Jews do with Jewish humor. Before it was just a part of my act, but now I have this inner voice in the back of my head saying “Is it safe to say this? Is it safe to make these jokes? Is it safe to be openly Jewish?” Since coming out and embracing myself fully, I’ve been really proud to be queer. Now I feel like the show is helping me be more proudly Jewish. It’s been wonderful working with Stuart Meyers, who has done a lot of queer Jewish work and queer Jewish art, because he’s kind of pushed me to embrace my Judaism even more and pull things out in the show in relation to my Jewish identity even more, so it’s been really exciting. We have to continue to be visible and proud and continue to advocate for ourselves and everyone that is marginalized in the global majority.
Do you feel like making this show has helped you process the trauma from your bar mitzvah party and given you a second chance at celebrating?
That is the structure of the show in a way, where I have the chance to do it all over again. It’s a queering of this Jewish rite of passage. The whole show, in a way, is like a redo of my own bar mitzvah, but now I’m in drag as a woman — but I’m not a woman, and I’m also very gender-queer. It’s a beautiful way to explore what it means to be a man and to explore your gender identity and sexuality.
This has definitely helped me process my bar mitzvah and re-own this moment that was kind of tragic. In general, my bar mitzvah was a wonderful event — this moment just clouded it. I think that wounds can continue to heal and come back and they can surprise you like, “Oh, I thought I got over that.” So revisiting this moment has definitely brought some things up to the surface that I’m able to now heal from.
I rewatched the video of my service many, many times while putting the show together. I had a wonderful support system in my parents, but I don’t think I fully realized that at the time because I felt so alone and othered in school. So it’s really healing to be able to look back and listen to the speeches that my parents made at my bar mitzvah. Watching myself in the video, I look awkward and I don’t like that my parents are saying nice things about me and I’m probably not fully paying attention and kind of dissociating because it’s uncomfortable. But to look back now — my parents are so sweet. My dad said that he appreciated how sensitive I was and how gentle I was. These are things that I was bullied for, because they’re not “masculine.” But at my bar mitzvah, he was saying you’re a man because of all of these things. That’s just so beautiful.
I’m excited to bring it to an audience. I’m sure that healing will happen even more when it’s in front of a live audience and I’m hoping that the same thing will happen for them as well. I hope bringing the specificity of this event to my show will allow people to bring the specificity of their own moments growing up Jewish or growing up queer and find healing and celebration.
What else can people expect at the show?
There are going to be too many costumes in a short amount of time. I’m really excited for all of these wacky costumes I’m bringing. It’s going to be heartfelt, it’s going to be drag. It’s a full production and I’m so excited to finally bring this to life after sitting on it for all this time. It combines drag lip sync with multimedia — video projections of my bar mitzvah and lots of other very fun, funny things. Of course, I have two backup dancers — it’s a one-woman show, but it’s a one-woman drag show, so that means that you need to have two backup dancers. It’s a fully realized show with a plot and a beginning, middle and end.
“Today You Are a Man,” is playing at The Tank NYC (312 W. 36th St.) Jan 18-20 at 9:30 p.m. and Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $15.
The post His bar mitzvah was ‘tragic.’ 18 years later, he turned it into a drag show. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Rashida Tlaib Votes ‘Present’ on US House Condemnation of Hamas’ Use of Sexual Violence
The US House of Representatives passed a resolution on Wednesday condemning Hamas’ use of sexual assault as a weapon of war during its October 7 terrorist attack — in which it killed 1,200 Israelis and took almost 250 more hostage — in a near-unanimous vote, with a single exception.
The one “present” vote came from Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), who argued that she could not vote in favor of the resolution because it does not also accuse the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) of using sexual assault as a weapon of war.
By a vote of 418-0-1, the House passed a resolution that “condemns all rape and forms of sexual violence as weapons of war, including those acts committed by Hamas terrorists on and since October 7th.” It also “calls on all international bodies to unequivocally condemn” Hamas’ actions.
