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A Different Kind of Jewish Bondage in San Francisco

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tefillin 11In Philip Roth’s classic novel of Jewish coming-of-age, family, and raging hormones, Portnoy’s Complaint, the teenaged main character Alexander Portnoy at one point jerks off into his sister’s bra (along with a candy bar wrapper and an uncooked liver intended for the dinner table.) Neurotic, definitely. But was it also kinky?

What does it mean to be a kinky Jew? As a semi-professional Jew, I have had my fair share of conversations on the intersection of Judaism and sexuality, but this week has spurred several on the overlap in the worlds of BDSM, kink, poly/non-monogamy and the sex-positive in the Jewish community. What’s been kicking it off is a new group started by an old colleague of mine, Noam Birnbaum, and his friend Jill Nagle. Last month they teamed up and formed a private Facebook group: Jews United In Celebrating the Erotic, or JUICE.

Kinky JUICE. Oy vey, what a pun.

Most of the liberal and progressive movements in the Jewish world have, in more recent years, been largely accepting of LGBTQI individuals and families. Many of the earliest ground breakers like same-sex marriage ceremonies, LQBTQI congregational rabbis, and of course the first openly gay Jewish elected official, happened here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Given that this is also the same place where Folsom Street Fair has turned into a mainstream event—around 450,000 people attended last year, making it the 3rd largest single-day outdoor public event in California—it was only a matter of time before the Bay Area kink community and the Bay Area Jewish community collided. What the founders of JUICE have discovered is a surprisingly large, relatively untapped network of overlapping identities. While you can only get in by being invited by a current member or through a screening process at Meetup, they have already amassed almost 450 members.

The group is still in its infancy, only one month old, and its goals and activities are still under discussion by its members. Its mission statement says, in part, that the group provides “a safe and welcoming sex-positive online space for Jews and our allies,” which Birnbaum and Nagle say is needed because of the historical marginalization of Jews who enjoy non-traditional sexual identities and practices.

This marginalization was underscored when the group’s’ inaugural press release was rejected by the local Jewish newspaper, The J Weekly. Birnbaum says that JUICE exists to “reveal the Jewish-erotic passions that have otherwise been latent underground, and connect those who bear them.”

He refers to group members as “Erotic Jewish explorers”—is that an LED-powered tefillin on your head or are you just happy to see me?—and says that JUICE members “have had very few opportunities to identify ourselves to each other.”

This ostracization, he explains, has led to less than “full support in expressing our proclivities and passions, in being witnessed, [and] in making intimate (not necessarily sexual) connections”.

Nagle echoed Birnbaum’s sentiments and added, “I’m also interested in creating spaces for heart-centered connection. I hope to put the Jew back in JUICE, meaning, to presence what is uniquely sexy and juicy about being Jewish.”

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A voluntary new member survey of 69 (no really!) respondents produced interesting results of identities and practices including: 86 percent are into BDSM, kink, and fetish practices; 76 percent are into non-monogamy; 23 percent are into or curious about sex work; and 67 percent are into or curious about tantra and sacred sexuality. As we learned in an oft-cited Pew Study from 2013, the Jewish identities are as ranging as the sexual identities: 84 percent of survey participants are self-identified as Jewish, 6 percent are not Jewish, and 10 percent say “it’s complicated”, which is the pretty much the most Jewy answer possible.

There is an old saying that if you have two Jews, you’ll get three opinions, so JUICE’s launch has not been without its hiccups. The first happy hour drew about 50 people, and while many said on the group’s Facebook page that they had fun, a lengthy two-threaded discussion followed about how some of the women in attendance felt uncomfortable due to feeling pressure from men.

While ultimately Nagel and Birnbaum decided that the next few events would remain strictly social and “play parties” would not be scheduled until there was enough group cohesion that most in the community would feel comfortable, there were some members who were disappointed in that choice. The group also saw the resurgence in a problem not usually seen beyond pre-adolescent Hebrew School, when a mini-epidemic of strep-throat was started by a self-described “kissing slut”.

JUICE has scheduled three more events in the coming weeks including a Reading, Connection Exercise & Cuddle Party, A Passover Seder, and a second Happy Hour. While most of the events are currently in Berkeley or Oakland, the Seder will be the first event in San Francisco.

Unlike Portnoy, having the support of a community of like minded kinksters may help you avoid the Jewish curse of a lifetime of psychotherapy, and don’t worry: They promise not to tell your bubbie.

If you are interested in joining JUICE, you can request to join the Meetup group.

 

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Amiee Kushner

Amiee Kushner

Amiee is SF's favorite ginger Jewess, a native of the Bay Area, and in charge of the money stuff at Broke-Ass Stuart. Unless you are a writer who hasn't got paid yet, then she is just a contributor. She was also the campaign manager for Stuart's quixotic quest to be mayor in 2015. She travels, hikes, stays up way too late and occasional cooks more food than anyone should eat. You can check out some of her super not-kosher recipes at www.JewishHeathens.com