(New York Jewish Week) – Growing up in Brooklyn, Dylan Mars Greenberg went to Hebrew school and celebrated Shabbat and holidays with her family. But she never celebrated a bar or bat mitzvah — “it wasn’t something my dad really wanted me to do,” she said.
Instead, the 26-year-old filmmaker, musician, actor and writer began creating and performing art as a teenager with a group called the Art Stars based in the East Village, launching a varied career as a performance artist. Her current band, Theophobia, performs a “hybrid of music, performance art and comedy” — a mashup that’s right at home at Coney Island USA, a center for visual and performing arts with acts like clowning, circus, burlesque, sideshows and Vaudeville.
This weekend, Mars Greenberg will bring those two paths together, holding a communal Jewish coming-of-age ceremony at Coney Island Shooting Gallery Arts Annex, a gallery and performing arts venue that is part of Coney Island USA.
Queer Clown Bat Mitzvah will feature a live concert with spiritual moments, sideshow acts and spaces for queer expression — as well as a rabbi to coach attendees through the experience.
“The event as a whole is really supposed to be a celebration of identity and acceptance, both Jewish and LGBTQ identities and in particular queer and trans identities,” Mars Greenberg told the New York Jewish Week.
The Queer Clown Bat Mitzvah was partially inspired by how many Jewish and queer performers Mars Greenberg has encountered over the years, including during the period when she came out as transgender.
“I’ve met a lot of people who are both very openly trans and queer and gay and also very open about Judaism. That is inspiring to me because there was definitely a period where I wasn’t sure how welcome I’d be in the Jewish community,” she said. “I’m realizing now that the Jewish community encompasses so many different things.”
The show will be hosted by the artist Pink Velvet Witch, and the lineup includes Mars Greenberg’s band, Theophobia, as well as the band 95 Bulls and a performance from Maggie McMuffin, a sideshow and burlesque performer.
Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer, the former rabbi-in-residence at HIAS and the founder of Rabbae Jewels, a jewelry business that celebrates queer Jewish and Yiddish culture, will oversee the evening’s explicit Jewish content. Meyer will deliver a short Torah commentary and share a blessing with the crowd. The event will be a new frontier for her, but one that she believes is deeply needed.
“I was brought in because we’re in a really difficult moment in this country, where trans people in particular, but queer people in general, are really under attack. There was a desire to have a celebration of queer identity and trans identity and to do that through a Jewish lens,” she explained.
In recent years, Republican lawmakers in dozens of states have sought, sometimes successfully, to limit or ban gender-affirming care for trans people, weaken nondiscrimination laws and prohibit drag and other expressions of queer identity, including in books children are allowed to read at school.
“One of the centerpieces of my Jewish life is the concept of Shabbat or rest. And inherent in that is the concept of Oneg Shabbat, or the joy and celebration of Shabbat. That’s what this is, a rest or a pause from a political moment that’s really devastating,” Meyer said. “This is meant to give people a taste of a different, joyful, celebratory world and a pause from so much of the hatred that is so demoralizing, debilitating and takes away our dignity.”
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Meyer characterized the show as designed for Jews who “didn’t have access to or who felt really alienated from gendered rituals as children,” but also emphasized that it is open to anyone, regardless of their religious identity or gender expression.
“I really want to invite people into Jewish culture in ways that are non-proselytizing and show that there are actually ways to live values and to express your identity, whether that’s cultural or religious, that don’t limit or control other people’s behavior,” Meyer said. “I will be blessing everyone and everyone will really be blessing themselves and lifting each other up in community.”
“I wanted it to be something that anyone can participate in and for people to appreciate Judaism also while having a good time,” Mars Greenberg said.
Queer Clown Bat Mitzvah is on Saturday, Aug. 19 at 9 p.m. at the Coney Island Shooting Gallery (1214 Surf Avenue, Brooklyn). Tickets start at $20. Find more information here.