Tlaib has emerged as the most outspoken anti-Israel member of the House in recent months. She has accused Israel of committing genocide and has appeared at events with people who celebrated Hamas’ October 7 attack.
Michael Dickson, Executive Director of the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, reacted to her vote, saying, “Rashida Tlaib is so racist she cannot bring herself to condemn the brutal rape of women used by Hamas as a weapon of war… because the women that were raped were Jewish Israelis. A new low. Most American women – and men – will recoil in horror at her vote.”
The former US Deputy Special Envoy to Combat Antisemitism, Ellie Cohanim, wrote that Tlaib “is the ONLY member of Congress who refuses to condemn Hamas’ rape. What an absolute sicko.”
However, in a speech on the floor of the House, Tlaib said, “While the resolution on the floor rightfully denounces any sexual violence by Hamas, I am disturbed that it completely ignores and erases any sexual violence and abuse committed by the Israeli forces, against Palestinians, especially children.”
She cited an article from Haaretz about an incident in October where settlers and soldiers detained three Palestinian men in the West Bank, had them strip to their underwear, and beat them. The piece notes that there was even “an attempt to penetrate one of them with an object.”
The article notes that, in response, the IDF dismissed the force commander and opened an investigation into the incident. Later, five additional soldiers were dismissed for their role in the abuse.
Since October 7, numerous independent investigations have found that Hamas engaged in widespread sexual and gender-based violence against Israelis, including rape.
After the resolution passed, Rep. Louis Frankel (D-FL), who introduced the bill, wrote, “Our resolution makes it clear: Rape & sexual assault are not acceptable tools of war.”
CEO of the American Jewish Committee, Ted Deutch, applauded the passage of the resolution but added that “The international community’s utter failure to adequately condemn and address Hamas’ use of sexual and gender-based violence as a weapon of war on and since October 7 is not merely disappointing – it is a dereliction of duty for all who claim to stand for human rights and humanity.”
The post Rashida Tlaib Votes ‘Present’ on US House Condemnation of Hamas’ Use of Sexual Violence first appeared on Algemeiner.com.
‘No Reward for The Murderers’: Israeli Officials Bash US Plan To Recognize Palestinian State
A chorus of Israeli officials spoke out against a reported peace plan being pushed by the United States and several Arab states that would include the recognition of a Palestinian state on Thursday.
The proposed plan, as detailed in The Washington Post, calls for “the withdrawal of many, if not all, settler communities on the West Bank; a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem; the reconstruction of Gaza; and security and governance arrangements for a combined West Bank and Gaza.”
In order to attempt to force Israel’s hand, the report says, “U.S. officials said the menu of actions under consideration include early U.S. recognition of a Palestinian state — even as elements of political reform, security guarantees for both Israel and the Palestinians, normalization and reconstruction are being implemented.”
“In my speech yesterday in Berlin, I warned against the dangerous plan that is taking shape for unilateral international recognition of a Palestinian state,” said MK Gideon Sa’ar, who is not part of the government coalition – but part of the war cabinet coalition – National Unity. “This plan will not only not resolve the conflict but will make it intractable. The Palestinians will receive state recognition without paying the the price of compromise and they will continue the conflict from an upgraded position that will harm Israel’s right to self-defense.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been clear that he is opposed to a Palestinian state, and that Israel will maintain security control over the Gaza Strip once the war ends.
“1,400 murdered and the world wants to give them a state. It won’t happen,” tweeted National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. He added in an interview with Israeli media “The intention of the US, together with the Arab states, to establish a terror state alongside the State of Israel is delusional and part of the misguided conception that there is a partner for peace on the other side… While we are in the government, no Palestinian state will be established.”
Education Minister Yoav Kisch added “We are only concerned with winning in Gaza. There will simply be no reward for the murderers.”
