Drag Queen Story Time and Havdalah Celebrates Message of Inclusion and Self-Acceptance

Drag Queen Story Time and Havdalah Celebrates Message of Inclusion and Self-Acceptance

By Sarah Rabin Spira, Manager, PJ Library

Glitter and drag queens and family Havdalah service—oh my!  The recent Drag Queen Story Time and Havdalah embodies The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s values of inclusion, education and meaningful ritual. It also represents what can happen when community organizations work together to promote purposeful social and religious programming for families with young children.

Havdalah translates to “separation,” but it also means “distinction,” and while it is a traditional way to distinguish between the Sabbath day and the rest of the week, our local Drag Queen Story Time and Havdalah became a celebration of what is unique, or distinct about each of us. In this interpretation, the event offered an opportunity for traditional ritual to develop modern, inclusive meaning. After Shabbat, when two separate candles are lit, we light one braided Havdalah candle with many wicks. The braided candle represents a coming together of the community, with strength coming from the intertwined nature of the wicks. The same is true of this program—our community is stronger for having come together to celebrate our interconnectedness and the unique contribution we each can bring.

After seeing an article about a similar PJ Library® family program in western Massachusetts, four local organizations came together to replicate it in Greater Washington. Immediately after its introduction, the excitement from our community was palpable—the idea of doing something so extraordinarily welcoming, accepting and expressive was too good to pass up.

The concept was decided, and the team was ready to get to work with key players from The Jewish Federation, PJ Library, Temple Shalom, the Kurlander Program for GLBTQ Outreach & Engagement (GLOE) at the Edlavitch DCJCC and Kids Academy at Temple Shalom. Across the board, the following were agreed on as core goals:

  1. Participate in meaningful ritual
  2. Portray DMV as an inclusive community
  3. Reach a new audience
  4. Show that synagogues are a place for all to feel comfortable and embraced as unique individuals
  5. Give kids the opportunity to explore their inner superhero and understand that what makes them distinct and different is their strength, not their weakness

It was a lot to expect from one pilot program, but the planning, thoughtfulness and passion illuminated every part of the event from concept to execution. The program reflected the Jewish values of kavod (respect) and b’yachad (inclusion) through welcoming promotional language and a broad range of engaging activities. Families were invited to “come as you are or as you want to be,” with costumes encouraged, but not required. The evening began with a pizza dinner; face painting; crown and jewelry making; a hair and nail salon; cape decorating; and a mitzvah project to create supportive cards for LGBTQ teens at Wanda Alston House and SMYAL.

The Havdalah service and storytime took place in the sanctuary on the bimah (sanctuary stage), an intentionally open space where families could come together to celebrate the joyous conclusion to Shabbat. We recited the “Shehecheyanu” prayer to mark the first occasion of this kind. Our guest Queens, Miss Buffy Wilde and Cherry Snow led the group in song, read books about being true to yourself and your identity; and shared some drag terms. They showed what it means to truly love yourself just as you are.

“What we did today was bigger than we even realize—it’s not lost on me that even ten years ago, our event would have been unfathomable. Thank you for being such amazing community leaders and putting Jewish values into truly meaningful action,” said Josef Palermo, Director of GLOE.

“Thank you to…all those who came together to show us that there are all sorts of ways that we can be glamorously, fabulously and joyously reflected b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image,” said Rabbi Rachel Ackerman from Temple Shalom.

This program was also supported in part by The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Initiative in Congregational Education (I.C.E.) grant program.