Fig­ure by Ilya Mil­stein, brush­strokes by Kather­ine Mes­sen­ger, design by Evie Saphire-Bernstein

At this pre­car­i­ous time for many LGBTQIA+ peo­ple, I’m remind­ed of the pow­er of lit­er­a­ture — of the fact that sto­ries have an unri­valed abil­i­ty to help us to under­stand anoth­er person’s per­spec­tive. The mis­sion of Jew­ish Book Council’s annu­al print lit­er­ary jour­nal, Paper Brigade, is to cel­e­brate the breadth and diver­si­ty of Jew­ish books. Here are ten pieces from the jour­nal — short sto­ries, inter­views, essays, and a com­ic — that hint at the wide range of queer Jew­ish lit­er­ary voic­es out there. Whether LGBTQIA+ iden­ti­ty is at the cen­ter of their focus or a giv­en in the back­ground, these nar­ra­tives demon­strate how inex­tri­ca­ble it is from the Jew­ish lit­er­ary canon.

Illus­tra­tion by Lau­ra Junger

Into the Mud” by Yael van der Wouden

Into the Mud” invites us to what could be a Euro­pean town in the 90s — except that here, there are dyb­buks who hide in microwaves, a rab­bi warns his con­gre­ga­tion about the wicked­ness of the man who wants to con­trol anoth­er being,” and Miryam, Debby’s some­times-best-friend, takes out her frus­tra­tion with her dys­func­tion­al par­ents by mak­ing golems down by an aban­doned lake. Deb­by is in awe of charis­mat­ic, rebel­lious Miryam, who casu­al­ly taunts her at school but con­de­scends to spend time with her over the sum­mer. The fan­tas­ti­cal ele­ments of this sto­ry pro­vide a back­drop for nuanced, sus­pense­ful ren­der­ing of a friend­ship defined in equal parts by resent­ment and attraction.

Read more in vol­ume 5.

T Kira Mad­den, right, with her sis­ter and her mother 

Pho­to cour­tesy of T Kira Mad­den 

The Secret Was Me’: A Con­ver­sa­tion with Dani Shapiro and T Kira Mad­den by Bec­ca Kantor

As chil­dren, writ­ers Dani Shapiro and T Kira Mad­den nav­i­gat­ed dif­fi­cult rela­tion­ships with their par­ents and felt out of place in their com­mu­ni­ties. Both lost their fathers while still in their ear­ly twen­ties. And for both, a DNA test led to life-chang­ing rev­e­la­tions. In this con­ver­sa­tion about their respec­tive mem­oirs, the two dis­cuss how their per­son­al expe­ri­ences led them to probe larg­er ques­tions about iden­ti­ty. Mad­den notes that her life as well as her book, Long Live the Tribe of Father­less Girls, resist cat­e­go­riza­tion. I’m Jew­ish. And Chi­nese Hawai­ian. And gay. I’m all of these things.”

Read more in vol­ume 4. 

Illus­tra­tion by Lau­ra Junger

Poland Itin­er­ary, Class 3B” by Lee­or Ohayon

This sto­ry fol­lows a British Moroc­can teenag­er, Daniel Amar, on a school trip to Poland. Daniel is bul­lied because he is Mizrahi and his fam­i­ly wasn’t direct­ly impact­ed by the Holo­caust — in the eyes of his teach­ers and most of his peers, this makes him less of a Jew than they are. Daniel also nurs­es an unre­quit­ed crush on his pop­u­lar class­mate Josh, and his feel­ings come to embody his wari­ness of Ashke­nazi cul­ture as well as his desire to be accept­ed into it. 

Lee­or Ohay­on gives us an inci­sive look at how Ashkenor­ma­tive retellings of his­to­ry can exclude oth­ers when they place the Holo­caust at the cen­ter of Jew­ish iden­ti­ty. By struc­tur­ing the nar­ra­tive as an itin­er­ary, he empha­sizes the expec­ta­tions under­pin­ning the remem­brance trip — whether they are about eth­nic­i­ty, reli­gion, or sexuality.

Read more in volume 6.

View from the French Acad­e­my at the Vil­la Medici, Gia­co­mo Cane­va, Gilman Col­lec­tion, Muse­um Pur­chase, 2005

A Might-Have-Been Uni­verse’: A Con­ver­sa­tion with André Aci­man by Rus­sell Janzen

In this inter­view, André Aci­man reflects on his icon­ic 2007 nov­el, Call Me By Your Name, and dis­cuss­es his deci­sion to return to his pro­tag­o­nists in his 2019 nov­el, Find Me. In fact, the theme of return runs through­out this con­ver­sa­tion; it applies to Aciman’s writ­ing style, the com­mem­o­ra­tion of Jew­ish his­to­ry, and to Oliv­er and Elio’s rela­tion­ship. Aci­man says that although the two char­ac­ters are drift­ing through life,” some­times in oppo­site direc­tions, their con­nec­tion is a point of anchor­age that they will seek out again.”

Read more in vol­ume 4. 

Images by PopTech via Flickr, design by Alex Lezberg

Strug­gling Our Way Toward Col­lec­tive Nar­ra­tion” by Sam Cohen

There is both plea­sure and dif­fi­cul­ty in latch­ing myself to a we,” Sam Cohen observes in this essay, which delves into the way that nar­ra­tive voice can shape our under­stand­ing of Jew­ish iden­ti­ty. At Passover, Cohen strug­gles to rec­on­cile her father’s tra­di­tion­al obser­vance with her own under­stand­ing of the hol­i­day as a queer, non-reli­gious per­son. Ulti­mate­ly, the first-per­son plur­al of the seder offers a kind of mag­ic” — a way for every­one at her table to tran­scend their dif­fer­ences and cohese into a mot­ley collective.”