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich also tweeted against the plan, saying “We will in no way agree to this plan, which actually says that the Palestinians deserve a reward for the terrible massacre they did to us: a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. The message is that it pays very well to massacre Israeli citizens. A Palestinian state is an existential threat to the State of Israel as was proven on October 7, Kfar Saba will not be Kfar Aza!”
He further called on the cabinet to issue “a clear and unequivocal decision stating that Israel opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state and the imposition of sanctions on over half a million settlers. I expect clear support from Prime Minister Netanyahu, Benny Gantz, Gadi Eisenkot and all the ministers.”
The post ‘No Reward for The Murderers’: Israeli Officials Bash US Plan To Recognize Palestinian State first appeared on Algemeiner.com.
‘Explosion of Hate’ Antisemitism in United Kingdom Reached Unprecedented Level in 2023, New Report Says
More antisemitic incidents occurred in the United Kingdom in 2023 than any year in the history of recording such data, according to a new report issued on Thursday by Community Security Trust (CST), a nonprofit that offers security services and training to the country’s Jewish community.
The report, titled Antisemitic Incidents Report 2023, said that 4,103 antisemitic incidents happened in the country in 2023, an increase of 147 percent from 2022. They included physical assaults, hate speech, threats, and cases of what the nonprofit described as “damage and desecration” of Jewish religious symbols and houses of worship. CST noted that over 2,000 other incidents reported to its offices were not included in its official statistics, noting that some “were not deemed to be antisemitic” while others involved “suspicious activity” and other potential threats to physical safety.
“British Jews are strong and resilient, but the explosion in hatred against our community is an absolute disgrace,” CST chief executive Mark Gardner said in a statement. “It occurs in schools, universities, workplaces, on the streets, and all over social media. Our community is being harassed, intimidated, threatened, and attacked by extremists who also oppose society as a whole. We thank the government and police for their support, but this is a challenge for everyone and we condemn the stony silence from those sections of society that eagerly call out racism in every other case, except when it comes to Jew hate.”
CST’s data shows a massive uptick of antisemitic incidents immediately after Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7, which resulted in hundreds of murders of civilians, abductions of the young and elderly, and numerous sexual assaults of Israeli women. Between January and September, there were fewer than 200 incidents but 1,303 in October alone, over 1,200 in November and December. From Oct. 7 until the end of the year, CST added, its offices received an average of 31 reports per day.
In that span of time, CST recorded its highest single-day and single-week totals of antisemitic incidents, indicating “that it was celebration of Hamas’ attack, rather than anger towards Israel’s military response in Gaza, that prompted the unprecedented levels of antisemitism across the country.” Additionally, the report added, perpetrators signposted their anti-Zionist hatred in 43 percent of incidents, saying Zionist, Zionism, or “Free Palestine!” while committing an offense. In 955 others, they alluded to Adolf Hitler and Nazism, both of which they often connected to Hamas and anti-Zionism.
“Perpetrators either glorified Hamas’ act of terror as a repeat of the Nazis extermination of the Jews during the Holocaust, or lamented Hitler’s failure to eliminate world Jewry entirely,” CST explained, adding that others expressed being motivated by Islamic-antisemitism, viewing the conflict between Israelis and Hamas as part of a larger conflagration between Jews and Muslims.
Antisemitism on social media also proliferated after Oct. 7, appearing the most on X/Twitter, where CST found 704 examples of it, an increase of 249 percent. X users often based their antisemitism on conspiracies and other extreme political ideologies.
“The figures noted in CST’s Antisemitic Report 2023 should be a reminder to British civil society of the serious nature of antisemitism and the impact that it has on the Jewish community,” Lord Mann, His Majesty’s Government’s Independent Adviser on Antisemitism, said in a statement on the report’s findings. “As we have seen over the years, when tensions rise in the Middle East there is an increase in antisemitism around the world. However, this scale is unprecedented and is, for the first time ever, widespread across every police region in the United Kingdom.”
Mann continued, “This country will not tolerate the abuse or intimidation of any of its citizens and I will continue to make sure that it remains a safe place for our Jewish community.”
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.