- Ritual Reconstructed Project, 2014–2015
In The Savage Mind1 Claude Lévi-Strauss explains how mythological thought and rites are continuously broken down and rebuilt again through new constructions of already existing sets of events, and how rituals serve to bring unity to previously separate groups. This makes ritual particularly fertile ground for bricolage—Lévi-Strauss’s term for tinkering: the (re)working of found materials to piece together new structures, identities, and rituals.
On November 24, 2015, at London’s JW3—the Jewish Community Centre—a yearlong Jewish Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, and Intersex (LGBTQI) research project culminated in a bricolage “happening” of ritual objects, photographs, storytelling, rabbinical dialogues on “queering religion,” and an evening screening of the project’s five LGBTQI Jewish ritual films—all part of the Ritual Reconstructed/Connected Communities project, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. In its efforts Ritual Reconstructed has in no small way been facilitated by Liberal Judaism, which in the UK has led the way on LGBTQI inclusivity by being responsive to social need and by being “practical in so many ways,” to quote Rabbi Janet Darley.2
As a filmmaker, I have had the great pleasure in the last four years of working with the LGBTQI Jewish community on three big projects: my film-based PhD, [End Page 186] My Jewish London; the Rainbow Jews project (funded by the UK National Lottery Heritage Fund); and now the Ritual Reconstructed project. What has struck me from the beginning is the way this community has—since the 1970s—indeed “tinkered” to create its own symbols and ritual, all to bring a sense of togetherness and to “pump up individuals with emotional energy.”3 The philosophy behind the LGBTQI ritual activities of the Ritual Reconstructed project is essentially Reconstructionist, based on the ideas of Mordecai Kaplan.4 It is an approach to Jewish custom and belief that aims toward communal decision-making.
One of the films screened at JW3 was Pride Seder,5 a record of the 2015 eve-of-London Pride Seder at South London Liberal Synagogue. An orange takes center stage at this Pride ritual, along with other “foreign” queer objects to be tinkered with at this LGBTQI bricolage event: a drag queen’s high-heel shoe, a brick, foreign “fruits,” rainbow-colored ribbons. The orange on the seder plate [End Page 187]
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is a key ritual motif for many LGBTQI Jews. Indeed, the Ritual Reconstructed logotype incorporates this image. Where does the orange motif come from? As Rabbi Janet Burden has commented on www.ritualreconstructed.com, “Some years ago, a group of students at Oberlin College wished to make a statement about Jewish inclusiveness. . . . Either they, or a Jewish feminist called Susannah Heschel, had the idea of using an orange to symbolize inclusivity: It was made up of many segments, but it formed a whole . . . [that shows] that no one should be excluded from the life of our Jewish community.”6
Jean Rouch’s ethnographic films foreground the creative partnerships of the filmmaker, the “participant observer,” and the community being represented. The films we made together for Ritual Reconstructed attempted to live up to Rouch’s ideal of a creative interaction and synthesis. Ritual events were organized from within the LGBTQI Jewish Liberal community. I, in turn, organized camerawork and editing with my crew at the University of Portsmouth...