Read more in vol­ume 6

Study for Obses­sion by Auguste Rodin, ca. 1896, gift of Auguste Rodin to the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art, 1912

Design by Kather­ine Messenger

Bod­ies, Bor­ders, and Desire” by Ranen Omer-Sher­­man

This arti­cle by Ranen Omer-Sher­man exam­ines three nov­els about rela­tion­ships between queer Mus­lims and Jews: Moriel Roth­man-Zech­er’s Sad­ness Is a White Bird, Moshe Sakal’s The Dia­mond Set­ter, and Evan Fal­l­en­berg’s The Part­ing Gift. Each of these books is ele­gant­ly craft­ed and rich with psy­cho­log­i­cal insight. Togeth­er, they give a mul­ti-faceted por­trait of what Omer-Sher­man terms the seduc­tive promise as well as the bit­ter lim­its of coex­is­tence between Jews and Arabs” in the Mid­dle East. 

Read more in vol­ume 3

Pho­to by Grace Made­line via Unsplash, design by Kather­ine Messenger

Mor­tal­i­ty Faced You as a Ques­tion” by Ilana Masad 

Writ­ten at the height of the Covid pan­dem­ic, this essay is a med­i­ta­tion on grief and mourn­ing. As Ilana Masad watch­es the num­ber of deaths spike, they strug­gle to com­pre­hend the sit­u­a­tion in any way besides the abstract. (“[H]ow can you, or any­one, begin to con­jure up the faces of 33,257 peo­ple?”) Masad touch­es on sex­u­al­i­ty when they form a near­ly instan­ta­neous crush on” a fam­i­ly friend. The moment is brief, but it isn’t inci­den­tal. It’s a reminder that human instincts and emo­tions can exist even in mass crises.

Read more in vol­ume 4. 

Illus­tra­tion by Lau­ra Junger

The Lit­tle Bot­tles” by Weaver 

Hin­da and Basya grow up as best friends in their shtetl, and then Hin­da invokes a piece of mag­ic that dra­mat­i­cal­ly splits their life tra­jec­to­ries. This sto­ry is imbued with the sat­is­fy­ing plot and indeli­ble imagery of a folk­tale. (After read­ing it, you won’t be able to drink from an uncov­ered glass with­out first check­ing to make sure there isn’t a tiny soul float­ing around in the water.) But The Lit­tle Bot­tles” also depicts a bond between two women in a way that few old­er nar­ra­tives could have. 

Read more in vol­ume 4.

The Del­uge Towards Its Close by Joshua Shaw, ca. 1813, gift of William Mer­ritt Chase, 1909, The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art

Design by Kather­ine Messenger

Queer­ing Gen­e­sis” by Sarah Blake

Sarah Blake takes us back even fur­ther — to bib­li­cal times. Her debut nov­el, Naamah, is a retelling of the sto­ry of Noah’s Ark through the eyes of Noah’s wife. In this essay, she posits that Gen­e­sis inher­ent­ly lends itself to a queer read­ing. Reflect­ing on the dis­par­i­ty between the text and our con­tem­po­rary under­stand­ing of a tra­di­tion­al” mar­riage, she points to men­tions of unions between human beings and fall­en angels that result in giants. What isn’t pos­si­ble in an envi­ron­ment like this?” she asks.

Read more in vol­ume 4

Author pho­to­graph by Petra Collins, design by Kather­ine Messenger

We Are All Already Per­fect’: A Con­ver­sa­tion with Melis­sa Broder” by Bec­ca Kantor

Wild and pro­found, Melis­sa Broder’s nov­el Milk Fed intro­duces us to Rachel: a woman in her mid-twen­ties with a judg­men­tal moth­er, a soul­less job at a Los Ange­les tal­ent agency, and a fix­a­tion on mon­i­tor­ing her calo­rie intake and remain­ing thin. At her therapist’s behest, Rachel makes a bulky clay fig­ure to rep­re­sent her worst fears for her body. The next day, the fig­ure seems to come to life in the form of Miri­am, a zaftig” Ortho­dox woman who has start­ed to work at Rachel’s favorite frozen yogurt shop. Instead of being repulsed, Rachel feels unex­pect­ed­ly … lustful. 

In this con­ver­sa­tion, Broder dis­cuss­es the impos­si­bil­i­ty of sep­a­rat­ing the spir­i­tu­al and the phys­i­cal, the true mean­ing of per­fec­tion, and how she uses a can­dy coat­ing of humor” to reveal her deep­est vulnerabilities.

Read more in vol­ume 5.

Illus­tra­tion (cropped) by Saul Freedman-Lawson

How to Have a Dis­agree­ment With­out Hav­ing a Fight” by S. Bear Bergman, illus­trat­ed by Saul Freed­­man-Law­­son

On a clos­ing note: this month can be a dif­fi­cult time to talk to loved ones. I’m always inspired by S. Bear Bergman’s com­ic How to Have a Dis­agree­ment With­out Hav­ing a Fight.” Bergman, an edu­ca­tor and trans activist, gives advice that is gen­tle, help­ful, and fun­ny. And Saul Freed­man-Law­son, who likes to draw excit­ing­ly gen­dered peo­ple with big noses,” pro­vides dis­tinc­tive and gor­geous illustrations. 

Read more in vol­ume 6

Bec­ca Kan­tor is the edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and its annu­al print lit­er­ary jour­nal, Paper Brigade. She received a BA in Eng­lish from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia and an MA in cre­ative writ­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of East Anglia. Bec­ca was award­ed a Ful­bright fel­low­ship to spend a year in Esto­nia writ­ing and study­ing the coun­try’s Jew­ish his­to­ry. She lives in Brooklyn.